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A Bleg

As calmly and respectfully as possible, I'd like to ask if anyone can point me to a post (on Daily Kos or elsewhere) that addresses the actual point Chris Suellentrop was making in his much-derided article. In order to qualify, the post needs to meet the following criteria:

  • It's about Markos' non-Dean consulting work.
  • It's about whether or not this situation is okay, not whether or not it's the same as the Armstrong Williams situation.
  • It's about whether or not this situation is okay, not whether or not someone (or everyone) on the right has done something worse.
Prima facie it seems to me that if a person is going to write about a subject area (i.e., electoral politics) in which he also does paid work (i.e., as a consultant) then he ought to tell he readers who is giving him money.

UPDATE: Steve Gilliard has a seemingly persuasive defense.

January 15, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

I haven't seen any comments to this point. Somewhat because it seemed to be a cheap shot in the context of the article.

The point Sullentrop was sort of getting at though--about accepting money and while simulatenously writing about related topics--is a big blind spot in a lot of media. Kos and other political bloggers are pretty bad examples of this, though, because they are highly partisan. It would be expected that the ideas of people who pay them and their own ideas would converge. As long as there is basic disclosure (as there was in this case), this is not an issue.

But many other cases are not so clear cut--what about newspapers accepting ads from Car manufacturers for their auto section? Researchers accepting money from pharmaceuticals to independently run studies? Certain formerly-owned-by-software-companies online magazines writing articles about software companies?

In many cases, it's not a huge deal. Will most researchers deliberately fudge data on their pharmaceutical research because it's funded by them? Not directly most of the time, because they have their own reputations to uphold. But sometimes it does matter, either overtly or more insidiously. And that's why we want to know where the money, or any other substantial reimbursement, came from.

But that's the way the world works. We are all, in a sense, bought and paid for. And being paid for our work doesn't necessarily mean losing all of our scruples. Most of us are quite able to accept money and maintain our integrity.

Even you, Matt, were guilty of this too. Writing an article and accepting money to further the viewpoint of the funders of TCS. The problem with TCS, at the time, was that we didn't know who was funding them, not that they were buying your allegience.

Posted by: mc | Jan 15, 2005 4:34:07 PM

The concern isnt that Markos backs Democrats because he gets money from Democrats. Obviously, he's a liberal, and a partisan, and makes no bones about that. It's more an issue of which Democrats he supports. There are hundreds of races in any given election season. Kos talks about some of them more than others. He's more enthusiastic about some candidates than he is about others. Is his support for certain candidates -- not as opposed to their opponents, but as opposed to other Democrats -- related to his consulting work? Recall that he got in a fight with the DCCC about their level of support for a House candidate somewhere. The issue of who is paying him money seems relevant to assessing that fracas.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jan 15, 2005 4:37:44 PM

No, but I can point you to this Suellentrop article in which he made up a series of false headers in order to torpedo a Democratic candidate. And he was paid for doing it.

Posted by: poputonian | Jan 15, 2005 4:38:18 PM

Okay, but Poputonian, this is exactly my point. I've read lots of criticisms of the Suellentrop piece, and they all seem to be going out of their way to avoid addressing Suellentrop's central point. Writing about candidates for whom you've done non-disclosed consulting work isn't the worst thing in the world. Lots of reporters suck. Hugh Hewitt is a hack. The rightwing is evil. Etc., etc., etc. I agree. Armstrong Williams is worse. George Bush is a bad president. Etc., etc., etc. I agree. But there's still an issue here -- shouldn't Markos be disclosing everyone he works for?

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jan 15, 2005 4:41:16 PM

And for the substantive point of Suellentrop, I'd be willing to bet that Markos did disclose who he was working for. The grey area comes from accepting advertising from political candidates, but in my hazy recollection, I remember him making a distinct point that buying advertising wasn't going to get an endorsement from him (although I think he stated that it might bring someone to his attention that he wouldn't have thought of otherwise).

Posted by: mc | Jan 15, 2005 4:41:17 PM

shouldn't Markos be disclosing everyone he works for?

Actually, I'm not sure. My gut reaction is that Markos is a center of influence, and not a journalist. Everyone who goes there more or less voluntarily yields to his discretion. Suellontrop, on the other hand, is in a different business.

Posted by: poputonian | Jan 15, 2005 4:47:09 PM

Didn't Markos quit doing consultant work in 2003? This is getting mixed in with his Dean campaign work, about which he was completely forthcoming. (As I remember, Armstrong was an open Deaniac before he received a dime).

Apparently, almost overnight, bloggers went from being lowlifes whose existence isn't even worth acknowledging, to high public officials who need to be above suspicion. Like Supreme Court justices, for example.

Except that Supreme Court Justices don't have to be above suspicion. Nor right-wing bloggers. Just Kos and Armstrong.

Matt, you're supposed to be a sharp cookie, but why are you taking this seriously? Renewing your counter-intuitive credentials as a hedge against the demise of the Democratic Party, perhaps?

This is dog-and-pony show #375. It pisses me off no end coming from you -- not that you care -- because you are an evident careerist, and for careerists of your ilk ethical problems down the road are as sure as death and taxes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In my Matt Yglesias file I have already factored that in: "Yglesias: very sharp, extraordinarily fluent centrist opportunist; has been compared to Kinsley".

Posted by: John Emerson | Jan 15, 2005 4:59:20 PM

"Actually, I'm not sure. My gut reaction is that Markos is a center of influence, and not a journalist. Everyone who goes there more or less voluntarily yields to his discretion."

Try out this thought experiment:

Imagine, for a moment, that Josh Marshall had financial relationships with various Democratic officeholders. Imagine further, that Marshall avoided putting those officeholders he had a relationship with in the 'Fainthearted Faction'. And finally, imagine that Marshall did all of this without disclosing those relationships.

Would all of this be OK if we just split hairs about whether or not we called Marshall a 'journalist'? I think not.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 15, 2005 5:05:27 PM

"Is his support for certain candidates -- not as opposed to their opponents, but as opposed to other Democrats -- related to his consulting work?"

Matt, I'm not sure about this, but as I recall the DailyKos community as a whole voted for which candidates the site would support as part of the DKos 8, or whatever it was called.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Jan 15, 2005 5:18:13 PM

Petey, in the primaries, you won and Kos lost. Edwards did as well as he had any rason to hope. So quit the fucking whining.

And as someone pointed out, Edwards got a bit of help from Drudge. And SOMEONE had it in for Dean.

This would have been a time for you to be a good sport and remember the dirty-linen rule, but I'm afraid that for you and Zephyr it's just too late.

Posted by: John Emerson | Jan 15, 2005 5:20:06 PM

Well, Markos had apparently signed non-disclosure agreements with the campaigns he did not name, so it seems like he was damned either way. It's possible, of course, that he should refrain from using his blog for any sort of activism when he might be paid for supporting the same causes, but that seems a bits silly since both the blog and his business are, well, his. Also, his blog, much more than most others, is an active community that obviously thrives on the input of its members-- witness the strong Clark (aka the "Clintonistas' anti-Dean" in primary-season casting) faction that developed there last year-- so while there's no way to guarantee that his suppport for candidates wasn't influenced by filthy lucre, it's certainly possible for some enterprising investigator to sift through the archives and see if he endorsed anyone out of the blue, I suppose.

In any case, it simply doesn't seem to be Markos' style to exert that kind of control-- he delegates the front page to people on based their status in the community instead of agreement with him, the blog is about 95% self-policing, and IIRC he doesn't even believe in copyrights. I would suspect that this is all about the right simply not getting the notion that anyone could cede control to that extent, except for the fact that it's pretty obviously, as most of us agree, an attempt to drown out the Williams case before any more right-wing media types are implicated.

Posted by: latts | Jan 15, 2005 5:21:22 PM

Steve Gilliard. Whom Atrios linked to.

Posted by: David Weman | Jan 15, 2005 5:21:33 PM

Gilliard

"Oh, where to begin.

First, you would have to be really stupid to have not known that he worked for Dean and other political candidates during 2003. After all, it was how he fed himself. Again, is there proof of anything like what Suellentrop is suggesting? If it's being debated on his site, what kind of secret was it.

The fact is, according to Kos, the Dean campaign didn't even care what he had to say, so it was hardly a successful relationship.

Now, Suellentrop is doing something grossly unfair, he's conflating what Kos did in 2003 from what he did in in 2004. Again, a phone call would have cleared this up. As the site became more profitable, he cut back on his consulting work. By the time I met him in August, he had stopped doing consulting work completely. I don't believe he worked on any campaigns in most of 2004 or acted as a consultant. I wish Suellentrop had actually done some research before making allegations here. But that would be fair and this is anything but fair.

Also, the candidates were chosen with reader participation and candidates made their case, hardly needed if Kos was getting paid. It was a fairly open process, and one of the candidates, Ginny Schrader, was noticed by the readers, not Kos, after Jim Greenwood retired.

Now if Suellentrop has some evidence he was lying, let's see it. Or that candidates forged their FEC filings. You know the public documents which show where campaign funds go and which every consultant has to file."

Posted by: David Weman | Jan 15, 2005 5:25:40 PM


This issue is addressed on Steve Gilliard's blog:
http://stevegilliard.blogspot.com/2005/01/letsjust-make-shit-up-and-call-it.html

Now, Suellentrop is doing something grossly unfair, he's conflating what Kos did in 2003 from what he did in in 2004. Again, a phone call would have cleared this up. As the site became more profitable, he cut back on his consulting work. By the time I met him in August, he had stopped doing consulting work completely. I don't believe he worked on any campaigns in most of 2004 or acted as a consultant. I wish Suellentrop had actually done some research before making allegations here. But that would be fair and this is anything but fair.

Also, the candidates were chosen with reader participation and candidates made their case, hardly needed if Kos was getting paid. It was a fairly open process, and one of the candidates, Ginny Schrader, was noticed by the readers, not Kos, after Jim Greenwood retired.

Now if Suellentrop has some evidence he was lying, let's see it. Or that candidates forged their FEC filings. You know the public documents which show where campaign funds go and which every consultant has to file.

Posted by: dbtm | Jan 15, 2005 5:29:54 PM

The candidates were all from battlegrounds too.

Still, afaik Kos hasn't adressed the issue himself. Wish he would.

Posted by: David Weman | Jan 15, 2005 5:30:48 PM

"Petey, in the primaries, you won and Kos lost."

No, we both lost. Both of us were passionately supporting candidates other than Kerry.

"This would have been a time for you to be a good sport and remember the dirty-linen rule..."

I think this is actually pretty important. I think Markos has built something important, and that he has an important role to play for the left.

But it's all going to end up built on sand if he refuses to even recognize that the concept of ethics exists.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 15, 2005 5:33:51 PM

Petey, Edwards did very well for himself -- as well has he deserved. He just wasn't good enough yet to be President. Edwards won by getting the VP nomination.

Despite your support, I have nothing particular against Edwards as a candidate. Many of us on the loony left are used to the idea of voting for so-so candidates whose militants hate us.

Posted by: John Emerson | Jan 15, 2005 5:38:31 PM

Matt,
I understand your point, but it is NOT irrelvent if "everybody else does it". It is particuarly not irrelevant if in fact members of the shadow Republican Party's Mighty Wurlitzer do it.

Is in fact suspected that this is exactly what they do, and have been doing for the last 15 years or so since the Mellon family money started flooding into the thinktanks/opinionsphere, *** and no one calls them on it ***.

But now, Bush finally gets a tiny little check over the SecEd breaking the law, and suddenly everyone is all over Kos and Atrios. Huh? The source of that attack and the reasons Kos may have a legitimate reason for not answering the direct questions are very very legitimate issues.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jan 15, 2005 5:44:06 PM

Maat--Kos responded to this in Drum's comment thread. He said look at the fillings and see nothing there Basically Sullentrop has no proof in his article. Why doesn't he name the names of these people that Kos contracted with?

Posted by: Rob | Jan 15, 2005 5:44:12 PM

Edwards did very well for himself -- as well has he deserved. He just wasn't good enough yet to be President.

A rather amazing statement considering who atually is the President of the United States right now, not to mention what he was back in 1999.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jan 15, 2005 5:44:52 PM

Matt, I think you need to refine your test a bit. You say,

Prima facie it seems to me that if a person is going to write about a subject area (i.e., electoral politics) in which he also does paid work (i.e., as a consultant) then he ought to tell he readers who is giving him money.

Writing about criminal (in)justice shouldn't mean I have to name my clients. On the other hand, if I blogged about rollover accidents and represented Ford, I do think the public should know that.

So I think there is a finer line, although I'm not sure how to articulate it.

Posted by: TalkLeft | Jan 15, 2005 5:45:01 PM

"Despite your support, I have nothing particular against Edwards as a candidate. Many of us on the loony left are used to the idea of voting for so-so candidates whose militants hate us."

As it should go without saying, I don't hate you, or the loony left as a whole. I just don't think the loony left ought to be the public face or voice of the party.

I don't think either wing of the Party should be leading it. That job is reserved for those who can appeal to both wings. In other words, both Dean and Lieberman would've been lousy choices for nominee.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 15, 2005 5:47:57 PM

I still don't know Petey. It seems the kos community is a private gathering, at least in my way of thinking. Same with TPM. How the bonds of trust are built or broken among the members aren't for you or me to determine. Nor does it seem that a fixed set of ethical standards set by an outside party should be brought to bear. Just thinking out loud.

Posted by: poputonian | Jan 15, 2005 5:49:04 PM

I am sure part of the reason that the substantive points made by Suellentrop are getting lost by those on the left is because of points made in the same article that are just wrong.

I do believe there is potentially a valid criticism in the article about Kos. He is criticized for not disclosing which of the Democrats he raised money for had paid him for his services. The reason I label this as only a potential transgression is that I've not seen it verified that he actually did take money from any of the Kos Dozen specifically or any other politician to raise money for them. Isn't the cart before the horse there? Get specific if you are going to accuse Kos of being unethical. Who specifically did he not disclose he raised money for that he should have?

Suellentrop though is not fair in giving Jerome Armstrong a slap on the wrist. For what? Jerome took money to work for Dean and in that time suspended his blogging for MyDD. What in heavens name is unethical about that? Jerome has not for one moment pretended to be anything but a Democratic partisan. In my mind he deserves praise for suspending blogging while working for the Dean campaign which I believe was a highly ethical action for him to take.

But back to Kos, I do accept the point that readers should know if he has an employment or other financial arrangement with those he raises money for. This is an area where as a reader I should have some way to know that in a sense I was reading the words of an advertiser. But the fundraising was in the open so even if he received compensation the reader could only have been deceived about whether he was reading the words of a paid professional as opposed to a true believer.

Personally, although I do read the Kos site, since my very first visit it was clear to me I was not at a place to expect balance, nor did I want balance. Similar to Atrios, I use Kos as the place to go to find the partisan Democratic viewpoint. I visit other places when I want balance.

I have trouble imagining the person who could wander into Kos and think that they have found an impartial news source. Although I do believe that ethical considerations definitely apply to Kos and bloggers in general, I don't think there should be any expectation that the ethics of blogging are the same as those that apply to journalists who write for publications that do claim to report facts in a non-partisan way.

For that reason I can't see any purported transgression in this instance as very serious.

Posted by: Curt Matlock | Jan 15, 2005 5:52:27 PM

The Yglesias rule: "if a person is going to write about a subject area (i.e., electoral politics) in which he also does paid work (i.e., as a consultant) then he ought to tell he readers who is giving him money"

Something tells me DC would collapse if this were the norm. That's not to say there should be no disclosure if course

Suellentrop's "central point" might have gotten more attention if the article wasn't entitled "hang daily kos..." despite, you know, not actually knowing if markos had done anything to deserve hanging, and filled with a bunch of other ridiculous nonsense.

But, strip all that away and... well, overall I think Markos disclosed enough - maybe not enough to please everyone, but enough to satisfy any normal ethical standards.

As for Suellentrop's central accusation -- that Kos raised money for and/or focused "unfair" a ttention for onconsulting clients, and that the reason he was hired by them was an explicit or implicit quid pro quo... Well, it's the kind of thing Suellentrop could've done a bit of journalisming and found out had he wished, rather than levelling accusations rather carelessly.

Generally, lots of members of the consultant class work for lots of ever-changing clients. Most such consultants don't have their own personal daily media outlet, but many of them do make various appearances in the media without disclosing the client lists of their firms.

Posted by: Atrios | Jan 15, 2005 5:54:53 PM

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