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January 04, 2006

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intended signature?

I write under a pseudonym primarily because I've done a lot of unpaid academic blowharding about how pseudonyms create a voice that gives resonance to narrative (think Poor Richard).

But I can't talk about transparency without, on this post at least, writing under my own name.

I never realized you were the Marcy Wheeler of feuilleton fame. I really loved those posts.

I don't see why you need to reveal your name, EW. The 'transparency' which matters here is disclosure of payment, not what your name is. Bandow sold - traded on - his name and the reputation attendant thereto, and didn't disclose it. (His 'one finger' comment is pure projection.) 'Emptywheel' isn't selling anything at all (although, frankly, I would pay to read TNH). If EW (qua EW) started writing opinion pieces about, say, regulation of the auto industry, and hadn't revealed that she did consulting work for it, that would be different.

Yep, that's me William.

As I was going to point out, it's pretty easy to figure out who I am--google emptywheel and the old BOP posts come up.

And I realize what you're saying, jonnybutter. But you could argue that, so long as I remain pseudonymous, there may be a conflict I'm not revealing.

I let my nomme de plume expire, too; I am glad dKos' archive clears the house twice a year; post under the fictitious name there or dKos will erase your homepage. It is a threshold to embark upon first person proper.
Somewhat related to Ew's topic above, I have begun wondering about the payola Bush appointees have mustered to put their policy story into print; there is an upcoming congressional investigation of this. One supposes if it is budgeted forthrightly, above board, it is in compliance with FEC regs; but, like the wholesale wiretaps by NSA, one wonders if some scrutiny will unearth tangential parts of the budget that extrude over the line of ligitimacy. Make that two sets of hearings in congress.

EW, thank you for calling Bandow on what seems to be a rather pathetic attempt to rehabilitate his reputation by (a) trying to minimize the magnitude of his wrongdoing and (b) arguing that "everyone does it".

Would that this were the only such instance in recent memory of a journalist being found not to be entirely transparent about their motivations. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case, witness Judy Miller and Bob Woodward as the most high profile examples. I imagine that you could name a much longer list. I conclude that these visible cases represent just the tip of a very much larger iceberg of journalistic influence peddling. And even though the offenders may still be just a small percentage of all journalists, their exposure casts doubt on the integrity all MSM.

But what, if anything, can be done to change the "market-oriented" climate that spawns the iceberg in the first place? Money talks, and if enough journalists can be persuaded to regard their role as spinning stories for money then (sticking with the metaphor of global warming) not even the shame of a few public exposures would ever generate enough heat to eradicate that iceberg altogether. We'd have to boil the entire ocean -- an impossibility.

Here's where your point about bloggers seems to be especially relevant. In Bandow's "market-oriented" scenario, if journalists in the MSM are going to abrogate their traditional roles to become paid political hacks, then I see the role of unpaid bloggers becoming much more important in the Fourth Estate. No doubt even bloggers are being paid to post partisan opinions, but there's a limit to how many of us can be bought, as you yourself demonstrate every day. It's almost as if we need journalists to keep the politicians honest, and bloggers to keep the journalists honest!

Interesting: like a high-functioning sociopath or personality disorder-person, Republican attack dogs almost unerringly zero in on what they (usually correctly) perceive to be emotional weak spots in their opponents. 'Sociopath' etc. is much too strong a word for someone like Bandow, of course; but he has lain with dogs for a long time, and even his reaction in the above op ed is a bit reflexive in this way.

As I say, his crime was not that he took money to write op eds, but that he didn't disclose that fact. Being paid by an industry group, or a think tank, or even an ultra-sleezy lobbyist, are not, in and of themselves, unethical (and of course ghost-writing is completely different, because the material doesn't appear under your name).

Here's the aforementioned weakness: many of our very best liberal/progressive bloggers (and I most definitely include present company in that number) tend to be conflicted about the idea of getting paid for what they do, as if it will taint them somehow. When Digby very reluctantly sent out a distress signal a few weeks ago, I commented to him (I think it's a 'him') that there is a difference between doing something expressly for money, and making money doing something you want to do anyway. I fully understand that his, and Billmon's and other's motivation is most definitely NOT moneymaking - it's love of country, pure and simple. But does that sincere motivation preclude making a living at it, or at least not losing money? We don't begrudge Rick Perlstein's making money from sales of his brilliant book 'Before the Storm', do we? Why are we such prudes about it in the blogosphere? (the problem is not all logistics, ie voluntary vs. subscription, etc.). The Republicans certainly aren't prudish about it, and I don't see why they - or we - should be. I pointed out to Digby that if 50k of his most hardcore fans donated $2 per year, that would be pretty decent remuneration, and that he would deserve every penny (I and lots of others sent him more than $2, of course).

I don't know exactly how it would work, but sooner or later, we're going to have to start supporting our own intellectual and political (and, for that matter, cultural) infrastructure. We can't wait on George Soros or some other moneybags-person, or the government - we don't need them anyway. It's actually a better idea, IMO, to NOT rely on advertizers or foundations. Everyone can afford - literally - a few dollars per year. This approach actually makes even more sense as a way to support the parts of the blogosphere that are important to us than supporting political campaigns that way (although that makes sense, too). The idea that all 'content' must forever be free is simply untenable in the long run. It may make sense for the WaPo to rely on advertizing, but....blogs? Not so much, IMO (the biggest blogs aren't always the best ones). I'm glad that people like EW are patriotic enough to forego billable hours to do wonderful civic-minded work, but I just don't see so much virtue in sacrifice for its own sake. In the end, it's a 'holier than thou' attitude which just can't afford - our opponents put their money where their mouths are, and we should be proud to do it, too.

Again, the mechanics are yet to be worked out, but I think we may as well start getting over the attitude that the very idea of paying a nano-scule amount of money for work which means so much to so many of us is wrong.

jonny, you're right, there's nothing wrong with getting paid for one's work, especially when the individual payments are small donations. Plenty of socially valuable non-profits operate this way.

What you are proposing is similar to the shareware model of software development. Where journalism is concerned, the key difference between this and the Abramoff model is that the recipients of our small donations are not thereby coerced into expressing any particular point of view. Rather than Abramoff directing what is to be written next, in the Shareware model people like us would chose to pay because we valued what was previously written.

Maybe printed newspapers and magazines can't survive on subscriptions these days, hence the need for advertising revenues, but I think the best blogs could.

AS Mom used to say: "If your friends jumped off a cliff, should you do it too?" or "Everybody isn;t doing it-your not." These guys should have listened to Mom.

la

I thought about including the jump off the cliff idea. Glad you did it.

jonnybutter

I agree, eventually we will need to make sure we pay for our own. And the advantage (and, to some degree, disadvantage) of the shareware model is that it's very audience responsive.

But I also think there's a benefit of having a multiplicity of methods for us. Not only does it allow people to do what they feel best. But it makes us more resiliant against attacks to undermine our support.

"The authors declare they have no competing financial interests relevant to this article."

I'd like to start seeing that at the end of op-ed pieces.

Yes, exactly: shareware. The concept is well-accepted in the software world, but not in the 'content' one. My point is that there is so little practical difference between free and almost-free, that the resistance in the political 'sphere (and in the arts) has to be at least partially conceptual. (Of course, it's also logistical - paypal was quite the disappointment at first, and a lot of us aren't ready to trust them again, despite their having been bought by ebay. Micropayments still makes sense, but...)

Paypal, not paypal!!!!

mr. emptywheel was standing over me the other day, as I sat on the couch. He had two credit cards out. "I can use either of these on paypal" he taunted. I whimpered. "Um, I can't use that one now," I said. "Oh you want it?" mr. emptywheel said. He just didn't get that we're not allowed to share a credit card.

Must be because we have different last names.

the advantage (and, to some degree, disadvantage) of the shareware model is that it's very audience responsive.

I don't know that the exact way shareware works would be the way to go. Maybe. I don't remember where I read this, but a suggested model I've seen is that for every unique visit, or every x visits, the site would automatically get .02 cents - or something like that. Some sites would be free, and/or have voluntary giving; some would be the aforementioned way, some would have ads. We'll see, I guess. Whatever works.

I also think there's a benefit of having a multiplicity of methods for us

Absolutely yes. I was really only advocating our getting used to the idea that it's not a sin to pay people to do good work - picking at this strange secular-puritanism that I think is much more prevalent on the liberal/prog side than on the other. It's in the same ballpark as Kerry's not fighting back agains the 'Swift Boat' BS. Sometimes we take our 'gentility' a wee bit too seriously, and our opponents - real sociopathic types like Rove - zone right in on stuff like that.

I also want to make clear that I'm making these comments from the point of view that the blogosphere as it is right now is the most fabulously beautiful socio-political phenomenon in many decades. I'm just sayin'....freedom isn't free. It must be made much stronger. I'd like to see the day when 'P2P' political and cultural intercourse (and micro commerce) on the net is such an entrenched part of typical everyday life - a cultural 'entitlement' - that no pol or corporation would dare to encroach on it very much. It could be an antidote to the atomization and decadence of the Reagan Era, which I hope we're somewhere near the tail end of.

EW, you are always good and often very funny.

heh. yes.

Jonnygutter,

I think you have an important point: we need to organize to make important work by good people routine.

You mention the commentary on news that is in the blogosphere. But I think it is true in many areas. Our political party in Congress should have a policy making and public outreach organization that is professional, highly paid, and completely transparent to the public in its activities. Congress itself should be completely reorganized. The procedural rules are archaic, undemocratic and lend themselves to corruption, big and small. We should organize ourselves to require two years of public service from all young adults. Monitor day care, public parks, help the elderly, etc.

But if you discuss any of these things (and many more), I think you will run into two attitudes.

First, there is a deep antipathy to any sort of organizing. People view it as a restraint on individuality. As if no organized economic or social support is not an existing restraint! But the cultural reluctance is strong.

Second, I think there is an unconscious assumption by many that only the familiar organization ideas of the 1930s and 1960s are appropriate.

We need to free ourselves from our lack of imagination.

Never again will I accept money that could be construed as "buying" an article.

Right. Next time I'll be more carefull.

Never again will I accept money that could be construed as "buying" an article.

This principle is well-established now for scientists (and I think doctors) to publish research articles. And you (or they) can take whatever money you like, by the way, just somewhere at the tag end of the article you make a short declaration of competing interests -- just one sentence. It's not a terrific burden.

On shareware, my understanding is that only a tiny percentage of users ever pay. Basically, if they don't pay up right away as a matter of principle, they never will. Most shareware developers of serious, high-maintenance software have moved to the model of a limited free version with advanced features that can be unlocked via a registration code.

It's not a terrific burden.

unless you're trying to hide something, that is.

JWP:

I hear what you're saying, and agree to some extent that we keep ourselves in some boxes just out of habit. But I think Americans tend to like to find their own way - notwithstanding that, as you suggest, we simultaniously acceed to laughably arbitrary strictures!


What's great about the 'sphere is that it's self-organizing. You just can't beat that.

rasmus

HOw's this for a business model. Bloggers write fantastic posts that, when first read, just make you go "huh."

But then, if you haven't paid up, after a period that post starts gnawing away at your brain and you think, "wow, I just can't get that post out of my head." Not long after, you become so obssessed that you pay up, to be able to move onto a new "huh."

~pockets

Once those Pharma companies come through on their promises to include all the trials on drugs, successful and unsuccessful, then we can talk about that kind of disclosure.

emptywheel, agreed. I think (or I hope) they are realizing that covering up bad news is not the path to success.

but one could argue that they DO behave as you ask -- they may not be intellectually honest, but they are up-front about their vices. (i.e., they may be publishing badly biased information, but they are doing it under their own names not as ghost writers or with their affiliations otherwise obscured.)

While we may expect complete intellectual honesty of a Pharma company, it seems like too much to ask of an op-ed writer doesn't it? Disclosure would be enough.

Empty Wheel
Did you work with Robert Putnum on the BetterTogether.org site?
Just wondering. I still think Robert Putnum is undercounting social capital that has now moved from bowling leagues to blog communities. I keep trying to come up with a measurment framework for social capital in the blogosphere.
Stephen Dulaney

Yes, I did work on that Stephen, on the early stages of it.

I was never convinced of the need for formal organized ties. I think you could extrapolate from the argument that belonging to groups, plural, is tied to involvement and argue that blogs--and networks in general--just offer a finer conglomeration. That is, organized groups are discrete sets. But our notion of sets has gotten to be more diffuse. It's the network, it seems to me, that is the important thing (and was). You might think, too, of the way the nuclear family has been replaced by a network of friends that often replicates those looser bowling adventures than leagues.

In any case, what I've always liked about Putnam is his discussion of the need for institutions appropriate to our social organization. The Progressives were appropriate for the then new urban way of life. And ______ (what?) is appropriate for our way of life now. IIRC Putnam focused on suburbs (that's what his dataset examined). But I wonder if the suburb is really our rising social organization? I'm completely biased (because I'm now a dual citizen and many of my friends are dual-citizen couples as well). But I wonder whether it's not global, with a nodal concept of local?

kick ass

take names

you understand the process

emptywheel rocks*

* I was not paid in any way to make this endorsement

That's why they call you "Free Patriot," huh?

Although we better watch it or we'll be seeing "Free Doug Bandow" next.

Frankly, much of this strikes me as traditional liberal self-loathing. The arguement that Brandow makes is the same I hear day after day in the MSM from the right. With Tweety last night the discussion about what is 'legal' and what is not (paying for opinion writing, whether or not a charity (his) or Abramoff paid for the golf trips to Scotland, laundrying campaign money from Tx to DC and back again etc.) Enough. Can we trust the American Public enough (I hope so) to be able to call a duck a duck. If Washington lobbying has gotten so close that even the lobbyists are prevaricating on the nuance of maybe this or that act went over the line....its a duck! If the act - whatever it is - has to be parsed by the $500/hr crowd...its a duck. One humble opinion is that the stench propogated by this gov't has become overwhelming and even us little people can recognize it for what it is.

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