January 13, 2005

BLOGFLUENCE: Here's something from Zephyr Teachout that I didn't know:

In this past election, at least a few prominent bloggers were paid as consultants by candidates and groups they regularly blogged about. . . .

On Dean’s campaign, we paid Markos and Jerome Armstrong as consultants, largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean. We paid them over twice as much as we paid two staffers of similar backgrounds, and they had several other clients.

While they ended up also providing useful advice, the initial reason for our outreach was explicitly to buy their airtime. To be very clear, they never committed to supporting Dean for the payment -- but it was very clearly, internally, our goal. . . . Imagine Howard Dean hiring Maureen Dowd!

Somebody tell Oliver Willis! Meanwhile, apparently, I've missed out on yet another gravy train. (Thanks to Ed Cone for the tip).

UPDATE: Here's Kos's disclosure post, sent to me by a reader who thinks it's inadequate. I'm not so sure, but the interesting disclosure to me is the one above, about what the campaign thought it was doing by hiring Kos, rather than what Kos thought.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tim Blair has thoughts.

MORE: Jeff Jarvis has much more on this subject, including this observation:

The campaign used these guys. The campaign knew that. But the bloggers didn't. The bloggers thought their wisdom was being sought out; they were paid to consult. No, they were paid to market, to flack.

Read the whole thing, which is about culture and trust. Meanwhile, Markos sends this email:

The problem with Armstrong Williams is two-fold: 1) he did not disclose the arrangement, and 2) he was paid taxpayer dollars. If Williams wants to be paid by Scaife or any other right wing think tank or funder, then It would be whole different matter.

The problem with Zephyr is that she fails to note that Jerome and I (mostly Jerome) set the Dean campaign on the path of blogging and MeetUps. Jerome had the first Dean site up on the web, the first Dean-specific blog, set up MeetUp for them, and was the catalyst for the netroots pro-Dean movement. THAT'S why we were hired by the campaign, to offer more such suggestions. Given that our relationship was with Trippi and not Zephyr, I'm not sure what jealousies or internal politics we ran afoul with Zephyr.

Note that Jerome quit blogging after he joined their campaign (at a time MyDD got more traffic than Daily Kos), so if they were paying for favorable blogging from us, that didn't quite work out. Remember, he was the biggest Dean booster online. Instead, he worked as their Director of Internet Advertising. As for me, I disclosed the arrangement and had a link to that disclosure post up on the site for the entire duration of the arrangement, even though we were being paid essentially for Jerome's work, not for anything I was doing.

So 1) I disclosed the arrangement, and 2) I didn't take taxpayer dollars. If this isn't enough to satiate you and other critics, so be it. But really, I'd like to hear what more you'd think was appropriate.

In any case, given that Daily Kos is self-sufficient now, I quit the consulting biz. Though I reserve the right to go back in if I want to help a candidate I believe in, with full-disclosure as I did before.

And Jerome emails:

I was on blogging hiatus during the time I worked on the Dean campaign getting paid, Aug to Dec, 2003. Actually on hiatus from much earlier to much later.

As I say above, I'm not actually convinced that Kos or Jerome did anything especially wrong here -- not withstanding my tweaking of Oliver Willis, who seems a bit overexcitable these days -- but the dynamic with the campaign interests me. I think that Jeff (and Zephyr) are right that the issue is a cultural one more than a legalistic or formally "ethical" one. I don't want a Code, which people will promptly lawyer to death. (Trust me on this one). I want attitudes and norms.

On the other hand, Kos may want to be a little embarrassed about writing this. Or at least a bit slower to take that kind of tone in the future.

STILL MORE: In response to my comment just above, Kos emails:

What's your point here? The administration is using tax dollars to pay conservative pundits (and crazy amounts at that). Williams says there are more. Until people own up to who is on the take, I'm willing to assume they all are.

Why that should be embarrassing is beyond me.


The point, however, is that Kos is being treated rather more generously above than he's treating others (and, I suspect, more generously than he would treat me were our positions reversed, though I hope I'm wrong about that), and yet he is happy to presume the guilt of, basically, everyone who disagrees with him. I could just as easily ask how many other lefty bloggers (since Zephyr says there were more, too) were on campaigns' payrolls, and pronounce the entire lefty blogosphere suspect.

YET MORE: Zephyr Teachout posts an update in a separate post:

This has to do with OUR motives, not some contract, and no compromise on their part. Instapundit gets it right -- this is about the market that's created.

Furthermore, I'm not claiming that Kos didn't have a disclaimer -- he did, we've talked about this for over a year, there's no revelation here. I don't think the disclaimer was what I'd like to see, and I really wish he -- and every other blogger/consultant -- had an easy to find, prominent client list of all clients at all times.

But this isn't about Kos or a few thousand bucks, and its certainly not about a $240,000 contract to shill for the federal government. As one commenter said, c'mon, that was wild west days -- this will all calm down.

My interest--and where our focus needs to be, whether you're a little green football or a kossack -- is in collectively building a culture online where we figure out norms for people who both consult and write online so that readers can have the tools to be skeptical, active participants.

I'd like to see that, too. And Kos emails to say that I'm wrong, and that he wouldn't jump on me if the situations were reversed -- in fact, he doesn't think there's anything wrong with what the DaschlevThune bloggers did. We disagree about that; I think they should have disclosed.

Anyway, in the interest of getting some reader feedback on these issues, I'm opening comments for a while, until the trolls or the spammers get out of hand, anyway. Your comments on how these things should be handled -- civil and free of unnecessary point-scoring, please -- would be appreciated.


To be on the safe side, I think it's good for bloggers to post a full and clear disclosure. The blogosphere is all about getting good information that is unavailable elsewhere. And if someone deliberately tries to hide his interests -- that is a problem.

Posted by: Coyote at January 13, 2005 08:21 PM

If you're getting paid by someone you're blogging about, disclose that fact, the amount and what you've agreed to provide in exchange.

This doesn't seem too complicated to me.

I think Kos is wrong for trying to smear all right-wing bloggers as being on the take; that is McCarthyism in its worst form. But I don't disagree with anything else he said.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at January 13, 2005 08:40 PM

I think the first paragraph of your response to Kos' second e-mail is the best use of "indeed" that I've ever seen. I laughed and laughed!

I've also noticed that the free market has been sorting out credibility issues in all kinds of media, the 'sphere included. Who's lost share in the last 15 years, and who's gained? Yes, the 'Net has only existed in its modern form for about ten years, but talk radio predates TV news by about 30 years.

As for the bloggers I read, If one makes an occasional mistake, it gets lost in the noise of overall credibility and/or interesting reading. Lileks once was taken in by a hoax about software that would let him converse with his dog Jasper. Hilarious boo boo, for which he seemed embarassed. That's not stopping me from reading all his archives.


Posted by: Reese at January 13, 2005 08:40 PM

Yeah, I agree in general. And certainly when campaigns or the government are paying you, it ought to be disclosed, in my opinion. (But with every post, as Zephyr suggests? That gets pretty tiresome to both bloggers and readers, I'd think.)

But I'm pretty sure that there are varying expectations among various bloggers and readers, even those who think they agree on the importance of "transparency." It doesn't hurt to hear some, even though I'd certainly oppose the creation of some sort of overarching Code of Blogging Ethics.

Posted by: Glenn Reynolds at January 13, 2005 08:42 PM

Oh my God ... InstaPundit is open for comments! Pinch me. I must be dreaming. Look ... over there ... that must be Glenn! Hi mom. Hi dad.

Posted by: fruitless at January 13, 2005 08:44 PM

Seems to me that you and Zypher make sense. I hope that's what happens, at least more often than not. Money and power can be quite corrupting, however.

By the way, I have no particular loyalties and a lot of bills...

Posted by: G. Hamid at January 13, 2005 08:44 PM

Comments on Instapundit. It's like the Twilight Zone.

I don't know about ethics, but I'm soliciting input from bloggers on whether they're addicted to blogging. That sort of touches on ethics. :)

La Shawn Barber's Corner

Posted by: La Shawn at January 13, 2005 08:50 PM

I'm not sure there's an issue here. If someone were stupid enough to pay Kos for what he'd eagerly write anyway, so what? We have no way of knowing his real motivations or those of any other blogger. Payment can take many forms in addition to cash. It's not like he makes a pretence of being objective (unlike most of the "MSM", where this *would* be an issue). Williams and DOE are being raked over the coals by just about everybody left and right mainly because he was paid taxpayer funds. Kos is just being Kos when he says that all conservatives are presumed guilty of the same. If we got all worked up every time he said something silly, it' d be a full time job.

Posted by: Kurt at January 13, 2005 08:50 PM

Let the market deal with it. Those folks who disclose in the negative will gain credibility; those who either do not disclose, or disclose positively, will be treated, appropriately, with some suspicion. A good rule of thumb ... if you want to know if a blogger is on the payroll, ask. If they refuse to answer, assume the worst.

Posted by: Richard Ames at January 13, 2005 08:51 PM

"its certainly not about a $240,000 contract to shill for the federal government"

It'll be interesting to see how many bloggers come out of the woodwork on this... On the payroll of someone, but blasting someone else (like Armstrong) for 1) Being a shill for the feds and/or 2) getting a LOT more money than they took.

Of course, neither of these holds up. They can't very well argue #1, since they were shilling for someone else (Dean), and #2 is moot too because they were paid by whichever candidate gave 'em the money.

The REALLY interesting thing to see if there's a Kerry camp tie-in with someone, like Sullivan or Wonkette. (I doubt Andrew would; I'm less certain about Wonkette; I'm just talking of a blogger of that exposure level, and in the 'not Bush' camp).

If there is, I bet this whole debate, and the actions congress is starting to take with regard to Armstrong will die a sudden death.

Posted by: deanj at January 13, 2005 08:54 PM

After what has happened over the past week or two, hopefully bloggers will have learned that it's much better to come up front with connections and such than possibly face devestating consequences.

I agree with you that it isn't such a good idea to disclose the information in every post. Instead, one could add something to the sidebar for all to see (See Oliver Willis).

Posted by: Willis at January 13, 2005 08:54 PM

Now, if they just start paying we blog commentators, I'd even be willing to shill for the Raelians.

Join the Raelians: They've got the hottest Cult Groupies on the planet, even if you're not allowed to have sex with them. Hey!

Posted by: Mister Ghost at January 13, 2005 08:54 PM

The Insta v. Kos tussle is simple, really. Kos takes a tone that we would come to expect from him - essentially ad hominem rants about the "right wing" being corrupt. Glenn comes at it from his usual measured tone, not ready to lump everyone into one box because it fits his preconceived theme.

If you can't see this, Kos...then you're just a hack. If you're ok with being a hack, then I have no problem. But let's not pretend otherwise.

There's a whole group of folks who've been pretending for years. They're losing now. The market eventually sorts everything out. Over time, the "regular people" make smart decisions and it's really out of anyone's control.


Posted by: Dave Johnston at January 13, 2005 08:56 PM

I am pretty agnostic on this. I think it is hopeless to anticipate a standard of behavior in Blogovia. It won't happen, and I am not sure it should. No one is free from bias of some sort or another. Being paid to express an opinion is not so different from being affected by your likelihood of getting tenure, or a promotion, or maintaining your anonymity, or getting a choice committee assignment, or for that matter stroking or offending the right or wrong people in the world of blogs, politics, one's profession or with N.Z. Bear.

The only real difference I can see is that one form of blogola is liquidated, but the other sources of bias can be and of course are in some cases far stronger.

Consumers of blogs have to simply be skeptics. Those who disclose more, and more accurately, will be more trusted on that account. At the end of the day, all you have is your persuasiveness, your intellectual honesty, and -- in my case -- a good looking picture at the top of your columns.

Posted by: Ronald Coleman at January 13, 2005 08:56 PM

Bloggers should disclose any payments they receive if they want to earn the trust of their readers. Zephyr Teachout's suggestion of a prominent list of all clients is very good.

However, a blogger should not disclose any payments if he in fact prefers to mislead his readers and commit blog-fraud. If he gets caught out, he will lose the trust of his readers, who will then drift away to other bloggers who are believed to be more honest.

It's all up to the blogger!

Posted by: Matthew Goggins at January 13, 2005 08:58 PM

I've read Kos's disclaimer. And I agree with you, there's only so much disclaiming you can do on a blog. I think a disclaimer on the menu is a good thing, and every now and again mentioning it in the blog is a good thing. But you could really go to hell with it and ruin the flavor of the blog by disclaiming everything you say.

Of course, that's coming from me - someone no one pays for his opinion/endorsement. And I don't mean that in simply a self-depricating way. I honestly mean it's easy for me to sit here and pontificate about others when I have not been in their situtaion.

Posted by: Michael Demmons at January 13, 2005 08:59 PM

Well, I have never been paid anything by a campaign or party or government agency or department. Nothing. I made GOTV phone calls for weeks, stood for hours handing out literature at the polls on election day, and wrote lots of pro W. blog posts for months and I got nothing. Armstrong Williams got what, $250,000? What am I doing wroing?

But seriously, the only way getting paid is okay is if it is fully disclosed in each post, or article or speech that mentions the policy or candidate providing the funds. (In Williams case, Education Dept., NCLB) I don't think it is enough to do one statement disclosing it. A disclosure would need to be made in each article or post in which the blogger was promoting the candidate or policy.

Of course the blogger would have to have already proven to his/her readers that they have reached the position they advocate on the merits, and not due to the monetary influence or whatever the blogger writes about the subject would not hold much sway over the undecideds and would not be much worth paying for in the first place.

Posted by: Lorie Byrd at January 13, 2005 09:01 PM

It's simple enough.

Work for whom you want. Just tell the truth about it.

People pay me for legal writing. I always put the client's name on what I write.

So, anyone who wants to pay me for blogging, you know where to find me.

Not disclosing is dangerous. There are no secrets. The truth will out and discredit what might be perfectly correct opinions.

Posted by: Grumpy Old Man at January 13, 2005 09:01 PM

What if CBS could report that just one blog was receiving money from the gop for its views? All become suspect. Having a comment section on a blog adds an aspect, but without disclosure blogs become irrelevant.

Posted by: es-ist at January 13, 2005 09:04 PM

Frankly, I don't think it really matters if someone is paid secretly for their postings. After all, an argument rises or falls on its own merits not on who supports it or why.

Since blogs are explicitly forums for opinion, the fact that somebody secretly funds them is largely irrelevant. I don't think anybody makes any political decisions based only on the fact that "blogger X" thinks its a good idea.

The Left has a strange fascination with motives in politics. Its as if they see all politics as literature.

Posted by: Shannon Love at January 13, 2005 09:05 PM

The real question might be are bloggers subject to libel/slander laws as well? Not having any legal experience whatsoever and being basically an idiot, I'm not quite sure.

Posted by: Chase at January 13, 2005 09:06 PM

Lets' note the discontinuity from what Kos's disclaimer claimed and what the Dean campaign reported. Kos said "I will not discuss my role within the Dean campaign, other than to say it's technical, not message or strategy. ... just technical advisors" In fact, it was very much strategy. Quote: "we paid Markos and Jerome Armstrong as consultants, largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean. ... While they ended up also providing useful advice, the initial reason for our outreach was explicitly to buy their airtime. " So did Kos dupe Dean's campaign into paying for what was not provided or did the campaign dupe Kos with a machiavellian scheme to covertly buy influence? Either way it stinks.

Posted by: Red Rover at January 13, 2005 09:07 PM

Who are you and what have you done to the real Glenn Reynolds....????!!!


What a huge kerfuffle! Be upfront, be honest. Whatever happened to "honesty is the best policy?"

It's not rocket science people!

Posted by: Romeocat at January 13, 2005 09:08 PM

The blogosphere is just a medium, it isn't an institutionalized profession. Readers who use blogs to enhance their information stream should take the content of posts on merit, and assign degrees of validity based upon the critical capacities of the reader, and their access to other information that either supports or contradicts the post. In the end, it isn't what one individual posts, but what the totality of data points and opinions reveal. . . after all, it was CBS' self-delusional belief that it was practicing objective journalism that led them to ruin. . .

Posted by: Spear Shaker at January 13, 2005 09:10 PM

Can this be related to campaign finance?

I have always held that it is absurd to restrict people's ability to spend money in politics. The money always finds a way in; all the restrictions do is create a tax on being an honest person.

In my view, it makes much more sense to have no restrictions or rules except for one: full and total disclosure. It seems to me that could easily apply to all journalists and writers in the public sphere, including bloggers.

I'd like to see media folk list where their media income comes from ("I'm paid by CBS.") I'd like to see them disclose any non-media income that has a connection to something they're blogging about ("we're doing a story tonight on the Kerry campaign, and FYI my wife works for them") And I'd like to see journalists of all stripes simply and regularly disclose their political affiliation and who they last voted for.

I don't think that any of this should be mandated. I do think that it should be voluntarily complied with by the "big guns", and the appropriate inferences drawn for people who decline to do it.

(So, for the record, so far $15 in blogging income, no income related to my blog topics, Republican, George W. Bush.)

Posted by: Robert at January 13, 2005 09:10 PM

It's interesting that Kos takes this position. When the Swift Boat Vets advocated Bush and blasted Kerry, Kos was among the first in the blogosphere to hint at "pay offs" and, later, to rail about the 527 committees.

I fail to see much distinction between the SBVs' acts and a blogger being paid to write blog entries advocating Kerry and blasting Bush.

Posted by: Venomous Kate at January 13, 2005 09:13 PM

My personal policy is full diclosure. I've only had reason to use it once. I do wonder whether we're villainizing Armstrong Williams. I don't know all the facts about the situation, but I have noticed that most people aren't waiting until they have the facts before rushing to condemn him. I've only seen one blogger willing to defend him.

Posted by: Donald S. Crankshaw at January 13, 2005 09:13 PM

Bloggers by and large are opinion journalists so right off the bat a person reading understands or should understand that blogger's bias. Rules or standards would only drive us into that black corner of the world that MSM inhabits where they struggle mightily to convince a smaller and smaller group of people that they have no bias.

What has always been particularly grating about the MSM is the desire to hide their bias behind some pious facade of objectivity. I would have respected Dan Rather a great deal more had he just come out and said "YES DAMMIT I WANT PRESIDENT BUSH BACK IN TEXAS".

Seems like the free-market is the way to regulate and moderate blogs. Dummies who abuse their readers by advocating positions for money when their heart isn't in it will be weeded out.

Course wow wouldn't it be neat to have the sort of readership that would have some party interested in paying me to write about that which I was going to blog about anyways? The stuff of dreams.


Posted by: Pierre Legrand at January 13, 2005 09:15 PM

Kos writes:

What's your point here? The administration is using tax dollars to pay conservative pundits (and crazy amounts at that). Williams says there are more. Until people own up to who is on the take, I'm willing to assume they all are.

Why that should be embarrassing is beyond me.

It should be a little embarassing, Kos. Generalizing in a judgemental way from one person to many persons on the basis of a superficial shared characteristic is a form of prejudice or bigotry.

Hopefully, you would be embarassed to write something that might indicate you are a political bigot.

Posted by: Matthew Goggins at January 13, 2005 09:15 PM

Fascinating conversation - the post and the comments.

My take on this is to follow the financial markets, like publicly traded companies. Full disclosure of anything that would affect the "stock" of the blog - the reputation, however you want to define the trust imparted by a good blogger.

Though I have to agree with Prof. Reynolds that if you try to codify it, the lawyers will be a pain. Better to have it ingrained in the "culture" of blogging that bloggers know to disclose any financial arrangements that might alter their opinions or reportage.

I think that's the best approach - make it unacceptable/irresponsible/unethical/whatever not to disclose and let the smart folks figure out where the trust line falls.

Posted by: Mark Dunn at January 13, 2005 09:16 PM

The left loves this because it gives them another way to argue without confronting the bankruptcy of their ideas--and allows them to add another smear against conservative minorities. Now, in addition to calling opponents racists, chickenhawks, etc. in an attempt to silence debate, they can say "conservatives are all on the take, so we refuse to consider their positions."

Leftists like the malice-dripping Kos hate their adversaries and would censor if they could (I've read many times, e.g., that as a state employee you shouldn't be allowed to be so dishonest, i.e. you should be censored), so selectively suspending the presumption of innocence is par for this course.

You treat Kos (who wrote that Bush killed the Mosul med terror victims, not the killers) with much more civility than he deserves or would extend to you. Screw'm.

Posted by: Vitriolics at January 13, 2005 09:17 PM

As reallllyy long time innocent bystander as a *reader* of blogs, I think Z' idea of a easily found list of 'donors' would be the simplest solution. As Kos points out, blogs themselves are becoming self supporting, and even futher up the the croll there is a fabulous discussion on whether or not blogs can be covered as periodicals.
I must add here that I am thrilled to have all of you writing,it's far more than coffee and a newsprint ever has been, and cross indexed de riguer.
Thanks for doing my headline writing with a punch.

No Code,puhleeeze...... that would stop the sheer Hunter Thompson aspects of blogs. Absolute Freedom with a dash of insanity

Posted by: David D at January 13, 2005 09:18 PM

I don't think it matters THAT much. I think it would be nice if disclosures were available if sought out, however, I think that people should simply take what people say at face value. who cares if Kos was paid, I don't agree with anything he says paid or not. I'd be very interested to see if Andrew Sullivan recieved any moneys, but again, I think it's important that people judge the content of the opinion and do their homework on it's validity, and put far less weight on WHO is saying what.

And that's what the blogosphere offers, with so many fact checkers and counter-arguements, what you are saying has to hold water, regardless of who you are.

so i don't think it matters much, really.

Posted by: jason at January 13, 2005 09:19 PM

Really, I don't want to hear about Kos. I'd rather this discussion focused on the general issue.

Posted by: Glenn Reynolds at January 13, 2005 09:19 PM

Just wanted to comment on Instapundit, merely to say that I did.

Now I will return to reading this very interesting comment string.

Posted by: Juliette at January 13, 2005 09:21 PM

Wasn't Blogistan supposed to be about the market place of ideas, where those with an attractive, intelligent, or constructive (perhaps destructive) comment would through their own fruition achieve higher and higher status in terms of influence and reading clientele? It seems to me that any amount of inordinate money that was put into a blog, unless it offered cash money to its readers for reading, would be unsuccessful if it were not writing about something that appealed to a certain portion of its readership.

Now, for more corporate mediums like newspapers, cable news, etc., although the marketplace is definitely at work, it can usually be subverted by monopolizing ownership in certain areas (cough, Clear Channel, cough). Taking a step up, government can also do much the same, although at a much more escalated level, with virtually infinite funds for its own use. It is essentially this dynamic that raises the ire of people that see Armstrong Williams, who was initially opposed to NCLB in 2001, being paid to essentially lobby for a program using taxpayer funds on behalf of an institution (the govt) that can exercise monopoly power over such message dissemination.

my blog

Posted by: Neil Shah at January 13, 2005 09:23 PM

As with all ethics, (business ethics, science ethics, etc) there will always be people who don't adhere to the code. If you want people to trust you, you give them a reason to, i.e. disclamers, with all the information that you feel they need to know. If you don't and people find out, you risk your reputation. It all depends on the individual blogger. For readers, you learn who to trust in the blog world the same way you learn who to trust in the outside world. You can't trust everyone, but you can learn how to figure out who is trustworthy. And if you're not sure, you take it with a grain of salt.

Posted by: Sami at January 13, 2005 09:24 PM

caveat emptor
how the heck can anyone ever know ?
this isn't caesar's wife we're talking about.
if the writing stinks then you'll know. trouble is that now we're inured to it and automatically go the clique. we don't read the ny times anymore because it turns us off. if you like the koolaid you drink it, you don't care who made it.
what's wrong is the government's problem. people that make up their own laws unnecesaarily obfuscate commerce,thought,and action, there's too much of that already.
do your own thing bloggers, you'll get caught if it's too obvious. the people that give you m oney are already on your side anyway and if they weren't- you're a ho.

Posted by: max wyeth at January 13, 2005 09:24 PM

My first-hand blogging experience is in a much smaller, and I suppose less potentially lucrative, arena: the comics blogosphere. There, no one was getting paid by (say) DC or Marvel or Tokyopop to promote their wares, so being on a company's payroll wasn't an issue per se. However, there came a point in mid-2004 when some of the independent publishers began realizing that the blogs could increase sales of titles they reviewed favorably, and therefore began sending comp copies for review. It took a couple of months for us to collectively realize it, but now the consensus is that many bloggers (and I'd include myself in this, I think) reviewed these books more favorably than they otherwise would have because they received them gratis from a friendly publisher.

A more pernicious problem in the comics blogosphere, I think, are the effusive reviews bloggers give to graphic novels by cartoonists who turn out to be their personal friends, which is rarely disclosed, and EXTREMELY rarely disclosed in the post containing the effusive review itself. In some cases this may not matter, because the reviewer liked the cartoonist in question's work first and only then sought their friendship, but still, this is, if not unethical, at least a bit misleading.

I'd imagine that this sort of ethical dilemma is far more common in the poliblogosphere than the Williams/Kos/DaschlevThune situations--Beltway or regional-politics insiders going to bat for people they know and like personally.

Posted by: Sean T. Collins at January 13, 2005 09:24 PM

It's odd to me that non-disclosure is even perceived as a viable tactic for bloggers. It seems to me the entire blogosphere is so niche-oriented that the only way to make enough noise to get noticed is to have a very specific slant on the world.

The fact you're receiving funding of some sort only reinforces your position. To try to be everything to everybody is to be nobody to anybody.

Posted by: Scott P at January 13, 2005 09:25 PM

I think this ties in importantly to the question that will be raised more and more often regarding bloggers' rights as journalists. If we have know way of knowing who is on the take from whom, then how can we know who is legitimately blowing a whistle, and who is defrauding the public they seek to inform?

I think it was right of Kos to post the disclaimer, and sure it would have been better if he'd been more explicit and posted a permanent, obvious list of his consultancies on the mainpage. But he still deserves credit for going a lot further than many others would have in the same position.

We bloggers have set ourselves up as a legitimate opposition media, and the sooner we iron out some wrinkles in an ethical code, the sooner that image can be solidified for the benefit of the public.

Posted by: RFTR at January 13, 2005 09:26 PM

I think the better question is this: Kos announced to his readers in June 2003 that he was working for Dean. No payments appear in Dean's FEC report to either he or Jerome Armstrong till November 2003. While there is one transportation reimbursement for Jerome - Markos' name appears no where I could find. Now isn't that interesting?

Posted by: Mike at January 13, 2005 09:28 PM

My blog, Tomfoolery of the Highest Order, is always available for anyone wants to pay me $240K to promote their agenda.

Seriously, the blogosphere knows all. From the 200-hit a day guys like me to the 200,000 hit a day guys like you, Professor Reynolds, there is always someone out there who can and will expose every fraud, scam, and pay-for-press that comes along.

The blogosphere will make us all 5% smarter, and help to keep the Rathers of the world from getting away with what the media has gotten away with for years.

Posted by: Brian at January 13, 2005 09:28 PM

My gut reaction is that bloggers should come clean about what, if any, monies they are receiving from parties that could be construed as constituting a conflict of interest. It's tempting to think along the lines of a "blogger code of ethics," but it begs the question as to what the enforcing body would be. If compliance with the code were voluntary, well, it would seem we're right back where we started.

But maybe that's okay.

Posted by: Cynical Nation at January 13, 2005 09:30 PM

Isn't this fairly common for newspaper columnists? Not to get paid to promote a specific policy, like the Williams case, but just general "consulting" fees. Like Krugman and Enron.

Posted by: JeremyR at January 13, 2005 09:31 PM

I only wish I was important enough to be offered six figures for my writing!

I don't have a problem with paying an opinion maker, as long as the financial contribution is disclosed. I fear that would weaken your message, however. If you say "I'm being paid $50,000 to work for the Dean campaign, but I would have supported him anyway," a lot of skeptics won't believe you.

I do have a problem with the government spending my money paying an opinion maker. Paying for an advertisement campaign to get the word out about a new program? Probably okay. Buying good press? No.

Posted by: Greg at January 13, 2005 09:35 PM

Don't we all read many blogs from different political, cultural, etc viewpoints and then sit down with either java or beer or whiskey and decide which we agree with the most? BTW whiskey seems to work the best.

Posted by: Pat McDonnell at January 13, 2005 09:38 PM

When you are playing a competitive game of golf there are plenty of opportunities to cheat. It is your personal ethics that keeps you from doing so.... that and the fact that you will never get another money game in the club if you get caught. In less than a week everyone in the club will know. The code is unwritten but it is generally followed.

Blog ethics should be likewise policed. If you get caught you can't get a game. You can keep writing but no one is going to read. The word is going to spread.

Posted by: Joseph Olde at January 13, 2005 09:38 PM

Bloggers should always come clean. People yearn to hear honest (genuine, real) discussion. That is the Blogs power as has been said over and over again. If a Blogger is not honest, he's negated.

Posted by: joshlbetts at January 13, 2005 09:40 PM

LGF's full disclosure statement.

Posted by: Charles Johnson at January 13, 2005 09:41 PM

People should read blogs the same way they should read newspapers--with a jaundiced eye.

It's well and good for bloggers to discuss among themselves what standards and norms they should maintain and aspire to, etc., but how to enforce whatever consensus might be established going forward..?

A (relatively) small number of (what have become) "big name" bloggers have gotten to this point fact-checking each other, disputing points of contention and posting retractions when necessary, and that's great.

Perhaps bloggers of like values should aggregate themselves together, ratify a constitution, trademark a brand name and include that brand name somewhere on their individual websites.

Then readers can look at the aggregate and consider the source when assessing the discourse put forth.

Of course,some will point out this is inherently excusionary.

Posted by: bernalchemist at January 13, 2005 09:43 PM

And that's why I venture into Charles' stronghold every chance I get.

Posted by: joshlbetts at January 13, 2005 09:45 PM

As a staunch lizardoid minion at lgf, I'm unable to say much that's civil about Kos, so I'll comply with Glenn's wishes and leave that subject alone.

However, it does seem to me that the right wing of the blogosphere in this past election functioned as the grassroots force that the left wing pretended to be. So many prominent bloggers were hired--in whatever capacity--by the Dems that it seemed like that Party was hoping to use the blogs as a force multiplier. Witness the Left's projection when they accused powerline, allah, lgf, & all of colluding in their exposure of Rathergate, for example.

As for payment, it's wrong on its face to pretend to be an independent pundit if you're secretly getting paid for it. I don't see what the controversy is about, on that score.

I dimly remember something similar from the Clinton years. A columnist offered to give the Clintons some praise in his column if they would...and here the mists of memory won't part, sorry. SFAIK, the Clintons didn't go along with it, the columnist denied offering it, and that was the end of it.

Thanks, Glenn, for opening the comments! Always a pleasure to meet the other Instamaniacs.

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at January 13, 2005 09:46 PM

Regarding every post:

Yes I think, there could be boilerplate for the bottom of the post (or site page, or in their "about" page). But if someone has an interest that relates to that specific article, definitely post it.

Look at stock analysts, at the end of every single analytical article there is a disclosure for either the analyst or the company they work for. Even if they have no interest, it is still written at the end.

Of course, they have money involved so they have to go that distance. But it would be nice if the rest of the journalism community would be that diligent about reporting vested interest.

I am starting to think that reporters should even disclose their own feelings on the matter. Since for commentary feelings are pretty easy to figure out, but when there is bias on the front page, it can be hard to see.

News Satire that's right for you

Posted by: PlutosDad at January 13, 2005 09:46 PM

Frankly, I wish that I would get paid for blogging. I think it's necessary for anyone who is reporting anything to give a full disclosure. That's part of what separates the blogosphere from MSM - we put our biases on our sleaves. Yes, we are biased. But we're also honest (of course, it's possible to be both).

Come clean (completely - either through a well placed and highly publicized post one not posted on the weekend or through the ads you have on your site...) and be honest. Is that really so difficult?

Posted by: Daniel at January 13, 2005 09:46 PM

Sanity Inspector: Thanks. I've already deleted some nasty comments about Kos. If people want to bash Kos they can start their own blogs; I want a different conversation here.

Posted by: Glenn Reynolds at January 13, 2005 09:48 PM

The fact that Williams was a paid shill makes the Bush administration look bad, or worse, stupid. It discredits both the briber and the bribee. The same with Kos--he makes the Kerry campaign look bad or stupid. Shills should admit up-front who they're shilling for if they want any respect or credibility.

Posted by: Miriam at January 13, 2005 09:48 PM

I take Kos's point that the use of taxpayer dollars to pay off columnists, or bloggers or whomever is a separate issue. It's fundamentally a governance issue; I care a lot more about what DoE thought it was doing than I do about Armstrong Williams.

I'd echo what a number of other posters have said already on the disclosure issue for bloggers. Respect for their readers, and their own long term interest, points toward straightforward disclosure of compensation from and relationships with the objects of their commentary. There are some bloggers -- Rich Galen comes to mind -- for whom this is a bigger issue than it is for others. And, frankly, a blogger who held out hopes of consulting (or speechwriting, or whatever) for a campaign or an interest group might well be tempted to shade his blog commentary to increase his chances of getting the work. I suppose that raises other issues.

But for most bloggers at most times, straightforward disclosure would seem the course with the fewest potential problems.

Posted by: Zathras at January 13, 2005 09:49 PM

As a taxpayer, my end of the Armstrong Williams cash grab is what, about a tenth of a cent? Excuse me if I don't get all worked up about it. As a former NSAer, I'll save my outrage for Sandy Berger and the top secret codeword document theft. No telling what that will cost us all.

Posted by: swashbuckler at January 13, 2005 09:50 PM

hmmm, i agree with the basic principle of acknowledging those you sign contracts with, but what if, say, some company/politician/insanely rich person makes a huge 'donation' via your tip jar? i would think that ought to be questioned, at least, to some extent.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at January 13, 2005 09:55 PM

I tend to assume that people could very well be getting payments (or payments in kind) for what they say in public... if everyone's going to be a media critic then doesn't each person take the responsibility of deciding who to trust onto themselves? Moreover, doesn't each person already reserve the right to expect (or not) any such conflict of interest disclosures? If you literally want everyone to trust you all the time, you're probably going to have a live video feed of yourself while you type, with a complete FBI-style background analysis in your "about me" link (including your 1040 and other tax forms), and of course open commenting and trackback and so forth.

Meanwhile, if you don't care, you can label your blog as being written by "Anonymous Coward #42", never link to your sources, and so forth.

Over time, if enough people are urgently demanding absolute accountability and transparency, then the blogs with full disclosure will get most of the traffic. And if other things -- including the simple ability to read a bunch of random blogs of unknown veracity and origin and see what people are talking about -- are what really matter, then full disclosure probably won't get picked up.

I don't think more than a handful of blogs ever picked up on Justene's BLAP statement at CalBlog. Why? No one was demanding it, even if it was a good idea.

Meanwhile, the first thing I'm looking for in a blog or any other publication is cogent arguments and links (or even just references) to sources. If it turns out later that you've been paid by So-And-So's For The-Latest-Political-Fad to write that brilliant and thoughtful piece you linked to death, well, I'm mostly just going to be... jealous. Heh.

Posted by: Sarah at January 13, 2005 09:56 PM

I don't give a damn if a blogger discloses or not. Why should I? If what a man says makes sense, it makes sense, whether or not he's being paid to say it. Indeed, I couldn't care less about any aspect of a blogger's motivation. He might be saying stuff because he's being paid to, blackmailed to, because he's trying to kiss important ass of one flavor or another, or just because he's had too much coffee this morning. So what? To influence me his thinking must stand on its own feet anyway -- independent of his reputation, motivation, physical attractiveness, wealth or any other such irrelevant fluff.

Taking money only matters when folks choose to or must take your opinions as important and valid just because of who you are. When you have an aristocracy, that is. For example, it matters when a judge takes money from litigants on the sly, because his bench opinions do matter just because of who he is, because he is an aristocrat (within the courthouse, that is).

The marketplace of ideas is another story. If, to take a random example, I were in the habit of accepting the unsupported opinion of a UT law prof as gospel truth just because he's a famous blogger, then, naturally, were that opinion bought and paid for without my knowledge I would have cause to worry, because in effect my trust would be being bought and sold. But it would be half my own fault anyway for putting it up for sale, by abdicating my ornery Jacksonian right -- nay, duty -- to think for myself.

Posted by: Quadraginta at January 13, 2005 09:56 PM

Bingley: Yeah, I guess. Of course, Amazon's limited to $50. I once got a $500 donation from a reader. But I don't even remember who it was, though I was grateful when it happened, a couple of years ago.

Posted by: Glenn Reynolds at January 13, 2005 09:57 PM

It's more than a balance sheet of pros/cons. A foundation has been layed which the Bloggers cannot allow to be corrupted. If the principal of superpostion is to hold, then a consensus must be reached.

I trully believe that history has been made and a much better future is possible. It cannot be corrupted.

Posted by: joshlbetts at January 13, 2005 09:59 PM

so that's where the money for the aviary and the cognac came from...

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at January 13, 2005 10:01 PM

I disagree with about 150% of what KOS has to say and was disgusted with his "Screw em" comment. With that said, I am not sure what the big deal is all about. I know without a shadow of a doubt, that he supports left wing candidates. Simple put, that is just who he is. That is not a surprise to me or anyone else. I have not one iota of a problem with him, or any other blogger earning some funds off what they do, be it blog ads or be it payment from campaigns or just flat out payments. If you don’t agree with what that blog has to say, then pick one of the other countless blogs out there that you do agree with.

To clarify, I have not taken one red cent to write for

It is what I do to relax.

Posted by: Paul lewis at January 13, 2005 10:03 PM

Bingley: Yeah, the aviary and the cognac. The smoking jacket was a gift from my mom.

Posted by: Glenn Reynolds at January 13, 2005 10:04 PM

I see this as a completely individual issue. If you really care if someone is getting blogola, you'll make your choice of whom you read based on their disclosure (or lack thereof) and/or who is paying/hiring them.
Prof. Reynolds - fear no Code! How could one impose it? Codes like the old "Comics Code" or such were efforts to avoid censorship, etc., yes? I think the blog djinn could never be stuffed into any Code bottle.

Posted by: Major John at January 13, 2005 10:05 PM

well, i guess it comes down to 'integrity'. if it came out that lgf was working as a consultant for, say, fox news, would his work on the forged memos been given any credence?

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at January 13, 2005 10:06 PM

Bloggers' responsibility should be commensurate to how seriously they hope to be considered as journalists/commentators.

Kos takes himself very, very seriously. And it seems to me his disclosure was less than forthright. He said he provided "technical help," but it looks like he actually took money to write favorably about Dean.

Posted by: Dan at January 13, 2005 10:07 PM

MSM journalists have been doing this for years disguised as "speaking fees." We accept it as fact even though it is not often disclosed. Having Armstrong being paid by the government is not all that much different than if he were to have been paid by the NEA or the AFL/CIO from a ethical point of view.

The only difference with bloggers is that we, the readers, only go to bloggers to get a unfiltered opinion. Having Kos or any other blogger blog without full disclosure violates that understanding. If I wanted the Dean POV I would read their press releases. If I wanted the government POV I would watch C-SPAN. Blurring the line of what is honest opinion and what is political spin is not healthy for the blogosphere in toto. We (the readers) lose out on a perceived objectivity -- the very thing we are seeking -- even if the objectivity is an objective opinion not a claimed objective fact as the MSM claims to provide.

Posted by: Red Rover at January 13, 2005 10:07 PM

in radio, television, and print media, doesn't building an audience and targeted advertising function in a similar way? at least from the standpoint of intellectual honesty? i know it's more obvious, but you still on some level have to play to your audience to stay on the air and get a paycheck.

I suppose that would support the value of blogs as an interest rather than a money maker.

Posted by: jason at January 13, 2005 10:07 PM

It's unlikely that this sort of ethical disclosure will even be necessary for the majority of bloggers. People try to buy influence or access when opportunity presents itself. There are hundreds of small blogs that, quite frankly, would never worry about this. And those big blogs which might be tempted, like Kos, to be paid by an outside faction will have to weigh whether it's worth risking their bigness and influence in order to covertly accept cash. My guess is, given the necessary trust it takes to build a blog up to the point where it would then become attractive to a 3rd party, the blogger would be less likely to mess with his acquired reputation. It's more likely he'd either make full disclosure or turn down the offer entirely. But, if his price is met and he doesn't disclose the relationship, other competing blogs in the marketplace of ideas will find out, or the MSM will find out (perceving blogs as a threat, they'd likely expose it if it were newsworthy, or use it as a chip in their favor to be called upon).

In short, I think the marketplace of reputation and competition for honesty, essential to building an influential blog, will prevent a lot of these problems.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at January 13, 2005 10:08 PM

I applaud the policy of full disclosure, but what assurance do we have that bloggers will be honest and forthright? It seems to me we have no assurance, except the accumulated confidence we develop from reading and thinking about what a blogger says. I have confidence in Professor Reynolds, not because of any disclosure on his website, but because I've read his website for a long time and I've developed a respect for his viewpoints.

Having said that, I vote for disclosure of funding in the "about" section, in a special "disclosures" section, or on the face of the website. Other disclosures (such as a personal bias or special interest) should be made when the matter is discussed, such as "I think UT is the best law school in the world and, by the way, I am a UT graduate".

Posted by: DRJ at January 13, 2005 10:10 PM

It's fine to take money for punditry, as long as you disclose it. But it's a little hypocritical to then criticize other pundits for dong the same. (Markos, I am looking in your direction.)

Posted by: TallDave at January 13, 2005 10:13 PM

The whole idea of journalism being a "profession" is a conceit that has only held sway since the 1960s.

After graduating from college with my B.A. in the early 80s, I went to work in editorial support at a Knight-Ridder paper. The generational difference in the staff was stunning. At that time, they didn't look at hiring a reporter unless they had an advanced degree or a distinguished career at a smaller paper or a wire service. Yet, many of the highly competent older staffers never went to college at all. That convinced me that newspaper journalism was primarily a craft, not a profession; and the whole idea of the "professional journalist" was garbage.

The MSM's problem is organic. It's linked to the inability of liberal arts colleges to train students to think critically. What passes for critical thinking at the undergraduate level is really a cultivated taste for intellectual conformity.

Critical thinking is vital for great journalism; intellectual conformity fosters the endless flow of dreck reporting that's the norm for the MSM outlets. Yet even if they wanted to hire better people, they can only pick from what the colleges give them. That's the root of the MSM's problem.

To blog, you don't have to be a professional journalist, or a professional anything. You just have to have a web site with the right software. The really good blogs, which are invariably written by great critical thinkers, get buzz, and become popular. The other 99% ... well, who cares. It's Darwinism at its best.

As for Koz whoring for a big-money sponsor, compare him to someone like Josh Marshall, who I am certain would never enter into such an arrangement, and ask yourself: Who is the critical thinker? Whose arguments are more credible? Whose integrity is stronger?

You don't need some arbitrary "code of blogger ethics" to answer these questions.

Posted by: Scott Ferguson at January 13, 2005 10:13 PM

The point, however, is that Kos is being treated rather more generously above than he's treating others (and, I suspect, more generously than he would treat me were our positions reversed, though I hope I'm wrong about that), and yet...Are you people on crack?

4 people got fired at CBS for passing documents disparaging George Bush the White House issued to the press itself when they got their hands on them.

Not only has no one got fired in the last 22 months WMD haven't been found in Iraq, but the guy who recommened the president lie in the state of the union about Iraq buying uranium from Niger is on the shortlist to be promoted to senior diplomat in charge of negotiating arms control. (

...and ya'll are complaining about the selective application of principles? How much more needy can you get?

Posted by: Mike at January 13, 2005 10:15 PM

In an absence of regulation of blogs (which I think would be unconstitutional), there's no way to make any blogger disclose anything. Enforcement of standards is limited to the blogger's embarrassment, loss of credibility with other bloggers, and resultant criticism in the blogosphere -- much like negative feedback on Ebay.

I think that's how it should be, or else free speech will suffer. But we should all think about this stuff. I've never taken a dime to say anything, and I won't. (But I wouldn't want the government telling me I can't!)

Posted by: Eric Scheie at January 13, 2005 10:16 PM

Oh and the "technical" dodge is just an insult to everyone's intelligence. Like they just happened to pick him as opposed to any of the million other web design experts out there. Nothing to do with Daily Kos being a pundit in the top 10 blog traffic sites.

Not very "reality-based."

Posted by: TallDave at January 13, 2005 10:16 PM

As regards ethical standards for blogs don't make the perfect the enemy of the good

Posted by: pat mcdonnell at January 13, 2005 10:16 PM

Mr Bingley,

"if it came out that lgf was working as a consultant for, say, fox news, would his work on the forged memos been given any credence?"

Well yes, because the motivations of the individual making the accusation of forgery would have nothing to do with the fact of whether the documents where forgeries or not. The only people who care about motivation are those seeking to make arguments from authority. If you must blindly accept someone's pronouncements and cannot otherwise evaluate their arguments then that person possible biases become an issue but otherwise not.

The good thing about the blogsphere, as the work of LGF and others on memogate really highlighted, you don't have to know the individuals prejudices or motives to evaluate the veracity of their arguments.

Posted by: Shannon Love at January 13, 2005 10:20 PM

In the extremely unlikely event that someone offered me money to blog a certain way on certain issues, I really don't think I could accept it (easy for me to say, I know -- what are the chances of it happening?).

If the idea is to use my blog to shill for views I may not honestly hold, it would cease to be my blog. On the other hand, if they simply want to pay me to write in other venues promoting what they want to promote, that's called copywriting and I wouldn't have a problem with it.

Obviously I'm blogging for different reasons than Kos and a lot of other bloggers, and that implies a different ethic.

Posted by: McGehee at January 13, 2005 10:29 PM

There is quite a difference between a blogger taking money from a group that he/she has already aligned with and the "neutral" blog that secretly takes payola to shill for any particular issue under the guise of having done "research" or at least a whole lotta thinking.

That's what's so perplexing about Williams and Kos. Why waste the money on someone who already agrees with you? If one is interested in expanding an audience, wouldn't the cash be more efficiently spent on a centrist or even contra blog? For instance, if Glenn would suddenly come out in favor of more restrictions on gun ownership, wouldn't at least some people begin to wonder which anti-gun group was buying his bandwidth?

So absent the flagrant purchase of one's ethics, the issue comes down not necessarily to payola but to cronyism. And in that instance it's merely a case of lining one's pockets.

Posted by: Daniel at January 13, 2005 10:29 PM

Sorry, didn't see Glenn's earlier remonstrations regarding mentioning Kos. Feel free to delete my posts, I'm sure I'm rehashing the obvious there.

It's probably a dood idea to standardize certain blogging ethics, so that disclosure can be made efficiently for reader and writer. For instance, blogs could standardize on having a link (maybe next to the donate button) to a listing of all contributions within the last year over $100 and who they came from. I think ITM has something like this already.

Posted by: TallDave at January 13, 2005 10:30 PM

in an ideal world that is true, shannon, but it seems to me that were the scenario i presented true than there would have been such a hue and cry raised that would have obscured and overshadowed the veracity of lgf's claims.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at January 13, 2005 10:33 PM

The people who should be upset the most are democrats. Kos has been trying to push Dean off on the DNC spot, relentlessly. Every dem that he put down, in theory, he was paid to deride. Taking the money during the primaries and expecting to be seen as even slightly objective is ludicrous. The biggest problem I have is this quote,
"In any case, given that Daily Kos is self-sufficient now, I quit the consulting biz."
Logic would indicate he has just received a large sum of money, or was paid exorbitantly for his work.

Posted by: mark at January 13, 2005 10:34 PM

Wow, comments on Instapundit...

Okay, at the risk of repeating some of what's been said: Yes, blogs SHOULD have some acknowledgment of anyone paying them. That's a given. Advertisements, at least, are obvious. (Most of the time.) But blogs obviously don't HAVE to... it's a sort of murky area.

I don't think anyone is suggesting a law about this... that is definitely a bad idea. I'm mostly commenting just to comment on Instapundit, to be honest. How's that for disclosure?

I really don't care what Kos does, though. No offense to him, or anything. He just doesn't run my type of site. Differences of opinions and all that. (And even if we did agree, my list of blogs I read daily is pushing maximum density anyway.)

Posted by: Adam Lawson at January 13, 2005 10:35 PM

If you're blogging politics, and you're getting paid by some political interest--that's valuable context. It ought to be something we expect to be delivered in a prominent way. Nothing mandatory. Never. But, it's certainly an issue of trust with your readership.

What irks me is this idea of "non-disclose" agreements. I'm not entirely hip to the biz--but "campaign consultants" bound by "non-disclose" agreements sounds like trouble to me. Maybe we should be asking for the visibility from the payer, not the payee.

Posted by: Rus Steel at January 13, 2005 10:39 PM

The better course of action, I think, is for a blogger to admit who he associates with in the course of his writing, if possible from the very beginning, so his readers know where he's coming from and make an informed choice.

That's my PHP 1.12 (also known as my two cents worth in Philippine currency).

Posted by: Paul at January 13, 2005 10:41 PM

I don't really care if someone gets paid for their opinion. The money doesn't make it any more or less valid. The good thing about the blogscape is if you are interested you can find all sides of any issue. The other thing is in a relatively short time all the players will be revealed and we will know who is telling us what they think and who is passing along a paid advertisement. Wrong doesn't become right just because you got paid for it, and there are too many people who now have the ability to show the silliness of any such argument.

Posted by: tommy at January 13, 2005 10:42 PM

Unfortunately, I think there are a large number of bloggers who somehow think that the introduction of the profit motive into blogging will somehow lead inexorably to the MSM-ization of the blogoshpere. IMO, that is a problem that they have to get over because as long as blogs grow in popularity, money will flock to blogs and bloggers. If bloggers don't fall into the trappings of MSM (like the arrogance of self-importance) there should be no reason that money and blogging cannot successfuly mix.

With respect to this particular situation, Kos posted a disclaimer, end of story.

Posted by: Publius Rex at January 13, 2005 10:44 PM

Armstrong Williams can hardly be considered a "blogger." If anything, he is/was a syndicated radio personality - who, as an additional self-promotion, went into "blogging."

After all, "blog" is currently the "in" term. It's also a designation that - I believe - more aptly describes an outsider, or better, a heretofore unknown, non-public personality. Nonetheless, virtually everyone nowadays claims his or her site to be a "blog." Yet, I don't think anyone would give this distinction to, say, Barbra Striesand - or even Howard Dean. And for that matter, Armstrong Williams.

Thus, I see the first question as - what constitutes a genuine blog? Say, for example, the URL contains no blog-reference in the address; is it really a "blog?" More importantly, what makes a genuine blogger?"

As a quick observation, it seems that blog-content originated as an outgrowth of Internet forums (or boards) - wherein individuals posted opposing viewpoints, but when pressed (pestered) for "standing," added personal information, even hyper-versions of their professional resumes. In all cases, however, the poster was not a public figure – that is, so he or she claimed.

Which brings us back to Mr. Williams; was he a “blogger,” or a shill? Well, I say neither. He became, however, an “opportunity” to denigrate every blogger who sits – like me – at an off-brand computer lobbing verbal bombs at the “enemy.” In keeping, I shall not experience happiness again until they run Kofi and his gang of UN thieves out on a rail.

Posted by: Aunt Rant at January 13, 2005 10:44 PM

Ultimately, it comes down to the individual blogger. Whether we codify a set of ethics or agree in a secret handshake about a double-secret set of blogging protocols, there's no way to enforce them and any attempts to do so would run into that old First Amendment argument.

My gut says that someone who receives money to continue advancing his/her own previously-held political opinions should disclose that fact in a forthright, ongoing manner. In addition to a "Donors/Supporters" link, I like the suggestion someone made above about a tagline at the end of each politically-oriented post. Just as a reminder.

Were I to encounter such a disclaimer - be it from the Left or the Right - I'd feel comfortable continuing to read that blogger's opinions.

On the other hand, let's say I had been reading a blogger for any meaningful period and had believed his/her opinions were the product of deliberate thought. If I were later to find that those opinions had been "sponsored" - and the blogger hadn't disclosed it at the time - I'd no longer respect the blogger's views as being his or her own.

After all, I don't read blogs to have them spew pol-planned material. If I want to go to a candidate's site or a PAC's site to find out their political platforms, I will.

Posted by: Venomous Kate at January 13, 2005 10:47 PM

I don't think the argument is centrally around whether bloggers should have disclosure or not. I think we all agree on that.

But as I stated on my blog Monday morning, I think watching Armstrong Williams, who has been hated by the left just like other conservative pundits have, fall from grace has allowed pundits from the left and the right to kick the man while he's down. Genuine criticism has given way to self-righteousness through this whole ordeal.

Unfortunately for Kos, his self-righteousness has come back to haunt him. Kos knew better than to make comments assuming all conservative pundits are being paid off. Hopefully he'll watch his tongue a lil more carefully in the future.

Posted by: Expertise at January 13, 2005 10:50 PM

[...] Kos emails to say that I'm wrong, and that he wouldn't jump on me if the situations were reversed [...]

If you believe that, I've got some Arizona coastline you're going to adore.

Kos has the integrity of a cockroach on crack - he would savage any conservative that did exactly what he did, no ifs, ands, or buts. His caterwauling about Armstrong Williams reeks of his special brand of hypocrisy.

And since when did anyone on the left object to spending taxpayer dollars for the dissemination of propaganda?

Posted by: aelfheld at January 13, 2005 10:50 PM

Actually, Markos is full of shit and here's why. At two seperate points in his correspondence with you, he points out that he "didn't take taxpayer money." And this is true, if only by accident. By the time the agreement was made, the Dean campaign hadn't sworn off federal matching funds, and wouldn't for nearly six months.

Accordingly, Markos knew or should have known that any monies that he he and Jerome were paid, could very well have been relenished IF the campaign had accepted such funds. Therefore, if anyone is to be commended for this, it is Dean and Trippi, NOT Markos and Jerome. To suggest otherwise is blatant, self-righteous lying.

Posted by: skippystalin at January 13, 2005 10:52 PM

A) I'm not all that excited about tax-funded blogging.


B) I don't have any problem with a blogger getting paid to blog, disclosure or no disclosure. I WOULD have a problem with a blogger that got paid to lie, and even then I think that the fact-checking nature of the blogosphere in general would quickly correct the problem.

Posted by: D Vines at January 13, 2005 10:56 PM

I don't know. If someone offered me money to continue doing what I do, I don't see any reason to turn them down. And I don't know that I would have to disclose that, say, the Israeli dept. of Foreign Affairs was paying me for my already well-known pro-Israeli and Zionist views.

Then again, no one has offered me a dime to write anything on my blog. I'll decide what to do when it happens. ;-)

Posted by: Meryl Yourish at January 13, 2005 11:03 PM

Taking money from a political campaign implies a change in the message that a blogger would normally deliver, either in content or emphasis. I would call this the purchase of the blogger's influence despite what the WSJ reports. While not unethical if fully disclosed, I think this is a strategic mistake on the part of the participating blogger because it will necessarily lead to a reduction in his or her potential audience and future influence as readers recognize they are no longer able to consume the independent and insightful opinion they had previously valued. While the existing value is sold, the future value is reduced and may never be reclaimed.

In addition, when widely read and well known bloggers, such as Kos, accept money it diminishes the influence of bloggers as a whole.

Posted by: tim at January 13, 2005 11:03 PM

What should we disclose if we don't get paid any money to write?

When I write about politics, or Iraq, and if it's not clear that I love George Bush, then I usually throw that in at some point. But not always.

Part of the fun of the internet is the ablility to join a conversation with strangers who don't know who you are and where you are coming from.

If a paid advocate writes a blog, he should disclose. But what if he is joining a thread on someone else's blog? Should his statements and arguments stand on their own merits, or does the advocate need to disclose every time he puts fingertip to keyboard?

Posted by: Matthew Goggins at January 13, 2005 11:07 PM

Please, no codes. The freewheeling nature of the internet is what makes it work. If an occasional wheel falls off, that's the price we pay.

I would expect transparency from any of the bloggers whose sites I frequent because it's the ethical thing to do and, as far as I know, they're ethical people with rigorous standards. Intellectual dishonesty is surely the fastest way to lose readers (and I've left more than one blog behind for just that reason).

The 'sphere will regulate itself, the wheat will separate from the chaff, the cream will rise to the top (insert favorite cliche here) just fine without "codes" or even "standards". A discussion of such, however, is never out of order.

Posted by: Kyda Sylvester at January 13, 2005 11:10 PM

I think compliance should be voluntary but customary. It would thus trade in the currency of the blogosphere: credibility. If you disclose, you gain credibility. If you don't, people can wonder whether Karl Rove or George Soros is behind your blog.

Now all we need is for someone to design a nice freeware web donation tracking system to link with.

Posted by: TallDave at January 13, 2005 11:11 PM

[Dude, I can't believe this post threatens you so much you have to delete it rather than address it. Your the one who brought up the selective application of principles, not me. How cowardly can you get?]

***********From Glenn **************

You're offtopic and nasty, Mike. I've been deleting nasty anti-Kos posts, too. But since you insist, here's the post. Hope you're happy with what it says about your contribution to the discussion.

*************** Back to Mike ***************

Speaking of the selective application of principles, let's revisit this little gem:I just noted Kos's comments. And what bothered me about it wasn't Kos. It was that Kos -- who I used to think of as a reasonable if partisan lefty -- seems to be infested with a degree of hatred that I previously associated with the Democratic Underground and other fringe sites.--03 April 2004With no freaking sense of irony, Glenn keeps Lennie Green Footballs on his blogroll, whose readership was too cowardly last January to make Michael Moore it's idiotarian of the year over a dead girl.

Left withholds sympathy from the dead in comments thread -- it's bad! Right celebrates death -- Hate? What's Hate? No selective application of principles here!

Posted by: Mike at January 13, 2005 11:17 PM

Oh, damn dial-up.

I don't see the problem with tax payer money buying time on a blog. It is a form of advertising. A disclaimer is smart if the blogger wishes to keep his/her audience. Being a shill for someone's campaign is no better than what Mr. Armstrong did. Isn't it more important that those who pretend to 'just report the news' disclose that they, for example, were paid to speak at a fundraiser for a political party?

Posted by: Livermoron at January 13, 2005 11:20 PM

I think most of the comments have missed the point about the potential damage of paid blog advocacy. Sure everyone knows that Kos is a left winger, and someone who would never vote Democratic probably doesn't read him anyway. But consider the choice made during the Democratic primaries among a dozen or so more or less similar candidates presented to an electorate who mostly don't know who they are, and on odd days would probably agree with any of them, and certainly vote for them in a head-to-head against Bush.

Those candidates worked pretty hard to rack up the endorsements of governors, mayors, senators and every other kind of politician. They worked hard for the endorsements of editorial boards and the kind words of television pundits.

Now in practical terms, it does a candidate little good to buy endorsements. If a moderately powerful politician could demand five or six figures for an endorsement, few off-the-books funders are going to be willing to pay that price, and open campaign accounting won't hide direct payments.

But a blog can be a "consultant" in a way that is difficult for a public servant. And a blog is an opinion-multiplier. Remember the 80-20 effect: a few carefully chosen blogs will reach much of the Democratic blog readership and will drive the commentary on other blogs.

Democrats who read Kos may find a candidate discussed seriously there more attractive, because they know Kos to be a true believer, and they believe his goals are aligned with their own. Absent a disclosure, it is this latter belief that both carries the influence and creates the fraud.

In the next campaign you can expect that there will be major blog endorsements early in the primaries in both parties (and for the Republican field it may well be a more important factor than for the Democrats). You can also expect someone to be watching the books of campaigns, PAC's and 527's to see whether dollars are going to blogs, and the bank accounts of bloggers to see if they are getting off-the-books money from Soros-like financiers. That someone might be other bloggers, it might be the press, and if they are smart it WILL be the other candidates.

Posted by: John Hawks at January 13, 2005 11:24 PM

A "Blogging Code of Conduct"? I hope such a thing's not explicitly necessary, and reality seems to bear that out. Mr. Williams' reputation is toast. He's done.

As it should be, and it's got nothing to do with legal vs. illegal, though what he did was arguably illegal. It has to do with his actions passing the giggle test, and they didn't.

Simple (simplistic?) solution: Assume, always, that the truth will out, and act accordingly.

Posted by: Patton at January 13, 2005 11:33 PM

I wish I knew what Mike was talking about. That post doesn't make much sense to me.

Posted by: D Vines at January 13, 2005 11:36 PM

D. Vines: Me either, but it seemed important to him.

Posted by: Glenn Reynolds at January 13, 2005 11:44 PM

Yes, no...whatever you decide to do on your own blog, it should be decided BEFORE you are ever offered any money. If you don't already know how you'll handle something like this, then you'll make poor decisions of the moment. Usually, when money is involved, those decisions are regrettable later.

Eric, at the Fire Ant Gazette, posted on a similar topic a while back, and made a button on the whim of starting a kind of hypothetical "Coalition of Unpaid Bloggers".

I put a button on my site, linking to his post, and that is that for me. Decision made, done with.

Posted by: Julie at January 13, 2005 11:51 PM

As more facts have emerged to clarify this situation I've come to the conclusion that there really wasn't any wrong-doing here. We've known for a long time that the Dean campaign pioneered the use of blogs for political candidates. Now we've learned why. They had two top-notch (if politically wrong-headed IMHO) bloggers on the payroll.

Its time to put this story to bed.

Posted by: Rob at January 13, 2005 11:56 PM

Why are the Feds using tax money to agitate for a partisan agenda?
I could care less what sinister motives any given blogger has. Everyone you meet on the internet is either a Navy Seal or a 14-year-old girl anyway.
Caveat emptor.
But I got a hell of a bone to pick with whatever gov't flunky thought bribing columnists was a good plan!

Posted by: McClain at January 14, 2005 12:09 AM

If a candidate wants to pay for advertising space on a blog - Fine

If a candidate wants to pay for a political announcement to be published on a blog as a posting and it is clearly stated as coming from the campaign - Fine

If a blogger wants to make endorsements of a candidate in their postings - Expected

If a blogger makes such endorsements or favorable postings in exchange for money and says so - Fine

If a blogger gets paid and does not say so, that's where I draw the line. If we would expect full disclosure in such cases from journalists in the MSM, Bloggers should be held to the same standard.

Posted by: PajamaHadin at January 14, 2005 12:15 AM

It's one thing to run a small-time blog that takes cheap-shots at anything and everything just for laughs, but it's another to establish yourself as a credible source. Once that is done, the blog elevates itself to the level of mainstream media.

While we'll never see an official code, since weblogging is too vast and diverse to track by law, I think any respectable blogger with a relatively large audience should follow journalism ethics. They aren't there just to create chaos.

An article that is written to achieve a certain conclusion should be treated differently than one that has been carefully researched with the conclusion stemming from that research. There are a few things that I look at when reading an article that would have to change if it carries an obvious slant to it:

1. Bias. If there is bias, facts need to be more carefully evaluated for motive and reliability.

2. Money. The promise of a salary can generate pressure to support a given viewpoint, throwing logic to the wind. Maybe this happens, maybe it doesn't, but the reader ought to know whether the potential exists.

Besides, disclosure isn't that hard to follow. Just a few lines allowing the author to level with his audience and explain the situation would be acceptable. It's more difficult to be fooled by propaganda when one recognizes it.

Let's take my weblog, for instance. I know for a fact that every post I've ever made has incorporated bias. I'm a Democrat and not ashamed. My writing reflects that bluntly and honestly. As sort of a permanent disclaimer, I mentioned in the title and description that I am a Democrat, and I will be writing from that perspective. Readers have (rightfully) called me on some obvious mistakes in the past. But it's better that they knew what to look for, because they knew that they were dealing with a rational person, not somebody who blindly accepts anything that will support a party line as fact.

The ones who are paid and don't disclose it are risking this sort of respect. Without disclosure, the work crosses over from journalism to propaganda, and that is simply unacceptable.

The bottom line is manners. If I'm reading the work of a professional partisan hack who wrote the article with a preconceived conclusion in mind, I want to know.

Posted by: Alex D. at January 14, 2005 12:21 AM

I tend to think as long as its disclosed, a blogger being paid to support a position is okay. I do worry thro that the same double standard will be applied here as we see in the sciences. For example, it is not uncommon to see unpopular work discredited saying "well so and so paid for it" when all work is funded by someone. I suspect that as blogs become more and more diverse, moving from being mainly individuals to corporate (and I am betting it will happen), that these issues are going to be more important.

Of course, one has to ask why bloggers are discussing this when the MSM has made it clear selling out is the way to go.

Posted by: Kevin at January 14, 2005 12:29 AM

I think that whatever bias we have is apparent in what we choose to write about and how we present it. That's why the MSM's denial of their bias is so absurd. It’s already out there, we see it every day. All we ask is for their bias to be balanced by the opposing opinions.

If an argument is flawed, or an idea is inherently bad, my dislike of it won't be colored by some paid pundit or paid bloggers spin. Just because Markos was paid by the Dean camp, I didn’t suddenly become a Deaniac. He probably acted as more of a cheerleader for the campaign than an evangelist. The same idea applies to Armstrong Williams. Millions of blacks in America didn’t suddenly swoon into the Bush camp just because the administration picked a black pundit to back NCLB.

That said, I do hope we all insist on transparency not only in blogging but in all media. Disclosure will save us all a lot of grief and our reputations.

Posted by: Janette Stripling at January 14, 2005 12:34 AM

Disclosure protects bloggers.
The readers don't need protection: we can look out for ourselves and sniff out rank bias from 50 paces, thanks.
But disclosure when you're blogging prevents you from losing your cred.
The payola WILL out!

Posted by: McClain at January 14, 2005 12:41 AM

Look, I don't hide the fact that I'm biased. The name of my blog gives that away: Commonwealth Conservative, a home for conservative views of Virginia politics.

I'm in an interesting situation, because as far as I know, I'm the only blogger out there who is actually a current elected official (I'm a prosecutor in Virginia). No campaign has ever asked, and I don't even know the legalities yet of whether I could accept money.

However, I guarantee one thing: if a situation arose where I was offered payment for work consulting with a campaign, I would disclose it to my readers IMMEDIATELY.

Credibility is something to be earned, and I take it very seriously...both here and in my legal practice. The only thing you have is your good name, and it's to be protected at all costs, in my opinion.

Posted by: John Behan at January 14, 2005 12:43 AM

It comes down to the conscience of the individual, be it a blogger with 500,000 unique visits or the accountant doing the books for a local neighborhood grocery store. We're the ones who have to live with ourselves. Some of us get caught. Some of us don't. Be forthcoming. We're all here for such a short time anyway (relatively speaking). Cheating, lying and hiding takes too much effort. At the end of the day, integrity is all we have.

Posted by: PunditGuy at January 14, 2005 12:45 AM

Kos is fine with me, as far as disclosure and what he did. And I'm about as conservative as you can get. I do have issues with his overly broad criticism of right-wing bloggers, but that is his opinion, and he has a right to express it. And since he disclosed, its not hypocritical...wrong, maybe, but not hypocritical.

Posted by: Blue at January 14, 2005 12:49 AM

If someone posts a glowing movie review, we want to know if they work for the studio or whether we're reading a genuine opinion. If there are a lot of blogs writing on a particular issue, and a "blog-storm" develops that brings that issue to prominance, I'd be real interested to know if those blogs were paid to raise that issue at that particular time.

If I was managing a campaign or in PR, the ability to manipulate the "buzz" would be a very useful weapon in my arsenal. I'd want to be able to get a story planted, or control the general message. Of course, this can be accomplished with volunteer bloggers, but a contract and payment still changes things.

If we wouldn't tolerate it in the MSM we should tolerate it among ourselves. I note that Peggy Noonan left her column at the WSJ this summer when she opted to work for the Bush campaign, and explained it all in her last column. I like that approach.

Posted by: Jay Dean at January 14, 2005 12:52 AM

Re: Mike's comment, at 11:17 pm

Mike was expressing his disdain for what he perceives to be hypocrisy on Professor Reynolds' part.

Prof. Reynolds said: Kos, please don't hold conservative bloggers to a different standard as liberal bloggers, such as yourself.

Mike said: Prof. Reynolds held Kos to one standard when Kos very rudely insulted the four contractors who were lynched in Falluja, and Prof. Reynolds criticized him for it. And then Prof. Reynolds held Charles Johnson (of LGF) to a different standard when Mr. Johnson and his readers mocked the death of Rachel Corrie in Rafah in the Gaza strip, and Prof. Reynolds didn't make any disparaging comment about it.

Mike, you raise an interesting point -- but I don't think Professor Reynolds is being hypocritical. In fact, I'm very confident that he is not.

He did (very politely and soberly) condemn Kos' comment about the lynching of the contractors. But his silence about Johnson's mocking of Corrie doesn't mean he approves of or condones what Mr. Johnson did.

Perhaps he found Mr. Johnson's mockery deplorable, but he felt that commenting upon it would have intitiated a controversy that would have created more hatred and ill-will than could be justified. Or perhaps he has some personal reasons for keeping quiet that he cannot or does not wish to divulge. Or perhaps he just thought the mockery of Ms. Corrie was more of a stupid prank than an exercise in hate-mongering.

In any case, you cannot point to a case of omission and speculate as to Prof. Reynolds motives and standards. By which I mean you could speculate, but there is a very good chance that your speculation would be mostly or entirely wrong.

But you did raise an interesting point, and I can see why you thought that Professor Reynolds may have been hypocritical.

Posted by: Matthew Goggins at January 14, 2005 12:54 AM

I think Markos is covered by his disclosure. Why he thought he was hired and why he was really hired may have been two different things, but he couldn't control that.

I've always stated on my About Me page that I'm a conservative Republican but I'm not subtle about it in my writing either. If people have to guess where you stand politically on a poliblog you're doing it wrong.

Posted by: Janette Stripling at January 14, 2005 12:55 AM

The whole idea of anything codified seems silly to me; almost antithetical to the concept of blogging as it stands.

The idea of the government paying a blogger or journalist to promote a policy they are hoping to build support for is wrong. The government is the bigger culprit. The payee is culpable if a journalist, and potentially culpable in the realm of peer and public credibility if a blogger, if there is no disclosure.

The idea of the government paying someone who is already a proponent is absurd and foolish, deserving of mockery. Yet it is almost less bad if there is not disclosure in that scenario, since one can observe the leanings of the proponent and do the requisite mental adjustment for bias.

A private campaign or entity paying a blogger, as opposed to a journalist, is another matter. Again, it seems more a matter for the court of peer and reader opinion if there's payment and no disclosure. I'd say disclosure is both generally better, and entirely up to the blogger.

As on the colony planet in James P. Hogan's book, Voyage From Yesteryear, respect is the currency of the blogosphere.

Posted by: Jay at January 14, 2005 01:03 AM

I think it's pretty obvious what the Dean campaign had in mind when it stuffed a fistfull of cash into DailyKos' hands. And frankly (unless DailyKos is mindnumbingly naive) I think DailyKos knew as well, or at least suspected it. Whether or not he complied with those expectations are open for discussion, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, which is more than DailyKos did for rightwing blogs.

I'll also give him some credit for disclosing his "arrangement" with the Dean campaign. Was it posted on his home page and accessible for the duration of the time Kos was in Dean's "employ"? If not, that would be a little sleazy.

Mainly though, when Kos proclaimed all rightwing blogs under suspicion he practically begged for the criticism he is now receiving, and he deserves it. Fortunately for him, this too will pass - unlike the "Screw them" episode which more or less relegated Kos to the "nutjob" section of the blogosphere.

Posted by: MisterPundit at January 14, 2005 01:22 AM

I think your ethics are far worse Professor.

For several years you claimed to be neutral. Recently when Tony Pierce called you out on it, you admitted you were very much not neutral.

Even now, Tony would like to know how you cannot have commented on the WMD story.

How can a Professor of Law, presumably someone who is ethically bound to seek the truth, and a lawyer, presumably someone ethically bound to seek the truth, have lied to the public all of this time? You claimed you were neutral, then you admitted you were not.

Isn't it time to hangup your blog?

[FROM GLENN: I "claimed to be neutral?" When did I do that? I said I wasn't a Republican, but I was right out there with my doubts about the Democrats all along. I tried to be polite about it, and revealingly enough the likes of Oliver and Tony can't comprehend taking sides and being polite at the same time, but politeness isn't neutrality.]

Posted by: jerry at January 14, 2005 01:39 AM

Do you honestly feel you were "lied to" by InstaPundit?
Or do you not consider yourself a member of "the public?"
Either option seems sufficient to discredit any claim to rationality on your part.
Yet you accuse InstaPundit of having "lied to the public."
Please extricate yourself from this embarrassment, if you can.

Posted by: McClain at January 14, 2005 02:00 AM

Jerry, I can't speak for Glenn, but I will say this... My opinions have changed on several issues. I just need to be convinced, that's all. When your opinion becomes immutable, you have essentially become closed minded.

Besides, I can't think of a time when Glenn Reynolds claimed to be neutral in the sense that he had a hidden agenda. It's certainly possible his opinion changed on some issues and went from neutral to pro, or anti, or whatever. So what? It's actually kinda' refreshing.

Posted by: MisterPundit at January 14, 2005 02:02 AM

Oh, and as for this vaunted "neutrality:"

You're forgetting that most of us are on one side or the other.
Those of us on the anti-terrorist/anti-Saddam side are naturally outraged at the other side whenever it does anything besides surrender or die.
Do you consider yourself a neutral party in this conflict?
If so: watch your back.
Both my side AND the enemy consider neutrality a sign of either moral incompetence or shameful depravity.

Posted by: McClain at January 14, 2005 02:10 AM

Not to be too snarky, but think about this. How would Glenn (and Hugh Hewitt, &c) feel if Dan Rather began his memogate broadcast by saying "I want John Kerry to win the election. Also, in the past I appeared at a Democratic fundraiser."

Well, I think he'd have done much of what people are chiding him and the Rathergate report for not doing.

And he would have done what Kos did more than a year ago, before some people decided this was a "controversy."

Posted by: Gary Johnston at January 14, 2005 02:16 AM

I don't have any trouble identifying the biases of the blogs I read. But I do think disclosure would be healthy for the blogosphere. I, for one, would like to know if any of the bloggers I read are paid by any of the organisations or individuals they discuss, so that I can decide for myself what to think. This is about control.

A blogger hiding their connections to, say, a political party is taking some of my control over my own thoughts away from me.

Posted by: JDB at January 14, 2005 02:56 AM

No ethics codes, please. I'd much rather let the marketplace handle rewards and penalties, because it strikes me as a much more impartial judge than any group of ethics mavens can hope to be.

The blogger who writes well, stays transparent and allows readers to make informed decisions about his writing will reap great rewards in traffic, links, and goodwill. The blogger who writes well but takes money secretly to flack someone else's pet issue will be exposed ... and will suffer merciless ridicule while watching his traffic, his reputation, and his blog circle the drain.

No rules imposed, and no quarter asked or given. Let the best blogs win.

Posted by: Puddle Pirate at January 14, 2005 03:07 AM

I'd be happy to be paid to promote things I agree with. Of course, finding someone to pay me is a different story. I push certain agendas all the time but they are because I believe in something. If the guys in Switchfoot paid me for all the promo work I do for them on my blog my blogging would not change. In all cases, full disclosure is a must, especially if cash is changing hands. The disclaimer should probably put on a side column but should not be required for every post. Just as long as the disclosure can be found when the blog is first entered.

Posted by: Broken Masterpieces at January 14, 2005 03:07 AM

I advocate voluntary full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. Let the reader decide how much credence each story deserves.

When peer reviewed scientific journals instituted full disclosure policies, there was some grumbling among researchers, even those who had no industry contacts/funding. However, the policy has proven sensible and effective. No scientist would advocate a return to pre-disclosure days.

I think it will eventually become the norm in the blogoshere as well. The more popular blogs have more to lose if someone outs them as "consultants", so they will help set the norm.

Posted by: Pigilito at January 14, 2005 03:16 AM

The nice thing about coming in late is the advantage of reading all the previous comments. I agree with some and disagree with others. My three cents:
1. Bias is always my concern and bias has a way of becoming obvious in blogs. Paid or not.
2. Nothing codified, let the blogger make the call.
3. There are certain bloggers I read daily. I don't always agree with them but I value their opinions. Both Instapundit and KOS are two such bloggers. I don't care if they disclose because I can read between the lines. They both write from their hearts!

Posted by: EDK at January 14, 2005 03:32 AM

No "code" is necessary for blogs at this time as I see it. It'd eventually end up stifling free thought and creating conformity on the Net.
As I see it, blog readership is dependent on trust, and you can gain or lose it if you screw up constantly, same as anything else.
That said, this issue has less to do with Kos and Jerome since they did disclose.

I think it'd be good to ask Professor Jay Rosen at PressThink what he thinks about this issue.

Wow, thank God you don't open comments unless you want feedback. In regards to the comments, they're quickly becoming more divorced from the original a crazy version of whisper down the lane.

Posted by: S at January 14, 2005 03:36 AM

Gee Glenn! I can see why you don't allow comments here. As soon as you open a small window, the hyenas start barking at you. Uggg...

Posted by: Miguel at January 14, 2005 05:00 AM

A code for bloggers? Hm.

Oughtn't a writer's words to speak for themselves? Do his opinions become more -- or less -- valid by virtue of payment, or political affiliation?

On a related matter, wouldn't quite a lot of bloggers be very pleased to attain professional status -- to be paid to blog? If this is acceptable, then by what sort of organization would it be "okay" to be paid?

To this Curmudgeon, the questions answer themselves.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at January 14, 2005 05:42 AM

I do not mind Koz taking money from Dean hucks and disclosing this. I have a problem with him accusing bloggers from accross the road of being paid. This is a big big big Freudian slip kind of give away, which makes Dean operative's version of plainly buying Zuniga to shill for Dean more plausible than whatever Zuniga has to say on the matter. After all, "everybody does it" has been self-gratifying excuse of all rogues for ages.

Posted by: norar at January 14, 2005 05:58 AM

As a blogger I'm somewhat of an altruist. I'd like to think of the blogosphere as "citizen journalists" that do not sell their opinion. I'm sure Markos didn't alter his postings based on his payments, just as I'm sure Armstrong Williams didn't based on his payments. But you now have to think...

Markos would consider all conservatives as on the take (obviously - why else would they advocate such preposterous positions?). Would it be fair, based on his payments from the Dean campaign, to then impugn all bloggers on the left?

Disclose, don't change your positions based on your payment, and better still, try to make your money from "non-partisan" sources.

Thanks for the comment section, Glenn.

Posted by: Giacomo at January 14, 2005 06:42 AM

Agree with self disclosure - disagree with mandating it. Folks usually only read what they believe in anyway; doesn't really matter if they're reading something that's being paid for.

Posted by: chris huckenpoehler at January 14, 2005 07:15 AM

It's About the Merits

There seems to be a presumption that Mr. Williams and bloggers paid beyond the tip jar without disclosure have done something wrong. Is Mr. Williams in some position of trust and confidence by being a columnist? Are bloggers by being bloggers? Do any of them hold themselves out as unbiased observers or trustees? Are any of them selling or advising on securities? No. None then has an obligation to disclose private business. None then has done anything wrong in this regard.

The leftish portions of civil society inhabiting big media, academia, and now the DNC created the false notion that only from pure motives (and pure people) come valid political or social concepts. This occurred naturally because leftish arguments too often are not supported by facts, reason or experience and because it is useful for attacking any opponent as being greedy and/or uncompassionate. It is also a useful tactic to focus on motives when facts cannot be defeated. See, for example, the approach taken by the MSM and DNC to the Swiftees in defense of Mr. Kerry. No real discussion of the key merits occurred, just vague references to the "discredited" vets after calling them Republicans, saying they were friends of friends of the President, suggesting they were on the take with Republicans, and the like. See also what Ms. Malkin and the Power Line writers suffer as this tactic is pursued by the less gracious among us. Unfortunately, this notion and its applied techiques are used to shut down good discussion and, its necessary component, effective advocacy.

Commentaries that are the subject of blogs (the more interesting ones anyway such as this one) and Mr. Williams's columns stand or fall on the merits -- not on any writer's particular motive for writing about any particular thing. The frenzy about the tie-in between Mr. Williams's column writing and the consulting payment, emailers' suggestions that Ms. Malkin is a paid Republican hack, and Nick Coleman's suggestions that the Power Liners are paid Republican hacks are nothing more than weak, non-substantive -- you've got a bad motive -- character attacks out of chapter 1 of the leftist playbook. We ought not fall for this. Indeed, we do not need or want our opinion writers to actually believe as a matter of faith everything they write. Rather, to agree, we must see sound reasoning based on well-presented facts (including the hard facts). The opinion should flow from the facts. The skill of the writer in pulling the elements together is what makes a good opinion writer. Otherwise, we just get thin DNC or RNC talking points or cutesy opinion-lite. Even if those that make sense are all undisclosed paid Republican . . . or . . . I suppose . . . if there was any chance of this . . . Democrat . . . hacks, it's ok so long as they continue to make sense. The same could be said for those on the dole with Greenpeace, PETA, the UN, the New York Times, Halliburton, or any other entity interested in some thing.

Mr. Williams is an unabashed advocate. He is not a government decisionmaker or in another position of trust. He is trusted because of his commentary skills, not because of his affiliations. Because he is a good writer and advocate, he does, and should, get paid for his work. If his arguments are invalid, we ought to notice in reading his work or that of his critics -- not his sources of income. Any payments to him or his consulting firm are therefore irrelevant. Disclosure of the irrelevant is unnecessary.

The same goes for advocacy or reportorial bloggers -- and I would suggest each other mass medium. Disclosure is for listed companies, securities analysts, bureaucrats and those with clients (real clients -- not those of beauticians).

Posted by: James Bradley at January 14, 2005 07:22 AM

It really doesn't bother me if a blogger is taking money to promote some topic. It's the argument which a blogger makes for or against a particular topic which will influence me, not whether or not the author was paid to make the argument. In the case of DaschlevThune, it was readily apparent which side of the race the author favored, and disclosure that he was blogging on the payroll of the Thune campaign didn't make his coverage of the race any more or less suspect. And in Armstrong Williams' case, I am more upset that the Dept. of Education decide to spend taxpayer money to pay him to promote No Child Left Behind, than I am that he took the money.

But that said, these things probably should be disclosed to avoid any appearance of impropriety. And any kind of disclosure statement probably ought to go into a tagline at the end of any post where payment may be construed to have influenced the blogger. A casual reader might not spend enough time on a site to find -- much less, read -- a separate disclosure statement.

And, I really don't want to see a blogger's code of ethics, either. I think something like that would be difficult to get consensus on and would probably evolve into competing codes, or something like that.

Thanks for opening comments on this issue, Glenn. This is a topic that needs to be discussed and hashed out in public, whatever the eventual decisions individual bloggers or the blogosphere decide upon.

Posted by: Robby Edwards at January 14, 2005 07:36 AM

Williams is a professional and has been for a
very long time. He should have known better and
he would have skewered any other 'professional'
for the same behavior. He knew it was wrong and
THAT is what troubles me most. That is his great
failing and he should suffer the loss of his
credibility with humility and perhaps move to
advertising as a career. Swayze/Timex anyone?

Posted by: Steel Turman at January 14, 2005 07:43 AM

I'm very leary of pushing some kind of "code of ethics" for bloggers -- in the end it just seems like it adds some form of rules to the game, and leads us down the path of pointless arguments over rules infractions (intentional or otherwise) rather than arguing about what bloggers are actually talking about.

Multi-site corroboration and debunking are what lend individual sites credibility.

I don't believe an individual site should earn credibility on its own, nor should its credibility be destroyed through inferences flowing from purported "conflicts of interest."

Let a blog's words stand on its own. Let the blogosphere support and destroy those words. "Individual credibility" is just for lazy fools who want to believe everything they're reading without seeking out an opposing viewpoint.

Posted by: JBT at January 14, 2005 07:44 AM

I’m not sure that I really understand what the fuss is about.
We’re all getting paid folks, most of us only in kudos, ego-polishing opportunities and bragging rights, but that’s payment, a motivation to post, just as much as green folding stuff. Don Boudreaux telling me he liked a take on economics in a post, Glenn here linking to an insult to Bob Herbert, the regular readers emailing a "right on!"all influence me just as much as money does. I’ve an old post buried somewhere in the archives stating that my opinions are for sale...prices rising according to how far away from those I already hold those I have to push are. Not been taken up on it yet (probably because the corporate overlords don’t bother to bribe English journalists as they can see what they’ll say unbribed) and it’s only partly in jest.
Money isn’t the only motivation for any human being in any action. So unless we’re all going to start declaring all of our motivations at the bottom of every post (I wrote this to get readers, I wrote this because I wanted to piss off a moonbat or a wingnut, I wrote this hoping x would link, I wrote this to be nice to my Mum, I wrote this because it will earn me enough money to buy Guinness tonight) I don’t see what we can actually do.
Readers will pretty quickly figure out who’s what, that’s one of the joys of the whole medium anyway.
Disclosure? Sure, if you want to. Non-disclosure? Sure, if you want to.
After all, I thought we were taking part in a grand free market experiment here, a free market in ideas, values and methods?

Posted by: Tim Worstall at January 14, 2005 07:59 AM