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Edwards's Blogger Problem

Most presidential campaigns have now embraced the new media world of blogging, video on demand and other technology with open arms. But, an ongoing controversy swirling around the campaign of former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) highlights the potential perils of this new world.

The dust up concerns past online comments made by Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan -- both of whom joined the Edwards campaign late last month. The Catholic League called on Edwards to fire the two women for their allegedly anti-Catholic rhetoric in blog posts made before they joined up with Edwards.

The liberal left -- led by Media Matters -- fought back, attacking Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, as a flawed messenger, and painting the whole controversy as a product of the Republican noise machine.

Reached this morning, Jennifer Palmieri, a spokesman for Edwards, offered no comment on the matter.

The controversy, which has dominated the netroots of late, demonstrates the evolving rules of the road when it comes to bloggers on staff. Almost every person hired to handle web matters for the presidential campaigns has previously run a blog of their own -- on which they have posted a variety of opinions about the issues of the day.

Should they -- and the candidate they represent -- be expected to answer for these statements? In past campaigns, this was much less of an issue. Staffers rarely voiced opinions of their own and when they did they were not broadly disseminated -- and searchable. The emergence of blogs has changed that equation as anyone with even a passing interest in politics can post their thoughts on the web for everyone to see.

Ezra Klein, a liberal blogger, offered an interesting take on the whole matter. We recommend reading his whole post but here's the best nugget:

"To back down would either prove that their hiring process was incompetent and they didn't vet someone with an extensive public record, or that they'll collapse beneath even moderate pressure from rightwing professionals. Neither is a good look for the new campaign."

This incident is perhaps the most high profile illustration of the potential pitfalls of having bloggers as campaign staff, but it is far from the first. During his 2006 bid for the Senate, then Rep. Ben Cardin (D) fired a staffer who was maintaining a blog that contained comments about fellow staffers as well as Cardin's Republican opponent -- former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. And, last year blogger Patrick Hynes came under fire for not disclosing that he was being paid by Sen. John McCain's campaign when he wrote a series of favorable posts about the candidate on his blog Ankle Biting Pundits.

These incidents illustrate the challenges before every 2008 campaign seeking to bolster its blogging bona fides. On the one hand, they to hire people with credibility in liberal or conservative circles. On the other, they need to realize that they will be held to account for past comments and positions taken by their bloggers.

It's a problem created by the blogging boom and one that candidates will be grappling with for months and years to come.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 7, 2007; 5:22 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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