Edwards bloggers chastised for posts

Writings referring to religion had been criticized by Catholics and conservatives

February 09, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the first cyber-controversy of the 2008 presidential campaign, Democrat John Edwards chastised - but didn't fire - yesterday two campaign bloggers whose postings had angered Catholics and conservatives.

Edwards said he was offended by the "intolerant language" of the two on their personal Web logs. The two women, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, were recently hired by his campaign.

"They have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word," Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, said in a news release. "We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked."

The dust-up illustrates the perils lurking for candidates who use the blogosphere to reach younger and more tech-savvy voters.

"It's an extension of classic opposition research to a new frontier," said John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. "It points to some of the risks at having people blog on behalf of a campaign in an official capacity."

The Internet has been an important campaign tool for Edwards. He, his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter Cate write and post blogs. Edwards has profiles on MySpace and Facebook.

In her introductory post for Edwards last month, Marcotte wrote, "We have the goal of making the most out of the untapped resource that is the Internet."

But earlier postings by the two, some tinged with profanity, were widely described as anti-Catholic.

In June, Marcotte described Catholicism as an "ancient mythology" and ridiculed the belief, held by Catholics, that Jesus was divinely conceived. In November, McEwen described President Bush's supporters as his "wingnut Christofascist base."

In statements released yesterday, Marcotte and McEwan expressed support for religious freedom. The Edwards campaign also said it did not know of the earlier comments before hiring the bloggers.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, which represents conservative Catholics, called for Edwards to fire the bloggers Tuesday.

"John Edwards is a decent man who has had his campaign tarnished by two anti-Catholic vulgar, trash-talking bigots. He has no choice but to fire them immediately," Donohue, who has himself been accused of religious intolerance, wrote on his Web site.

Phil Noble, founder of the nonpartisan, Charleston, N.C.-based PoliticsOnline, said campaigns are still learning the ropes of Internet politics.

"We have a new technology that's disrupting the whole political process," he said, "and we haven't figured out what the rules are. We had the same thing with television and with radio."

Edwards has always prided himself for staying "on message." His earlier campaigns have been virtually gaffe-free. Palfrey, of the Harvard Center, said bloggers challenge that control.

It's "the unedited voice of a single person - that's a pure classic blog," he said. "All of a sudden the words of those bloggers become potential campaign issues."

Experts say campaigns can expect more such controversies.

Said Noble: "We're at 10 o'clock in the morning on the first day of the Internet revolution."

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