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Saturday, March 18, 2006

More bullshit, different day


Cute puppy

This article is about not getting the point in a massive way

A MATTER OF DRAWING LINES. Apropos of the debate over stalled bill H.R. 1606, which would pre-empt FEC regulation of Internet sites, and H.R. 4900, which could make blogs with over $10,000 in expenditures (excluding web hosting and news gathering expenses) register as political committees, Atrios asks:
The legal discussions get a bit complex, but basically there are people who think the Daily Kos should be treated differently the Slate.com or TNR.com. I have no idea why.
The simplest explanation is that Slate and TNR do not do fundraising for the Democratic Party and/or specific Democratic candidates. Because DailyKos as an institution does fundraising and lobbying/activism around specific bills and races, it sometimes seems closer in nature to a political advocacy group than to a media outlet. Now, before I'm hit with a barrage of reminders that news outlets endorse candidates and argue about legislation on their editorial pages all the time; that plenty of media personalities are also political consultants; and that MSM (or at least ideological media) publication owners do fundraising and make donations, let me remind readers that the law makes a very big distinction between the actions of institutions and those of individuals. It also makes distinctions between kinds of institutions. For example, there are a lot of written materials on the web produced by institutions that are not considered journalism because of the way that the institutions that produce those materials are structured and financed. The new AFL-CIO blog is not "journalism," even though it reports information, for example. It's more of a "newsletter," just as various National Rifle Association publications would be. NDN, likewise, has a blog and issues original reports, but that's not enough to make it "media," given its other activities.

Markos Moulitsas Zungia, however, is clearly a journalist, or, at the very least, a media personality, because, in addition to publishing DailyKos, he wrote a column for The Guardian and has a book coming out, which is more than can be said for many would-be pundits.

The real issue is whether there ought to be some lines created between his publishing enterprise and his party fundraising. Outside of the blogosphere, I'm not aware of any media institution that, qua that institution, raises money for a political party or candidates. Individuals who own publications, to be sure, engage in fundraising for candidates and parties, but they use separate legal entities to do the fundraising, or do so as individuals. Many other institutions, meanwhile, put up administrative walls between their educational/informational activities, and their political advocacy work. Hence MoveOn.org and MoveOn PAC; the Center for American Progress and the American Progress Action Fund; Progress for America and the Progress for America Voter Fund. Ultimately, organizations like DailyKos will probably have to make similar legal distinctions, and make some back-end divisions between the publishing enterprise, which ought to be as free as any other media or education institution to engage in opinionated commentary and publish unregulated comment sections, and the political action and fundraising enterprise. Creating an entity -- call it DailyKos Media, Inc. -- to oversee the publishing wing and a Kossak PAC or Voter Fund to engage in electoral activity wouldn't be that hard, and the relationship between the two could easily be built into the site architecture. (RedState.org was founded as a 527 and that hasn't hurt their growth or advocacy at all as far as I can tell.)

The problem with the current bills under consideration is that neither seems perfectly-suited to bringing blogs under the same legal frame-work as paper-based institutions. H.R. 4900, which tries to specifically exclude small-time bloggers from regulation, nonetheless appears to draw the bar so low it risks treating individual political opinionating by would-be media personalities as if it were institutional political advocacy, and efforts to inform the public about candidates through links as some kind of political contribution. And H.R. 1606 would leave Internet sites freer to engage in electoral activity than are their hard-copy peers and also would fail to close the online loophole that currently leaves soft-money funded partisan political activities less regulated online than off. So while drawing lines will have to happen eventually, it appears that legislators have not yet found the right places to draw them.

UPDATE: Atrios accuses me of putting out zombie facts, but in doing so makes a major error that I hope he will correct on his site. Contra Atrios, The American Prospect magazine does not endorse candidates or engage in lobbying activities. Supporting an issue position in an article does not constitute lobbying activity. Lobbying activity is a specific kind of action, and it is one that this institution does not engage in on its pages. That said, media outlets sometimes lobby Congress or local legislatures on telecommunications issues or regulations that involve them, but as a matter of course they as institutions rarely get involved in broader Congressional fights other than through issuing opinions. Sometimes individuals on their editorial pages do so, but that is a different matter, as I made clear above. As for the Krauthammer quote, I think it's self-evident that was joking. He was discussing BDS, or "Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency -- nay -- the very existence of George W. Bush." Not quite a real department of the RNC, is it?

--Garance Franke-Ruta

I like Garance, she's a nice woman, who I have immense respect for.

But she's dead fucking wrong here.

The problem with her solution is that while Kos can afford to do this, I can't and I won't. I have the same first amendment right as the Prospect does to promote candidacies, even if they don't directly endorse them.

Why does she think there's a magic line between advocacy and reporting. Joseph McCormick hated Roosevelt until the day he died and his papers reflected that.

If I were stupid, I'd take her assertion that Slate does no lobbying. But their parent organization, the Washington Post corporation, certainly does. As the owner of media properties, they use their editorial pages as well as lobbyists and the publisher's own socializing to advocate causes.

It was Donald Graham's relentless advocacy for a baseball team which brought the Nationals to Washington. If that wasn't lobbying, nothing is.

To compare a blog to the publications of the NRA or AFL-CIO is dishonest. They also have print and video operations to get their messages across. None of them are considered journalism.

I hardly think Red State, with it's overlapping ties to the GOP, Wal Mart and it's own site is something worthy of emulating, nor does Kos have much, if anything, to do with being an 527.

At no point does Kos actually send a dime to any candidate, except his own. All he and his readers do is advocate positions and direct people to fundraise. There is no fundraising committee, no financial contact, not even an e-mail sent to readers. It is entirely passive. Nor does Kos send any help to a campaign or raise funds in it's name or even raise funds from the readers. Every dime raised is sent directly to a candidate or Act Blue.

That's like me saying eat at Quiznos every day. Should I be treated as a franchisee because of that, when I don't own a store or hire employees?

The fact is that Kos doesn't do anything that a PAC does. It does not pay for ads, it does not hire staff, it does not issue reports nor fund candidates.

All it does is suggest where people can give money. That, alone, is not acting like Move On. Kosd makes all his money from ads, he doesn't even get reader contributions.

So exactly what is Kos doing to act like a political committee? I want someone to explain how directing contributions which they never handle is the same as a PAC.

Also, she argues that supporting a position is not lobbying? So when did Kos go to Congress to talk about Iraq, Never? He went to talk about these illegal and unconstitional bills designed to restrict the rights of publishers to engage in free and open speech. The same as any other news organ would do.

The fact is that he has supported a range of issues the same as any other publisher. Making a special law to limit his political activity and the thousands of others, who freely and according to the election laws , contribute to candidates which they freely choose to support. Whether Kos discusses this or directs them to the campaign should not conflate this to acting as a political committee.

What surprises me is that she doesn't get that this isn't about journalism. I know people get all huffy about that, but like I said, she's a nice person. She just hasn't come about to realize that this is really about limiting free speech and free expression and the online publishers are the first step.

posted by Steve @ 12:15:00 AM

12:15:00 AM

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