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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blogging roundtable: Candidates dropping like flies

UPDATED with Steve Janke's response.

I asked Robert Jago, M.J. Murphy (BigCityLib), John Baglow (Dr. Dawg), Jason Cherniak, Stephen Taylor, Warren Kinsella, Terry Glavin, Matthew Good, and Steve Janke the following:

"I'm beginning to get the sense that candidates being forced to resign thanks to the efforts of bloggers like yourselves is the major issue in this election. It isn't the Green Shift, it isn't any substantive policy issue; it's candidates getting busted for saying things that maybe they shouldn't have said, or putting six too many joints in their mouth on YouTube, or wondering out loud about what "really" caused 9/11 etc.

Do you agree?

And: What is the significance of all the candidates that have been forced to resign thanks to past blogging/online activities?"

Answers are beginning to trickle in. Here are some highlights:

Jason Cherniak thinks bloggers have a competitive advantage over traditional media--bloggers can publish their stories faster (as long as they "suitably hedge" their language). "Bloggers'," writes Cherniak, "initial stories allow journalists to do even more research on their own, if they are interested, without the story waiting around in some back room or being ignored entirely. While blogs may be speeding up the rate at which bad candidates are discovered, I think those issues are only gaining prominence because the media are too bored to cover policy."

M.J. Murphy, meanwhile, thinks bloggers digging up dirt on candidates is the story of this election, but only because, otherwise, the election stories were going to be boring. "It isn't like we bloggers," he wrote, "were distracting everyone from a deep political debate that would have happened if only we hadn't been digging dirt."

Robert Jago, meanwhile, thinks bloggers have taken up the task of really vetting candidates that weren't vetted properly by the major political parties: "Parties aren't prepared, and they're recruiting any random warm body without doing a full vetting," he wrote.

Apart from the lack of preparation by the major parties, the other element, explains Jago, is the ignorance of reporters. They're insufficiently aware of the merely apparent, rather than real, power of blogs. And this appearance of power is sufficient to give blogs actual power. "What I have noticed," writes Jago, "is that people who don't have a deep knowledge of blogs or new media have an out-sized respect for them and will act on their tips much more readily than they would act on the tips of a random reader."

Jago is sure this won't happen again. I think he's right.

Matthew Good will have nothing to do with the WS. Which is too bad. (Does he know the WS is under new management? I'm still going to buy your albums, Good, even if you don't read the WS. Because you make good music. For example, this song is solid. And this song was one of my favourites when I was in undergrad.)

Our reputation didn't keep other left-wing bloggers from responding. Dr. Dawg, for instance, was all-too-happy to chime in. "Certainly anyone active in the community leaves more of a paper trail now than at any other period in history," he wrote. He's not entirely sure about whether or not this is good or bad for democracy: "We've all made one or two off-the-wall comments in our time--maybe even more," he writes, and adds, rhetorically, "should a lifetime of public service be demolished by a few remarks?"

Echoing Cherniak's remarks, Terry Glavin (who is also left-of-centre politically) wrote: "I'd go further and say it's not just about the ability of diligent bloggers to turn up "gaffes," but rather bloggers doing real journalism while the mainstream press is largely a prisoner of its own deadlines."

In addition to this, Glavin thinks the political spectrum is changing, especially with the emergence of the Green and Bloc Parties. Traditional left-wing, right-wing politics is changing with more subtle sub-divisions and distinctions -- it's much more like a "lava lamp" nowadays, he writes. And that, he claims, is "Huge Story Number One." Meanwhile, "Huge Story Number Two" is the fact that bloggers are digging up dirt on the candidates, and finding nasty skeletons in just about every closet.

Janke's of the opinion that the numbers make a difference--hundreds of bloggers can cover one story, approach various angles, with the "aggregate effect [being] a review that is both broad and deep." What he calls the "network effect of the internet" just is these hundreds of bloggers "each focusing on one part as per their openly-admitted biases, using the mechanism of online blogs and feed aggregators to knit their work together."

You can read the complete and unedited messages below the fold. If Kinsella, and Taylor get back to me, I'll post their comments as well. You're welcome, dear reader, to provide your own take on these issues as well in the comments.

Steve Janke:

"One element of this phenomenon might be that given the sheer number of bloggers acting, personal biases cancel out. For instance, Lesley Hughes is a journalist, so maybe journalists only gave her a passing glance, assuming journalists would not likely be a source of an interesting story. Not deliberately, of course, but it's a matter of so much research and so little time -- everyone has to allocate their time where they believe they are likely to find a story. But with hundreds of bloggers contributing their portion of time, and with each picking different places to focus, the aggregate effect is a review that is both broad and deep. This is an outgrowth of the network effect of the Internet. Before you had a dozen reporters splitting their time between several stories, each in isolation. Now you have hundreds, each focusing on one part as per their openly-admitted biases, using the mechanism of online blogs and feed aggregators to knit their work together.

Is there a new focus on individual candidates and their foibles? It's not a new focus, really, but a more effective one, I think. The Internet and blogging is new, the people are not."

Jason Cherniak

"Candidates resign in every election. The difference this time is that blogs are being used as a medium to get out the information. Bloggers do not have the same editorial concerns that the main stream media have, so they are able to run with a story while in the process of completing research as long as they suitably hedge their language.

Bloggers’ initial stories allow journalists to do even more research on their own, if they are interested, without the story waiting around in some back room or being ignored entirely. While blogs may be speeding up the rate at which bad candidates are discovered, I think those issues are only gaining prominence because the media are too bored to cover policy."

Big City Lib:

"Peter, I think what us bloggers have unearthed about various candidates is the story of the election, but only because we have stepped into a vacuum that the MSM has been unable to fill, and the campaigns unwilling or unable to fill.

I mean, if you look at the way the first week unfolded, this was  all going to be about how Stephen Harper looked in a sweater vs. "Isn't Dion a Wimp and doesn't he have a weird tax plan?" For example, some of the best reporters in Canada were following Harper around and there was no real news coming out of that plane, just photo-ops. Add to that the fact that nobody can remember what Dion says five minutes after he says it, and you had a real snore of an election unfolding. 

The blogging follies, the various ways people gamed the Tory website to make the party look silly... at least these are entertaining, if not enlightening. It isn't like we bloggers were distracting everyone from a deep political debate that would have happened if only we hadn't been digging dirt. You can even argue that, since most of the stuff uncovered came from public forums, bloggers have been performing a real service... uncovering the truth about candidates' views before they swallowed whatever party line."

Robert Jago:

"This is coming up in this election because of two things: preparation and ignorance.

Parties aren't prepared, and they're recruiting any random warm body without doing a full vetting. This internal email from the Greens is telling:

"Think about who you know in the ridings listed below and send us names and ridings of people you think would be good Green MPs, even if you have no contact info. Could be your mother, your neighbour or someone you've seen in the newspaper. We'll take it...

So that everyone in Canada has the opportunity to vote Green, we'll also take names of people willing to just put their names on the ballot in the event we do not find enough candidates."

As is this comment from Jack Layton:

Layton "We thought it had been adequate. Evidently not ... We're reviewing it, no question about that. In this era of Googles and everything else there's obviously new techniques we may be able to employ."

That's the biggest part of it.

The second part is this -- I can't make a politician resign. In the last week, my blog got 15,000 hits. That means it's one of the top 10 blogs in Canada. And still it ranks lower than the Port Alberni Daily whatever. The blogosphere is tiny. The reason we have the influence we do is because of the ignorance of reporters.

I did an interview with a newspaper last week and got a call back from the reporter asking me to clarify what flickr was. She had never heard of it. What I have noticed is that people who don't have a deep knowledge of blogs or new media have an out-sized respect for them and will act on their tips much more readily than they would act on the tips of a random reader.

Look, outing idiotic politicians has been the raison d'etre of the (MSM) media since the first days of the Reform party. They are primed for these sorts of stories. I don't need to sell them something new -- I just need to push them in the right direction.

The parties should have prepared these people better. But they haven't & together with the sub-standard vetting, and the ignorance of new media, we in the blogosphere are reaping the rewards.

It won't happen next time.

Matthew Good:

"Sorry, I'll have nothing to do with the Western Standard."

Dr. Dawg:

"Certainly anyone active in the community leaves more of a paper trail now than at any other period in history. The Internet candidate search really began last election--an NDP candidate had made some remarks that not even the CJC thought were anti-Semitic, but he was bounced as an NDP candidate anyway after an assiduous reporter tracked them down.

The truth is, I don't know whether a floodgate has been opened here, or whether, on the other hand, more people are now involved in the candidate vetting process, in effect.

Is this good for democracy? Well, we should all be able to stand on our records, or fall on them. Liberal operative Jason Cherniak's incessant smearing aside, parties ought to know what their own candidates believe, and ditto, of course, the voters.

I am not without hesitancy on this matter, however. We've all made one or two off-the-wall comments in our time--maybe even more. : ) Should a lifetime of public service be demolished by a few remarks?

Being one of those who helped to bring down Lesley Hughes, I would say that it depends very much on the remarks. The Liberal candidate who wanted the army to go into Kanesatake and kill a bunch of Native people, for example, or the one who really believes that "Israelis" in the WTO had foreknowledge of 9/11 and left without telling anyone else... Well, as a citizen, I'd really like to know if someone purporting to represent me has views of that nature. So I hope this isn't going to be cast as yet another "free speech" issue; it's not.

There's a serious debate to be had here, though. Thanks for moving it along."

Terry Glavin:

"I think you're on to something, Peter. I'd go further and say it's not just about the ability of diligent bloggers to turn up "gaffes," but rather bloggers doing real journalism while the mainstream press is largely a prisoner of its own deadlines. This has been coming for quite some long while, of course; I spent 15 years working for the dailies (and another 15 doing magazine journalism and whatnot) and over time, like a lot of journalists, I've watched the real-news quotient of the news pages shrink, crowded out by what we might call "official news" - press releases, press conferences, and various functions of a myriad public relations strategies crafted by any number of interest groups. So when something newsworthy is happening, journalists are increasingly too busy to notice.

There is something else going on, too, I think -- and bloggers are more likely to notice it. As the old parties morph, and the number of parties in contention have multiplied (the emergence of the Bloc and the Greens) the old spectrum we're familiar with is like some kind of lava lamp these days. While the Conservatives have had to shake out their own crackpots, what I'm noticing is something that is largely enfeebling the left (perhaps it's because I come from the left): The NDP is no longer solidly rooted in working class culture, and has embraced a broad field of oppositional or "protest" cultures where contempt for the working class is commonplace and a great deal of serious derangement is to be found, as well -- witness the way irrational, so-called "anti-war" and conspiracy-type politics has come to animate the NDP's activist base and find its way into candidates (Bev Collins being the most obvious and most recent example). The Greens have been similarly plagued, owing to their counterculture roots. And it's even corroding the Liberal Party, as we saw in the case of Canadian Demension's Leslie Hughes.

That, I think, is Huge Story Number One. The fact that bloggers are exposing this sort of thing (most notably doing the journalistic heavy lifting of the sort that Robert has been up to) is Huge Story Number Two.

And not necessarily in that order of preference.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on September 28, 2008 in Canadian Politics | Permalink

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Comments

Interesting thread with thoughtful comments from various bloggers.

As for Matthew Good, who cares? He proves only that he is as narrow minded as I thought.

Posted by: Dave Tracey | 2008-09-28 5:39:34 AM


"Should a lifetime of public service be demolished by a few remarks?"

Actually, that's the wrong question. The real question is: "Can you defend what you did yesterday, in light of what you want to do tomorrow?"

Robert Jago is quite right in asserting mainstream media's role in digging up a candidate's past. What's changed, today, is that said past is now more readily *accessible* to the voting public. Because newspapers are making their archives available on the Net, and because of politicians participating in social networking sites (not just Facebook and MySpace, but early precursors like AOL / CompuServe), more of our daily lives have been documented for the world to see.

And whereas before, a candidate could deny an allegation (since it would have relied on a musty, printed page in a newspaper morgue that only a few select people could visit by appointment), these days the proof of the allegation is only a hyperlink away, and the target candidate knows that denial won't work anymore.

In such cases, if the candidate wants to *stay* a candidate, (s)he has to convince the people that either (a) the allegation is of no consequence to present-day behaviour, or (b) that the person who existed at the time of the allegation has evolved into someone different.

Today's Net allegations, then, shouldn't be thought of as automatic disqualifiers for office. Instead, they should be considered tests of a candidate's mettle. If a candidate believes that public office is worth the campaign's trials and tribulations, then a Net allegation won't stop him/her.

Posted by: PhantomObserver | 2008-09-28 8:06:50 AM


Jaws,

As a public service, you should give a complete list of the "body count" each time we lose another candidate. To start you off, I have this list so far:

LIBERAL:

Ricardo Lopez, Beauharnois-Salaberry, (Anti-aboriginal comments)

Simon Bedard, Quebec, (Anti-aboriginal comments)

Lesley Hughes, Kildonan-St. Paul, (Anti-Israeli 9-11 truther comments)

NDP:

Julian West, Saanich-Gulf Islands, (Indecent exposure)

Kirk Tousaw, Vancouver-Quadra, (Drugs)

Dana Larsen, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast, (Drugs)

CONSERVATIVE:

Chris Reid, Toronto Centre, (Greyhound bus comments)

Rosamond Luke, Halifax, (Criminal record)


Did I miss anyone? Who would have guessed that the Bloq and the Greens would be the two parties NOT to lose candidates? Strange times....

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-09-28 8:21:00 AM


A Green in Vancouver quit for allegedly anti-semitic remarks. Jago got 'em.

Posted by: bigcitylib | 2008-09-28 8:35:25 AM


Its been said that the internet is to the twenty first century what the printing press was to the French renaissance. I tend to agree.
The internet, politically speaking, is a double edged sword. It provides the public with information they wouldn't normally see from the MSM and it is doing wonders to generate an awareness of how our world is really working.
Watch for the politicians who find themselves in the internet gunsights to push for regulating it.
Our poitical system thrives on ignorance of fact, but that is changing very quickly. We need to be diligent and keep the internet wide open. And why not? Truth requires no "cover story".

Posted by: JC | 2008-09-28 8:58:18 AM


Thanks, BCL. So that makes the list now stand at:

LIBERAL:

-- Ricardo Lopez, Beauharnois-Salaberry, (Anti-aboriginal comments)
-- Simon Bedard, Quebec, (Anti-aboriginal comments)
-- Lesley Hughes, Kildonan-St. Paul, (Anti-Israeli 9-11 truther comments)

NDP:

-- Julian West, Saanich-Gulf Islands, (Indecent exposure)
-- Kirk Tousaw, Vancouver-Quadra, (Drugs)
-- Dana Larsen, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast, (Drugs)

CONSERVATIVE:

-- Chris Reid, Toronto Centre, (Greyhound bus comments)
-- Rosamond Luke, Halifax, (Criminal record)

GREEN PARTY:

-- John Shavluk, Newton-North Delta, (Anti-Semitic comment)

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-09-28 10:02:01 AM


Ricardo Lopez, Beauharnois-Salaberry, (Anti-aboriginal comments)
Posted by: Fact Check | 28-Sep-08 8:21:00 AM

Are you sure about that? His daughter is the Liberal candidate in the Beauharnois-Salaberry riding. The guy is a total douche. He ran for the PC's when Mulrooney was around, then as an Alliance candidate and now a Liberal.

Posted by: The Stig | 2008-09-28 10:05:52 AM


Frankly, I think blogs are going to democratize the news the same way the computer democratized publishing and printing. This will be both good and bad. It will be good because the bias of the media will become less important now that it no longer has a monopoly on the dissemination of news. It will be bad because many bloggers are uninformed, no less biased than many reporters, and are not professional newsmen.

I don't think the Internet will be as regulated as you fear, JC. The one dark cloud currently lying over it--Section 13--is currently under review. Existing slander and libel laws can easily be applied to online writings, provided the identity of the poster can be secured.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-09-28 10:16:20 AM


From the list of candidates who have been fairly and unfairly turfed as a result of their indiscretions... good riddance. I don't see any loss among the lot.


Posted by: kontrol | 2008-09-28 10:25:20 AM


I don't think the Internet will be as regulated as you fear, JC. The one dark cloud currently lying over it--Section 13--is currently under review. Existing slander and libel laws can easily be applied to online writings, provided the identity of the poster can be secured.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 28-Sep-08 10:16:20 AM

Here's hoping you're right. And lets hope they abolish Section 13.

Posted by: JC | 2008-09-28 10:32:10 AM


You should always care if someone has been UNFAIRLY turfed, Kontrol. Because if you're ever unfairly dealt with, other people caring about the injustice of it will be your only chance of redress.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-09-28 10:33:17 AM


Good question, Stig. One news report says:

"Old quotes from Ricardo Lopez, a former Progressive Conservative MP supposedly running as a liberal in Beauharnois-Salaberry in Quebec, surface. In 1988, he suggested all natives should be relocated to Labrador and that unemployment insurance be replaced with work camps. The Liberals deny he was ever a candidate."

So whether he ever was a Liberal candidate seems an unclear question. Paul Wells tells us that "he sat in Brian Mulroney’s Conservative caucus fro 1984-88 and that he was a candidate for the Alliance in 2000". He was a PC MP when he made the comments about shipping aboriginals to Labrador, so the comments are nothing new.

Maybe he never was a candidate for the Liberals there. This article about his daughter says he wanted to be the Liberal candidate but was not accepted: http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=c4277ade-1efd-4ded-bc89-ab7c2c0da4b1

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-09-28 11:00:12 AM


Two items.

1. the political parties don't bother vetting their candidate because they are for the most part, completely irrelevant seat warmers. Just another warm body supporting the leader like a f**king pappagallo.

2. Matthew Good's music is boring, unimaginative and it drones on in minor keys the serve to depress the listener. Avoid if only for health reasons.

Posted by: John V | 2008-09-28 11:36:57 AM


Fascinating. The next generation of conservatives listened to EMO during their formative years.

Posted by: dp | 2008-09-28 11:52:13 AM


Lopez was a candidate--then he was an uncandidate:

http://blog.macleans.ca/2008/09/13/south-shore-seems-so-far-away-now/ And follow the link.

Posted by: Dr.Dawg | 2008-09-28 1:33:17 PM


I am glad that some are learning that the human condition transcends political philosophy.

Though some parties may be more skilled at misleading, stealing, hate-mongering, self-preservation, etc than others, it is true that ALL of them do it. Do you honestly believe a decade of conservative majority would end with a lot less stink than the libs did? Or have you forgotten Mulroney already?

Of all the major party leaders I have witnessed in my adult life, Preston Manning is the only possible exception I can see.

And apart from blatant partisan biases, the other problem I see most bloggers sharing with their media 'counterparts' is an inability to differentiate 'reporting' from 'editorializing'.

But, then again, they are not 'professionals' paid and expected to be 'objective'.

Posted by: Canadian Observer | 2008-09-28 1:34:05 PM


CO- Your observation of leaders, including Mr. Manning, is similar to mine. Mr. Manning is the only leader I can recall who never sold out his values for political gain. What you saw, was what you got.

The only reason I support Mr. Harper is in the hope he's still in touch with that original Reform phylosophy.

Posted by: dp | 2008-09-28 3:36:48 PM


Fact Check: You're right, it would be a good public service. So I'm wondering, is the Montreal Gazette reading the Shotgun blog? Because they seem to have taken your advice (and this post was up before their story...): http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=1e45dbfd-3c7d-488c-b497-4ed43b0338f5

And here, too, is a nice article about this topic in the Citizen (and by "nice" I really mean "hackneyed"...): http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=51fa7857-e6b4-4371-bed3-4ea9e9332be4

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-09-29 12:15:41 AM


I wouldn't listen to Matthew Good's music if it was the only music still being recorded (perish the thought!) Good's fascist meanderings are another item that I have low tolerance for. Everything signed "Matthew Good" really sucks to my ears...

Posted by: Alan Deakins | 2008-09-29 4:14:51 AM


-------------
UPDATED LIST:
-------------


LIBERAL:

-- Ricardo Lopez, Beauharnois-Salaberry, (Anti-aboriginal comments) *
-- Simon Bedard, Quebec, (Anti-aboriginal comments)
-- Lesley Hughes, Kildonan-St. Paul, (Anti-Israeli 9-11 truther comments)

NDP:

-- Julian West, Saanich-Gulf Islands, (Indecent exposure)
-- Kirk Tousaw, Vancouver-Quadra, (Drugs)
-- Dana Larsen, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast, (Drugs)
-- Andrew McKeever, Durham, (Various insane Facebook postings)

CONSERVATIVE:

-- Chris Reid, Toronto Centre, (Greyhound bus comments)
-- Rosamond Luke, Halifax, (Criminal record)

GREEN PARTY:

-- John Shavluk, Newton-North Delta, (Anti-Semitic comment)

* It's unclear whether or not Lopez ever actually was the candidate.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-10-04 12:01:17 PM



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