Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Use Me

Chris Baker, the Editor at Ohio 2nd, is taking a fair amount of heat this week for his interview with Sherrod Brown and his role – still a little unclear to me – in catalyzing the Hackett/Brown rapprochement. One of his most vocal critics -- Eric at Plunderbund -- posted a sincere and beautifully written apology today, after I had composed much of the foregoing. I'm still posting it because the controversy has some lessons about what we talk about when we talk about blogs. And because I already wrote it. But mostly the first thing.

One criticism is that Chris blogs about Ohio 2nd, but lives in Ohio 3rd. Color me unscandalized. In hindsight, Chris could have handled this better, but I’m not going to hate on him for it.

The other criticism runs along the lines of Chris letting himself be used by the Brown campaign. Much of how one feels about this depends on an individual blogger’s feelings about Sherrod. In this case, it is easier to work the facts into one point of view or the other because blogworld doesn’t have a consistent framework for evaluating a blogger’s actions.

Most political bloggers – myself included – toggle between a citizen journalism model and an activist model. A citizen journalist can be criticized much more easily under the assumption that the blogger aspires to a level of objectivity. Certainly we have all seen journalists used by public figures – get exclusive access and the questions get soft. Assume that Chris is acting as a citizen journalist and you can easily make the same criticism.

That criticism doesn’t stick if you evaluate Chris as a political activist. An activist focuses on achieving an end result. A party activist lives to be used. As it happens, I didn’t blog last night in part because I was at a meeting of SCPD PAC. One of the main agenda items was our effort to create a volunteer bank for campaigns. That is, we are recruiting people for candidates to use.

As Chris says, his actions were aimed at one end – facilitating Mike DeWine’s early retirement. The wreckage of the primary is of the heaviest roadblocks to that end. By helping to clear that wreckage, Chris as activist blogger nudged the Senate campaign a little further down the road.

There is a third framework – blogger as member of the community of bloggers. This seems to be where Chris is getting the most heat. Here, the thinking goes, Chris should have held out for an MTB appearance. I get that, and you won’t find a bigger MTB honk than myself. At the same time I understand Chris’s actions. I certainly didn’t turn down the chance to ask Sherrod questions at the Canton event. And I think that ship has sailed, so we might as well look to other ways to cover the race, including one-on-one interviews.

Like all bloggers, I wear multiple hats on these pages. It can't be overstated how challenging it is to take on these many roles. Right now I have some inside baseball on a couple of campaigns that the activist in me is holding off on because I don't want to hurt the races. Just last night this guy chased me down as I left an SCPD meeting. An awkward moment to be sure, but I have to give him major points for being nice about the fact that I pretty much, well, called him a fraud.

So I was torn about Chris's involvement. Pho the citizen journalist thinks Chris could have asked some harder questions about the sharp dealing in the primary. Pho the Democratic activist is thrilled at the thaw between Sherrod Brown and Paul Hackett. And Pho the blogger hopes against hope that at some point Sherrod will feel comfortable sitting down with MTB.

OK, I'm sufficiently familiar with my navel now.


Jill said...

You can count me as vicariously looking at my navel...your navel? Eew. Well - you know what I mean. I feel the same about all those roles, etc.

Eric said...

color me unscandalized is a good line...really. i'm glad you characterize my post they way you did because that is entirely what it was.

Ohio 2nd said...


Thank you for your interest in my character.

Lisa Renee said...

Suddenly, I don't feel so bad that I missed keeping up with what was going on in the Ohio blogs with the move...