Want to run a lively blog? Not for a candidate

On Blogs

February 18, 2007|By Troy McCullough | Troy McCullough,Sun Columnist

John Edwards' presidential campaign lost its first member to scandal last week.

His chief campaign blogger also maintains a personal blog where she had posted lengthy criticisms of Roman Catholic doctrine, especially as it pertains to birth control and abortion.

On her personal site, pandagon.net, Amanda Marcotte was doing what good bloggers do best: stirring the pot with sharp words and incendiary opinions and drawing immediate responses from friends and foes alike - which, of course, is the last thing the Edwards campaign wants or needs. Amid a firestorm of criticism calling her anti-Catholic and a bigot, Marcotte resigned to spare Edwards the unwanted attention.

And so ended what will probably be the most interesting blogging episode of the 2008 presidential election cycle.

While so began the great blogging dilemma for the candidates.

Presidential hopefuls seeking to woo as many voters as possible just can't seem to ignore the lingering grass-roots cachet of blogs. Every 2008 candidate will have bloggers on staff. Yet no candidate will have a blog worth reading.

Campaign blogs can't afford to serve as honest reflections of their authors or the candidates they serve. Nor can they afford to be written with too much passion, or get mired in too much controversy, or show too much personality - all of which are key ingredients for attracting readers, yet all of which also risk offending those readers.

What's left will amount to watered-down and carefully vetted vehicles that will clutter the online landscape like one too many tacky candidate yard signs. Campaigns would be wise to diligently police their blogs. When they fail to rein in bloggers who show an independent streak - either on their official or personal Web sites - then their opponents will pounce.

Bloggers such as Marcotte don't stand a chance.

On top of the criticism surrounding her personal blog last week, one of Marcotte's posts on Edwards' official campaign blog (blog.johnedwards.com) also took a hit, though for entirely different reasons. Blogger Daniel Drezner (danieldrezner.com) offered this sardonic assessment of candidates' increasingly bland online forays: "Who cares about campaign bloggers? They are little more than good PR stylists," Drezner wrote. "If you don't believe me, check out this Amanda Marcotte post on Edwards' health plan - turns out she's happy that [New York Times columnist] Paul Krugman likes it. Well, blow me down!"

Marcotte's assessment of Edwards' health plan was as dull and calculated as one would expect, and hardly worth a second look. But contrast that with a recent post from her personal site where she asks Catholics what the result of the Virgin Mary's use of Plan B after learning she was pregnant would have been. Her answer: "You'd have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology." Marcotte then launched into a point-by-point rebuttal of Catholic doctrine on birth control.

Understandably, a lot of people were deeply offended. And understandably, the Edwards camp didn't like being linked to such sentiments.

There is no room in a presidential campaign for such blog posts. But the only acceptible alternative is slapping fluffy press releases onto a Web site and calling it a blog.

Given those choices, the campaigns would be wise to quit wasting their time with blogs.

There are much better ways to get our attention.

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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