A racially charged image of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele on the Web site of a liberal blogger brought recriminations from both Democrats and Republicans yesterday.
The doctored photo of Steele (R) as a minstrel, and accompanying slurs, prompted Virginia gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine (D) to pull an ad from the site, stevegilliard.blogspot.com. Kaine's campaign had purchased the space through a broker that put his advertising on numerous liberal-leaning blogs.
More than that, the posting sparked a broad and heated discussion -- much of it on other blogs -- about the evolving role of the Internet in politics, and even about the ability of bloggers to maintain fierce independence while depending on advertising revenue.
Not surprisingly, the strongest reaction came from Steele, who recently announced a bid for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D).
"The Democratic Party has finally reached a new low with the worst kind of racist gutter politics, and it's the kind of racism that people in Maryland reject, regardless of their political party," said Leonardo Alcivar, the campaign spokesman.
Democrats disavowed any connection to the News Blog, which typically includes liberal political content. The site is maintained by New Yorker Steve Gilliard, who is African American, and it has been up for two years. He estimates that it gets about 15,000 hits a day.
The Steele depiction was "extremely offensive and distasteful and has no place in politics or in any other aspect of public discourse," said Derek Walker of the Maryland Democratic Party.
Joe Trippi, who is credited with using the Internet to reinvent campaigning while managing Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid and who is advising Democratic Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume, said the incident highlights a pitfall of the medium. But he said he was shocked that Steele would blame Democrats.
"That's almost as bad as what the Web site did -- to try to smear an entire party with what one random person threw up on the Web," Trippi said.
Gilliard defended the item in an interview, saying Steele invited the portrayal by failing to criticize Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s (R) decision to hold a fundraiser at an all-white country club.
"That's the kind of thing that says to black voters that black Republicans are untrustworthy and unreliable," Gilliard said.
Other liberal bloggers defended Gilliard and took after Kaine for pulling his ad. Markos Moulitsas, editor of the blog Daily Kos, said that advertisers should expect edgy content and that Kaine's actions could threaten their editorial independence.
"I don't want bloggers to be afraid to say things because they don't want to offend an advertisers," Moulitsas said.
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.