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Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

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Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

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Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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April 7, 2004

Sudden Meaning for the Political Verb: to Link

Careless writing by a major blogger (Kos) brought a turn in the scandal cycle to Blogistan. The Kerry people have decided they will now be held responsible for "comments made by any blogger they link to," writes Atrios. Why? Because any blogger can get you killed. At stake here is the meaning of the verb "to link" in politics. No one knows, and that's... tricky.

People everywhere ought to understand that what they say—if taken seriously—will be held up to public scrutiny and potential attack. —Pennsylvania Rep. Mark B. Cohen (said here.)

Atrios said Sunday he will ask the Kerry campaign to take down its link to his weblog, Eschaton. He also said he will no longer be an official fundraiser for candidates, tracking donations collected at his site. He had set up dedicated donation pages, in order to test what a political weblog with a major audience could do. This was an experiment in Web activism, and it reached a critical moment last weekend, leading to some stark decisions and a powerful post from Atrios explaining them.

This moment began April 1-2 with a comment controversy (very much like a candidate “gaffe”) involving a celebrated blogger, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of the Daily Kos, who said something he should not have said, unless he planned to lose the political ads he had been running. (He later elaborated and explained, thusly, while critics called for a stronger apology.)

Here’s what happened: In a comment thread at someone else’s diary on his own site, Kos, a military veteran, said he felt nothing over the deaths of five American mercenaries last week in Falluja, in which charred and mutilated bodies were exhibited by a mob. The dead men weren’t sent there on orders, he said. They weren’t there to re-build Iraq. “They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.”

In the events that followed this provocative remark, literally speaking ill of the dead, the Kerry campaign severed its link to Koz— a political decision. And someone highly effective in the weblog form, in whom certain hopes for Net politics are lodged, a rising star in Democratic circles, and a solid hero to many in Left Blogistan, was suddenly untouchable by the candidate. The comment spread across the blog sphere when those who might fairly be called political opponents picked it up; and Kos went from party asset to liability almost overnight. (For how all this happened see Matt Stoller’s thought-rich and detailed account, and follow-up. See also Instapundit’s links and commentary here.)

Taking in what happened to Kos, Atrios said on Sunday that he had miscalculated on some things. “I thought we were all grownups now” is the way he chose to put it.

Years later, I thought we’d all figured out sort of how this magic new gizmo called the internet worked. I thought we all understood that a [link to a] website does not hold you responsible for all of the content there. I thought we understood that an ad placed on a media outlet—including blogs and other websites—was not an implicit endorsement of all of the content found on those sites.

But events had proven him wrong about what “we” understood. Atrios had gone with the premise that links mean a weak fit, a loose tie, a slight connection. That way things swing freely. But this attractive premise got replaced by the theory of the strong fit, which is needed to explain the actions the Kerry camp took. (Granted, a pretty small action in the scheme of things, but certainly read by all as symbolic.)

“I’m an activist,” Atrios wrote. “Right now I want the Democrats to take back at least one branch of government.” As for the best way a popular blog by a political writer can help in that, he isn’t sure. No one is. It’s an experiment being run live. “For a while it seemed that some complementarity between the independent ‘netroots’ and campaigns and other organizations would serve everybody well.” This is an appealing idea: complementary but independent action. I do my independent thing for the Democrats I favor, you remain aware of me and support what I am doing without sponsoring, endorsing or attempting to control, deal?

“Deal: we’ll link to you and you to us.”

And there is the turn Atrios did not forsee. The “weak” theory of what it means to link (if we’re going to be Net grown ups) can be overturned by events, triggered by those with a strong theory. By “I thought we were all grownups now,” Atrios was putting forward his belief, (he associated it with Net maturity) that to link does not mean to endorse, except in the broadest sense: we’re all Democrats hoping to defeat Bush.

The link creates a certain relationship, yes, around broadly shared goals, which doesn’t mean Eschaton joins the Kerry team, or the Kerry people join in what Atrios, the author, says. This author with boldly stated views wants to help his side. “But, if these people are unable to find a way to not let themselves be tarred-by-association by anything I write, then these relationships just aren’t helpful.”

if we haven’t grown up enough to realize that one stupid retracted comment posted by a blogger in the comments section of someone else’s diary post on that blog deserves absolutely no official written response by a campaign—no matter how offensive it is—then I don’t think we’re grown up enough yet to have…

…what Atrios called, rather inelegantly, that “blog/campaign complementarity.”

Events had played their hand. The Kerry people decided they will be held responsible for comments by bloggers they link to. By this policy—a second theory of to link, the strong view—they can be forced into comment on any offending remark. The upshot is that any blogger in the heat of exchange, a pissy mood, or an incautious moment can get you killed in the news, which feeds off matters the campaign will comment on.

That, in turn, helps feed a second circuit, the attack machines that do exist on several sides, and operate by pumping controversy through any media pipe that will take it. By bowing to that reality, instead of several others it might have consulted, equally factual, the candidate brought the strong theory of a political verb, to link, out of the premise box and into the real. But this is how politics works. And it “shows they’re not ready to really have a blog and interact with the rest of the blog world,” Atrios wrote. Which is sad. “They should just pull down all their links.” Experiment over… for now.

What to make of this turn? The comments here present a remarkable range of nuanced and biting commentary on the matter. Here are some impressions and conclusions I draw:

Atrios was right to sever links with the Kerry campaign. He said he didn’t blame Kerry, who is trying to win an election, even though he disagreed with the logic that “link to” equals “endorsement of.” Independent but complementary action between Net actors and Kerry Central was plausible before April 1, but not after.

Our scandal culture is a deeply set formation. By now virtually anyone with a modicum of political awareness knows how to set it in motion. “Scandal” today is a mode of discourse, a tone for talking in, as much as the events that are proximate cause. Cliches like “what did he know and when did he know it?” and the suffix “gate” added for naming purposes are examples of that discourse. So are comparative declarations like this, “Can you imagine if a liberal said anything remotely like that in regard to a crime issue?” which generate the resentment required to keep the cycle going. It’s a way of talking.

But whereas it was once necessary to get the major media to “commit” to the scandal-as-story, now the commitment can come in the blog sphere, as with this entry at Blogs for Bush.

John Kerry’s Blog has now established a precedent where they they will de-link any site they find inappropriate. Well, let’s call them to task… Has the John Kerry team ever looked at Democratic Underground?

This too is an effort to keep the scandal cycle going by saying “here’s another one you didn’t know about.” The logic of de-linking refers the observer to the ultimate threat of political advertising. It shows how the scandal culture and the ads are intertwined with the money race. The fear of negative ads that can (later) be run against you is infinitely expansive, for just about anything can become subject matter for an attack. No meaningful connection—no link—between the candidate’s views and the scandalous thing is required. (The Willie Horton ads in 1988 proved it, this argument says.)

The ads “make” the connection happen at a level beyond argument, and those whose big weapon is argument, like Atrios, are helpless when this fear kicks in. Thus, in severing its link to Kos, the Kerry campaign didn’t try to make an argument; it stated a fact: “In light of the unacceptable statement about the death of Americans made by Daily Kos, we have removed the link to this blog from our website.”

Everyone in the game knows that many ads are run just to generate news clips about them and provide fodder for Washington talk shows; so the fear of ads yet to be be run is also a fear of a news blizzard. Right now this falls disproportionately on Kerry because Americans know less about him. Bring it on is a winning slogan, but the actions against Kos show that it isn’t a realistic operating style.

Over the frightening uncertainity created by scandal politics, by attack ads, by gaffe-seeking behavior in the press, and by opportunism among opponents, candidates try to assert some control, and thus reduce the risks of sudden implosion typified by the Dean scream. The “complementarity” that went bust for Atrios is at odds with this managerial impulse. But because it’s an impulse, an emotion as much as a strategy, moves to exert control often mean losing control, as participants attempt to take charge of the situation when the situation itself is in charge.

“The Kerry campaign is now operating on the standard that they are responsible for the comments made by any blogger they link to,” Atrios noted. There’s the attempt to control for unforseen consequence. “…and in fact will allow themselves to be forced into commenting on any transgressions.” And that’s how control turns into its opposite.

No one knows what a political blog “is” or should be. There are no standards and no patterns to emulate. There isn’t even common sense yet, just different sensibilities, styles, experiments. But while we don’t know how blogs that are also political sites should work, we do know something about how politics—the thing being entered into—works. At Matt Stoller’s post on the Kos matter, the blogger digby wrote this:

I maintain that we are going to have to decide if we are going to work on campaigns, fundraise, write analysis, satire, polemics or screeds and adjust our blogging habits accordingly. If you are going to be in politics, you have to play by the political rules. I don’t see this as being that big of a deal. If you want to be Jon Stewart you don’t get to be Joe Trippi. And if you want to bust spin you can’t be a spinner. It’s just a matter of making choices. There are many ways to contribute.”

Indeed there are; and this strikes me as common sense— post Kos comment. So does Matt Stoller when he writes: “Blogs create memory, whereas talk radio and cable punditry destroy it by turning opinion and analysis into an ethereal product. Both talk radio and blogs provide contextualized, chatty information; only blogs actually write it down.” And in that sense they are a boon to scandal culture.

Finally, while there is much that is ignoble in the patterns I describe, there were moments of honor in Blogistan, too— because of the incident. This defense of Kos by Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft is one. You can almost hear her rising on the floor of a new senate to speak in support, complete with links. I would include portions of this post from Roger L Simon, a Kos critic. (“People are going to continue to rant from behind their computer screens about this. I, for one, will do my best not to.”)

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, who certainly thought there was scandal here, (he said Kos was being “rather a weasel” about fessing up) expressed alarm when the Kos site appeared to go dark. “Kos now appears to have taken down his site. That seems excessive to me. All he really needed to do was to issue a genuine, non-weasely apology.” But the crash of the Daily Kos turned out to be nothing. “Kos is back now — just a server switchover, apparently,” said Reynolds. “That’s good.”

This is a small thing and may not mean much to Kos when words like “weasel” have been entered into the record. But its says something to everyone when Reynolds, sometimes called the King of Hits, gives a genuine sigh of relief that a competitor of sorts is back— competing. Newspaper journalists have been known to hold wakes when a competing daily in town dies, and they are genuinely sad when that happens. This matters because the CEO and shareholders of the “winning” company are definitely not saddened when the other newspaper goes down. That’s just capitalism, right?

Right. But while capitalism is always that, not everything in newspapering is “just capitalism.” The journalist’s wake says so. And in politicking by blog not everything is partisan. No habit has done as much damage to the world as the habit of thinking that one principle meets and conquers all givens, and that one thing is always going on. Signs that this is not so, when it most seems so, are always welcome. Scandal culture runs deep; I said that. And there are scandalous things in politics, so it’s not like we don’t need the culture. But there are things that run counter to the it’s automatic part of scandal. During scandal time those things are most needed.

So what is the real meaning of the political verb: to link? Atrios—who, like Kos, Reynolds and others, is a new kind of “influential”—is asking himself that now. But it’s an uncontrolled experiment, and from that point of view, a clarifying result is a success. “Recent events have made me rethink the way we do things around here,” he said. “I think it’s time for a few policy changes.” That’s politics at the weblogs today— in the wild, on the fly.

Aftermath: Notes, Reactions & Links…

Julian Sanchez surveys the Kos matter, in a post called Outrage Kabuki at Reason Online:

“One might even say the Internet makes outrage easy. In that vast sea of rapidly composed missives, every day presents dozens of new opportunities to be appalled, and that special moral satisfaction that comes only from a good bout of righteous indignation guarantees that each will find an audience. Those for whom political allegiance provides a sense of tribal community already delight in the ritual display of contempt for the worst of what the other side comes up with—each Michael Moore and Ann Coulter doppelganger forming a node in a feedback loop with no end in sight.”

Iron Bear at Who Tends the Fires writes Rumors of Our Discourse are Greatly Exaggerated:

DailyKos is a prominent pundit who’s managed to become a political commodity. He’s perfectly free to say “Screw them, they’re just mercenaries and who cares?” Michael Friedman is prefectly free to express his speech by writing Kos’ advertisers: that’s excercising his right as a consumer to let a commodity—politicians—know that they’re being assciated with another unsavorable commodity. Kos’s supporters are perfectly free to think it’s silly and outrageous and to say so. I’m perfectly free to write unflattering filks about it.

On April 4, Kos assessed the damage as follows:

So I said something pretty stupid last week. I served up the wingnuts a big, juicy softball. They went into a tizzy, led by Instapundit. And for a while, I was actually pretty worried.

But the final tally was — about 30 hate-filled emails, about 15,000 hate-filled visitors, and the pulling of three advertising spots that are going to be replaced in less than a week. (I had two emails today about people wanting to advertise despite the controversy.)

But see the comments for the reactions of supporters.

Ross Mayfield at Many to Many on links-as-votes and “vote links,” a technological fix for the problem: “is to link to endorse?”

Atrios emails, clarifying his policy: “I’m not going to stop trying to raise funds. I’m just going to sever anything resembling an ‘official relationship’ - which basically just means the donation tracking pages. So, I’ll encourage my readers to give, we just won’t know how much they’ve given.”

UPDATE April 10. Ed Cone reports on another attempted “link” scandal: “In the wake of Kerry’s craven delinking of Kos, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is trying to smear blogging Oklahoma Democrat Brad Carson by pointing out his links to Kos, Brad DeLong, and Juan Cole.”

The Tulsa World carries a front page story quoting Dan Allen, communications director for the NRSC: “I think this speaks volumes as to the type of people Carson would associate with if he were elected to the United States Senate.”

But Carson has not disavowed the links (which came in posts at his weblog.) He posted this reply: “Let me say this: about half the sites I link to are conservative, about half are liberal. They are all interesting reading….If you are one of my supporters, please read a varied list of sources, both liberal and conservative, so that you can better understand the world around you. If you are one of the NRSC’s kind of folks, only read material that reinforces your political perspective.”

FURTHER UPDATE, April 11. Carson, it turns out, did give in to pressure and remove a reference and link to Kos from a March 16 post listing blogs he likes. This is what it used to look like. And now it looks like this. See the comments thread here for discussion, much of it supportive of Carson but seemingly unaware that he removed the Kos reference without saying why.

Thus, we have a Us Congressman and Senate candidate removing, under pressure from the press and the Republicans, a reference to Kos in a post listing blogs he likes, but then appearing to stick up for “freedom to link” principles and—so far, at least—leaving the apparent contradiction unexplained, while accepting praise from readers for his courageous and witty stand. And this action came not against a blogroll with “official” links, but a mere reference in a post. Certainly a turn in the scandal.

And here’s Carson in the comments section of his blog: “This issue right now is not about the war — because I supported it — but about the right of people and media sources to say what they want, EVEN IF I disagree.”

EVEN FURTHER UPDATE, April 11: Now the Kos link from March 16 is back, after Ed Cone and I inquired. Brad Luna, an aide to Carson writes: “Jay — Thanks for the heads up and bringing it to our attention. Miscommunication on our end. It’s all set straight now.” (See my earlier comments here.

Posted by Jay Rosen at April 7, 2004 6:42 PM   Print


The most fascinatig part fo this process is how few people have mentioned that the DNC, DCCC, and DSCC blogs still link ot Kos and have disclaimers attached to their links. I think the delinking will be aything like the future policy. After all Bush links to Limbaugh, Michael Savage and more.

However, the point you make in this article that bloggers can't be Joe trippi and john stewart is dead right. However, I have always though that there are two types of bloggers: pres-like bloggers and activist-like bloggers. essentially that same question. Kos tried to hard to be both.

Posted by: Kevin Thurman at April 7, 2004 7:29 PM | Permalink

Very cogent analysis. I want to quibble with one word: complimentary. The AP Stylebook in me (and the dictionary in me) wants to say that you mean "complEmentary" aims, as in "to complement":

Usage Note: Complement and compliment, though quite distinct in meaning, are sometimes confused because they are pronounced the same. As a noun, complement means “something that completes or brings to perfection” (The antique silver was a complement to the beautifully set table); used as a verb it means “to serve as a complement to.” The noun compliment means “an expression or act of courtesy or praise” (They gave us a compliment on our beautifully set table), while the verb means “to pay a compliment to.”

I really think Atrios wants to complement the electoral aims of the Democratic party, not compliment them.

Posted by: bryan at April 7, 2004 7:37 PM | Permalink

Seems like a job for Vote Links:

Posted by: Ross Mayfield at April 7, 2004 8:37 PM | Permalink

I completely disagree that Jeralyn Merritt's comment was a "moment of honor." She said:

As for the "liberal bloggers" who have criticized Markos, we'd point out that most of them are not really liberals but centrist Democrats. Shame on them. We discount their criticism and suggest you do too.
Astounding in the extreme. Merritt cried "shame" on people whose only crime was to criticize someone who said "Screw them" about Americans who had been murdered, and whose bodies were mutilated and paraded in front of the world.

It makes sense to me that Merritt would defend Kos for reasons of loyalty. I understand exhortations to "condemn the statement, but not the person" -- especially when those exhortations are motivated in part by such feelings of loyalty. But to cry "shame" on people who criticized Kos is anything but honorable. Rather, it is an insult to truly honorable people on the left who have enough of a conscience -- and enough gumption to resist blind partisan loyalty -- that they dare, in appropriate circumstances, to criticize those who share their political outlook.

I can't say it any better than Armed Liberal did at the end of comments to Merritt's post:

I can't tell you how much I appreciate being told I'm not enough of a team player.... What am I supposed to do when I think that what my team is doing is both wrong and doomed to failure?
While I respect Prof. Rosen, I ask him to reconsider his support for Merritt's post -- at least this portion, so insulting to fine people like Armed Liberal.

Posted by: Patterico at April 7, 2004 10:16 PM | Permalink

Allow me to pose a rhetorical question that summarizes why I think the "to link or not to link" question isn't as big a deal as Instapundit seems to:

Should we now assume that the George W. Bush blog isn't going to link to articles on the Washington Times Web site?

After all, the Times is owned by a known partisan (the Reverend Sun Myung Moon), just like Daily Kos. Its publisher has said things that could be construed as offensive (that he is the living Messiah and an inspiration to Hitler and Stalin, among others), just like Kos. And even though these things have been repeatedly pointed out, he has never apologized for them -- just like Kos.

If not -- if they say the cases are different -- why not? Why hold one publication directly accountable for its publisher's personal opinions, and not another?

If anything, I think Kos' case is actually less damaging in that he made his remarks in a part of the site, the "Diaries", clearly marked as being the opinions of individual users and not of "Daily Kos" the publication. De-linking Daily Kos because of the contents of a Diary posting is like saying that the New York Times is fundamentally biased because of the contents of a signed op-ed -- it misunderstands the nature of the venue.

Kos put his opinion in his Diary precisely because it was his personal opinion. In other words, he kept it out of the main news content! From the journalistic perspective, he did the Right Thing -- just like we would say that, say, Bob Woodward had done the Right Thing if he had written an op-ed expressing his opinion. The fact that a "controversy" can be manufactured out of this is a sad commentary on the shabby state of political discourse.

Posted by: Jason Lefkowitz at April 7, 2004 10:30 PM | Permalink

A closer examination of things would benefit your analysis. For example, Atrios did not cease fundraising. He just stopped the practice of using the ID-linked fundraising apparatus that some campaigns (like Kerry's) use to attribute the source of the donations.

If you look at Eschaton right now, you'll see a post pushing for donations for Hoeffel for Senate.

Second, you might have at least included the complete intent of Kos's comment or at least summarized his explanation. He was bemoaning the fact that the media was paying attention to four dead mercenaries when (on the same day) five US soldiers who had no choice about being there were barely mentioned.

You must admit there's something peculiar about this. Were the four mercenaries' deaths more important? Or were they merely more lurid?

Did Kos go over the top a bit in his comment. Sure. Of course, he's had some first-hand experience with mercenaries growing up. Sorry, my bad. Civilian contractors with automatic rifles.

Posted by: Bill Rehm at April 7, 2004 11:01 PM | Permalink

I notice the Kerry campaign hasn't requested that Markos remove the donation link from his site, which you'd think they'd do if there were a matter of principle involved. If I were a right-wing scandal monger, I think I'd jump on that. "You don't want to link to him anymore, but it's okay to take his money?" Flip-flop.

It was a pretty stupid thing for Kos to say in public, and if it was accessible, it was public. I'm told that the general concensus among elected officials in DC is that the deaths were both horrible and a prime example of natural selection, but you don't see any of them saying it on the record or anywhere they could be overheard by unfriendlies.

That said, Atrios is right; it was a juvenile move on the Kerry campaign's part. And the blog still doesn't have a links disclaimer even though the campaign has implicitly accepted responsibility for the content of each of the several hundred sites linked there. That's not very bright.

Patterico, above, is right too. I really can't see Jeralyn Merritt rising on the Senate floor to denounce ... what? centrist democrats? straying from the party line? fellow travelers? "Don't let those wingers trash leftists the way I'm trashing centrists." Let's defend one ill-considered remark with another. And what on earth does the new baby have to do with anything? Is Checkers going to trot out on stage next?

Hate being told what to do.

On to scandal. You know who picked up on this in the more-or-less wider world? The Weekly Standard, archivists of top secret Doug Feith memos; David Horowitz's FrontPage, and Reason online.

The first two are not forums calculated to reach potential Kerry voters, and the third generally appeals to people who actually stop and think. It was a big deal in the echo chamber, but people who read Kos or Atrios aren't likely to be disaffected by the incident, people who read Little Green Footballs probably weren't going to vote left this time around anyway and most of the people who e-mailed complaints to Kerry and the advertisers probably weren't either, although it is a closer call for the congressional candidates.

Kos is right, too. Every death should be on the front page, and if any deaths have to be shoved off it, it oughtn't to be the ones of the people who are there because they accepted it as their obligation.

In fact, that would make a good response: the outrage here isn't that one blogger said something thoughtless, but that every fallen soldier in Iraq isn't receiving the same attention as those four men.

Fake scandals should inspire some thought, not denial or panic. One could hope the potential leaders of our nation would be a little less reflexive than the bloggers of our nation, that they might sit down and say, "This is too stupid. How can we turn it around?"

Thousands upon thousands of people just voluntarily gave you their e-mail addresses and the opportunity to get into their heads. Don't panic.

Now that I've spent more time thinking about this to less effect than any of the principals did, I'm going home.

Posted by: weldon berger at April 8, 2004 10:11 AM | Permalink

It's a compliment of sorts - being assumed relevant or significant enough to qualify as "scandal" :-)

But, really, this isn't especially bloggy, in that it's all of a piece of attacks on Kerry for having once spoken at an anti-war rally where Jane Fonda also spoke (is one responsible for all rally speakers?) or whether he was still a member of an organization which later had some people talk about violence.

"Guilt by association" is an old game, even if it's being played now as what sort of association is a link.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 8, 2004 11:55 AM | Permalink

There's another and much simpler analysis here: Kos lost credibility.
That's what happened with me. He said something tasteless, cruel, heartless, stupid, and generally numbnutty. OK, stuff happens.
But his response to the criticism that resulted was worse.
And what that revealed to me was that Kos has -- to use Atrios' way of framing this -- immature judgment; he was not "grown up." That means that I will now have to look at other judgments he makes with caution and concern. He lost credibility.
Maybe that's what happened with the Kerry site as well.
Maybe that's what happened with other readers.
It certainly happens with "grown-up" media properties when they exhibit poor judgment. They lose a piece of the only asset we have: credibility.
That's why the Times "de-linked" -- in our way of looking at things -- Blair and USA Today de-linked Kelly. That's why, after too many dumb columns, I de-linked from my own reading Dowd. It's a judgment we all make every day: Is this person worth reading? Trustworthy? Credible?
It's not just politics at work. It's journalism.

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at April 8, 2004 8:33 PM | Permalink

Didn't you listent to Air America the other day when Kos was on the Majority Report? Hearing his take on the "scandal" and his constant apologies for being a jerk were a great way to ameliorate the situation. He sounded genuinely contrite.

And anyway, I wouldn't go as far to call him a journalist because he isn't. He is an activist and a fledging Democrat Party heavy. He just happens to run a very popular liberal blog.

Also, another thing that has been addressed indirectly is that the internet is a poor medium in terms of conveying tone.
The internet is wonderful in many ways, but it doesn't quite capture the tone of a person. Radio!Kos and Internet!Kos seem to be very different people. Internet!Kos comes off as more strident and well, more mean. Radio!Kos seems to be a nicer and more considerate person.
Words on the internet have a kind of permanence that radio or other forms of media don't have, as discussed before. But in terms of tone, the written word can take on so many permutations of tone depending on the reader. Many people thought Kos was contrite. Others didn't. If only they heard him on the radio then they would think otherwise.

This brings to mind the many flamewars that happen among Star Trek fans over the stupidest and most inane things....all in all some arguement would happen because somebody misunderstood somebody else on a dumb message board posting. The it would escalate into a nuclear flamewar. I guess people should realize that anything they write could be miscontrued. Being circumspect would help. Or being a Star Trek Fan or Harry Potter fan would do wonders on everybody's net etiquette. After so many flamewars over stupid arguements about canon, people tend to be nicer, I think.

Posted by: at April 8, 2004 9:16 PM | Permalink

Clodia: I read Kos and that is where I had to come to my judgment. His original comment was abhorrent. His followup was self-centered and whiney and quite unsatisfying. He still didn't get it. And he may not be a journalist but a blog is media and so he has to deal with the same issues all media properties deal with when it comes to their credibility. And once upon a time, credibility mattered for politicians, too.

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at April 8, 2004 10:41 PM | Permalink

Do you remember splash pages, stuff that welcomed you on your way to the real home page?

We need exit pages for off-site links.

"Thanks for visiting You're now leaving our site for Site X, not under our control. We link to other sites because we think you might find them interesting, fun, or useful. But we aren't responsible for what others write. Caveat lector and have a nice day. You will be redirected to Site X in 10 seconds or click here to continue."

An ounce of disclaimer is worth a pound of pain by association.

Posted by: Phil Wolff at April 9, 2004 12:10 PM | Permalink

That's a good idea, Phil -- and I think that Jay has raised an interesting issue regarding what it means to link to someone.

However, the internet is the internet, and politics is politics -- and politics ain't beanbag. It may not be fair to John Kerry to say: "You link to so-and-so, so that means you support this Bad Thing they said." But just because it may not be fair doesn't mean that G.W. Bush isn't gonna do it.

If Kerry hadn't removed that link, he would have opened himself up to possibly having to answer for it in a debate watched by millions. He would have to justify his association with a guy who said something that most Americans will find despicable (at a minimum).

It ain't worth it.

Kerry's decision was a no-brainer -- not because his link was equivalent to agreement with Kos on all points, but because Kerry is in the game of politics. And Americans won't be satisfied with the answer: "Well, I had this splash page . . ."

Posted by: Patterico at April 9, 2004 5:35 PM | Permalink

I've never understood this delinking business. Do people really pay that much attention to the blogrolls? How many people were made aware of Kos' blog by Kerry's website? I would bet that Kos' sitemeter went up, not down, after people noticed his big blurt, and I doubt that many of his regulars have stopped checking his site, even if they did take umbrage at the incident.

I suppose the lesson would be that when you're able to make money selling ads on your blog, you should be more careful about what you say, but is that a new revelation?

The thing that made his remark disgusting was that he characterized the murdered men as mercenaries, as though they were over there killing people for the hightest bidder and implied that their murder was somehow justified. It obviously wasn't thought through.

The debate goes on. Confusion to our enemies!

Posted by: AST at April 10, 2004 3:58 AM | Permalink

Thanks for the trackback, Jay. I realise that we're coming at this from slightly different perspectives, and the link to my thoughts is appreciated.

I noticed reading back that I stated my review "has absolutely nothing to do with Kos", when I should have stated that it had less to do with Kos than it does to the general reactions to the controversy - naturally the Kos mess was a prime example. Oh well... way too late to edit for clarity.

"This brings to mind the many flamewars that happen among Star Trek fans over the stupidest and most inane things....all in all some arguement would happen because somebody misunderstood somebody else on a dumb message board posting. The it would escalate into a nuclear flamewar." - Clodia_of_Rome

That's precisely it in a lot of ways: it's the nature of the medium and of the readers that lends itself to the flamewar atmosphere. When I say something in conversation in response to a remark of yours, even if it looks tacky in text, it's the tone of voice, the lopsided grin, and raised eyebrow [or lack of] that tells you wether I'm joking or being deadly serious.

It IS possible to convey that context and emotion in writing - I'm not one who states that it isn't, because skilled writers do it all the time - but it takes work on the part of the reader, also, to judge context. That reader investment isn't always present on the 'Net, nor is the writer's skill.

Personally, I believe that the nature of the medium makes "nicening up" the dialgue unlikely. Not certain it's desirable either: any attempt to enforce convention rather than letting convention evolve on its own tends to breed a deliberate rebellion in people like me.

A convention does exist though: takes two to make a flamewar. If one wants reasoned discourse, one has to give it. If one goes gutter - then one gets gutter back... usually in spades. If one sidesteps the flamewar - especially with humour and dignity - then it doesn't happen. It takes a certain amount of security in oneself and one's ego to *shrug* and walk away from a pointless fight though.

And there's also what Michele calls the "whoopie cushion factor" to the 'Net: a lot of us have a good sense of humour, and we kind of enjoy tossing creme pies at the overly pompous. It's *fun*.

My problem with the Kos diatribe isn't the "Screw you". People say more rancorous things all the time on the web. It is this:

1) He made the statement 2) Rather than letting the statement stand and owning it, he redirected and buried it just like a forum admin hiding a thread, 3) His "retraction" wasn't a retraction nor an apology, although he claimed it to be. Obfuscation after the fact.

You can compare it to Rob's actions in the infamous Acidman mass de-linking for contrast: Rob made an outrageous post, got everyone riled up... but: he didn't hide it, he owned it, he didn't bury the post, and he acknowledged it even though he didn't apologise. If Kos meant what he said, then that's the kind of spine he should have shown. He didn't. If he didn't mean it, there was a way to own it and apoligise while letting the origional stand that he also didn't take.

His radio statements, no matter how contrite, don't erase the web actions. To coin a phrase, "Screw him". ;]

"To Kos" and "Kossing an entry" is now going to be forever tied to the act of making an outrageous post and then redirecting and hiding it, in 'Net Jargon and in the mind of a lot of 'Net wolves. I expect to see it pop up in the Lexicon at some future point. It's immortality, of a sort.

Posted by: Ironbear at April 11, 2004 12:01 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Ironbear. I think the flame war is not important, but the link issue is. "Freedom to link," which is not a trivial thing, may be at stake in this.

I fault Kos for something no one seems to have complained about. He wrote that "they're doing their best to turn me into the devil, and they're making racist comments about my heritage and family," but neglects to link to those who are allegedly doing this. That's bad practice in my book, and makes it hard to take the charge seriously.

You are definitely correct here: "It takes a certain amount of security in oneself and one's ego to *shrug* and walk away from a pointless fight." The notion that every attack has to be responded to may have applied to Michael Dukakis in 1988, but it's terrible advice for skirmishes in Blogistan.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 11, 2004 10:07 PM | Permalink

The question I see coming up inevitably is "What do we do about it?" I'm seeing it already in various discussions on all of this.

"Should anything be done, and why?" is a question I'm not seeing as often, sadly. Seems to be an inevitable byproduct of attempting to impose 'nettiquette and linking etiquette that we will lose as much freedom of discourse as we might gain in "civilizing" it. *shrug*

Like Patterico, I found both Merrit's "centrist democrats" slam and the implied support for it disquieting. I am admittedly both non-democrat and anti-leftist, but I see a strong need for a healthy and viable opposition party - one of them a liberal party to balance and counterpoint the conservative and libertarian parties in the political arena. If the Democrats continue to alienate their centrist democrats and classic liberals in favor of the fringe voices, they will fragment and marginalise themselves.

Merrit's statements and their acceptance are indicative of a deep malaise in that party, even moreso that Kos.

Posted by: Ironbear at April 13, 2004 8:19 PM | Permalink

Re: The Carson linkings.

I maintain that it's both silly and trivial for the NRSCC to slam Carson [or any blogger/candidate] for links in a post. That strikes right at the heart of interactivity on the web: you have to be able to link freely to other articles that illustrate your points or that counterpoint them in order to have dialogue.

Critiquing him for a links page or blogroll one might can justify: right or wrong, that's become de rigeur in the blogosphere long before all of this came up. Critiquing for "this is what I read every day/week/whatever" is pretty muchly taking advantage of a cheap shot for quick political advantage.

Hell... I read TalkLeft, Demosthenes, Crooked Timber and Oliver Willis, and will link to them in an article when they have something interesting to say, or to illustrate something I disagree with. It doesn't indicate that I have an affiliation with their positions: it indicates that I'm illustrating a point that I'm making, and giving my readers the option to view the source and determine for themselves wether my inferences are accurate or not.

Posted by: Ironbear at April 13, 2004 8:28 PM | Permalink

The triumph of revisionist history; the offending post by Kos was NOT originally in a comment, but the opening main post, with comments attached to it. What, exactly, happened in the editing and link changing I didn't bother to keep track of; at that point the revising had started and I didn't much care what was fabricated as cover.

Originally, it was not a comment to a post, it was a post.

Posted by: htom at April 13, 2004 9:38 PM | Permalink

"The triumph of revisionist history; the offending post by Kos was NOT originally in a comment, but the opening main post, with comments attached to it." -

Yup. It was. I think I noted that in my 1,2,3 up there... but a lot of people defending Kos seem to be ignoring that there was some tricky editing and redirecting going on with the origional post that started all of this, and *that* is what got a lot of blogdom down on him, both left and right.

I'm going to slide out of this for a bit - there's a different conroversy in my usual haunts I'm getting drawn into. I'll look back in a day or two if the discussion is still going on here.

Posted by: Ironbear at April 13, 2004 10:57 PM | Permalink

For all my criticism of TalkLeft's posting on this issue, I both read and link to TalkLeft. Obviously I don't agree with everything (or almost anything) posted there, but it's a good site. That right there should tell you something about what it means to link.

For a politician, it's different, as I opined above. Politics is not about rationality.

Posted by: Patterico at April 14, 2004 12:00 AM | Permalink

From the Intro