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Is Blogging Becoming Astroturfed?

| 16 Comments | 1 TrackBack

In all the Martini Republic/ Juan Cole kerfluffle, one valid point was raised that didn't get addressed and should have.

That was the issue of the ease with which blogs can be - with varying degrees of overtness - made into house organs for political actors.

Jeff Jarvis and I had a discussion on these risks in one of our earliest email correspondences. Bloggers who are working for free could reasonably be assumed to work cheaply for a cause they were not disposed to oppose, and the 'Astroturf' nature of the campaign would most likely be hard to track.

We've seen it, on the left as Duncan Black (Atrios) and Oliver Willis went to work for Media Matters and on the right as the Thune campaign retained Jon Lauck of Daschle v Thune, and Jason Van Beek of the South Dakota Politics blog.

So, as an exercise in my own curiosity, I thought I'd start to look up other examples.

Then I realized that it was way too much work to do well, and thought I'd toss it open as a collective research project. Let's sit down and look at the professional/political connections of a sample of the political blogosphere and see if this is really an issue - yet.

In terms of methodology, it was simple. I went to the NZ Bear Ecosystem and picked the top 30 blogs (magic number because it includes us). Then I went to Blogstreet and picked the Top 30 and Most Influential 30. I did this about 11:00 am on the 25th, in case that matters to anyone.

So we have three overlapping lists of 30 blogs each. As attributes, I thought we'd have three:

Political Tilt - it's not a fine-grained view, just a 'thumb in the air' kind of thing;
Blogger's Profession - what do the authors do for a living;
Political / Advocacy Associations - what are the ties between political parties or advocacy organizations and the bloggers?

I knocked off the obvious ones, but check my work and add your own notes in comments..

In the interest of disclosure, let's start with me.

I have a small management consulting business focused on managing broken projects (and other stuff as business comes in the door). My own political ties are overwhelmingly Democratic, but I have donated to and on occasion, voted for Republican candidates.

I have given advice to several campaigns about Internet presence, and am friends with three elected officials (all Democrats) and someone who runs a left-leaning campaign consultancy. I've never made a dime from politics nor from any kind of advocacy except some local and regional land-use advocacy.

Here's the list of blogs (rev 2):

Top 30 Ecosystem BlogsLeansProfessionPolitical / Advocacy Associations
2.Daily KosLeftPolitical ConsultantDemocratic Campaign Consultant
3.Boing BoingNot Political
4.Talking Points MemoLeftJournalist
5.Power LineRightLawyers
6.Little Green FootballsRight
7.EschatonLeftResearcherMedia Matters
8.Ambient IronyNot Political
9.The Washington MonthlyLeftJournalists
10.The Volokh ConspiracyRightAcademics
11.Andrew SullivanModerateJournalist
12.Michelle MalkinRightJournalist
13.DRUDGE REPORTRightJournalist
14.2004 Weblog AwardsNot Political
15.Captain's QuartersRight
16.NRO OnlineRightJournalists
17.JoeUser.comNot Political
20.Dean's WorldModerate
21.Blogs For BushRightCampaign BlogOfficial GOP Site
22.The New Republic OnlineModerateJournalists
23.Matthew YglesiasLeftJournalist
24.Hugh HewittRight
25.Belmont ClubRightunknown
26.Rox Populi
27.The Moderate VoiceModerateJournalist
28.Crooked TimberLeftAcademics
29.Right Wing NewsRight
30.Winds of ChangeModerate
Top 30 Blogstreet BlogsLeansProfessionPolitical / Advocacy Associations
2.Andrew SullivanModerateJournalist
3.EschatonLeftResearcherMedia Matters
4.Boing BoingNot Political
5.Talking Points MemoLeftJournalist
7.Scripting News
10.DRUDGE REPORTRightJournalist
12.Daily KosLeftPolitical ConsultantDemocratic Campaign Consultant
13.This Modern World
14.USS CluelessRightEngineer
16.Doc Searls
17.LILEKS (James) The BleatRightJournalist
18.(In)formação e (In)utilidade
20.Arts & Letters Daily
21.Davenetics* Pop + Media + Web
22.Tudo Para Blogs
23.The Volokh ConspiracyRightAcademics
24.Where is Raed ?
26.Tudo para Blogs Mudou!
29.Asymmetrical Information
30.TypePad: Hosted Weblog Service
Top 30 Influential Blogstreet BlogsLeansProfessionPolitical / Advocacy Associations
2.Talking Points MemoLeftJournalist
3.EschatonLeftResearcherMedia Matters
4.Andrew SullivanModerateJournalist
5.Daily KosLeftPolitical ConsultantDemocratic Campaign Consultant
6.The Volokh ConspiracyRightAcademics
8.This Modern World
9.Matthew YglesiasLeftJournalist
11.Asymmetrical Information
13.Crooked TimberLeftAcademics
14.Boing BoingNot Political
15.The Washington MonthlyLeftJournalists
16.Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily JournalLeftAcademic
17.USS CluelessRightEngineer
18.Oliver WillisLeftResearcherMedia Matters
19.The Rittenhouse Review
20.LILEKS (James) The BleatRightJournalist
24.Nathan NewmanLeftAcademic
25.Winds of Change.NETModerate
27.Tim BlairRightJournalist
29.Doc Searls
30.Unqualified Offerings

1 TrackBack

Tracked: December 28, 2004 12:26 AM
Excerpt: Has blogging lost its edge? Some blogs have, but not all. Check these out...


Interesting to note, but I think it's misleading to call Daily Kos "far left". More accurately, Daily Kos is just a hardcore partisan blog. Liberals looking for thoughtful analysis generally (or should) head elsewhere, to Drum, Marshall, Yglesias, etc.

I try to avoid blogs that state a POV and work tirelessly to defend it at whatever cost. Kos qualifies as one, but so do many others on both the left and right.

I have no issue with the Kos rating... unless you want to make a liberal/left distinction, in which case he just becomes "left."

But Talking Points Memo has different ratings in different places here. May want to fix that and give him a "left" (or "liberal", if you decide to add that) rating across the board.

Boing Boing most certainly leans to the left. While most of their posts have nothing to do with politics, those few that do are quite critical of the administration, and the right in general.

Samizdat is a libertarian collective (odd designation, but true)

Megan McCardle is moderate (Asymetrical Information)

Vodka Pundit would be moderate leaning right.

If you're going to call Jarvis a moderate then Reynolds should be a moderate, too. I've never seen him as of the right.

Reynolds himself is more centerist, than right.

That said... why are we worried about this?
The lesson we picked up from the blogging revolution is that the people can spot BS when they see it, and the source matter little, in reality, when there's so many in the way of BS detectors out there.

That's why blogs came into existance... the MSM was BS'ing the people.... and were replaced as a direct result.

Kos gets caught out repeatedly on those points... and has established a record of stretching to push BS that the MOVEON would be proud of.

Daschle v Thune, on the other hand, has no such record of BS... the Democrats never did hang anything on them in terms of lying. Which, by the way ios why the Democrats are crying foul.

But again, and I stress this because fellow bloggers would do well to remember it; the source doesn't matter, nearly so much as the message. If it did blogs wouldn't exist.

Just out of curiosity, how exactly does TPM and TNR get by with a “Moderate” label when they’re both just as far to the “Left” as NRO and Volokh are to the “Right”?


It's not the Armed Centrist. Matter of perspective, I suppose.

C'mon guys, these are guesstimates on political stance; I'm more interested in connections.

It's interesting to note that in my (limited) knowledge, the only top-tier blogs that have non-overt partisan connections (Blogs for Bush sounds pretty "out", I'd say) are connected to Media Matters and the Democractic Party. Where's all that Scaife money going?

So let's take some time, fill in the blanks and see if there's any fire underneath the smoke that's been blown.


AL is on to an important shift in the blogosphere during the last year, year and a half. I've been watching it with some interest, to see how this whole blog phenomenon will evolve.

Of course, it's easy for me to sit back and critique the bloggers who take money this way. Y'all know the restrictions I blog under: due to my employment, I cannot participate in any overtly partisan activity. I try to be pretty disciplined about that, even to the point that I didn't ask for blog credentials or attend the conventions this summer .... I know myself well enough to predict both the ethusiastic and also the snarky things I would have written if I'd gone. So I'm in no danger of being bought - and that extends to being bought by my current employer, too, FWIW.

Having bloggers on the payroll of a Soros or a Scaife threatens the most attractive aspect of the blogosphere, namely that bloggers are independent voices who freely agree or disagree based on their own choices and opinions.

Having bloggers pitch any party line - political, corporate, whatever - makes the blogosphere a lot less attractive to me. And yet, it's going to be very very tempting for people to accept money -- or other favors -- there are far more subtle and effective ways to buy people than with money. Offering bloggers an MSM column, a chance to become part of the power structure while preserving the surface appearance of independence .... hey, the MSM got bought and paid for a long time ago, and it would take some real clarity for bloggers to identify and avoid all the ways to be co-opted as well.

It will be interesting to watch. But it will also be important for us all, I think, to see if the new media will continue to be a place for bottom-up journalism and commentary or if we will have to figure out new ways to accomplish that.

armed liberal: I'll just toss this suggestion out there.

In terms of "astroturfing", this is something that I have only read on a left/liberal/left-of-center blog. I've not seen any right/...etc blogger use this term. Nor can I recall anyone making a similar claim to apply to a conveniently timed new blog.

In order to analyze which blogs are in fact "astroturfing", I think we first should begin with an accusation.

As in the world of politics disguised as activism by public relations firms, the creations almost always have an "out". Although, on occasion, they draw the attention of the NY Times to do a front page to multiple fold out page expose into the PR creation(see SBVT).

I did something like this for a comp class last quarter. I researched Turns out it is a "news" site operated by a public relations firm created by gun control activists to publish their politics, I mean activism.

I have no problem accepting money that people give to me. If Soros, Scaife or Party Financiers wish to fill my bank account with check after check then I will be pleased. Not that the money is going to get them anything in return from me, but there are going to be some very grateful charities, churches and communities that will be receiving anonymous donations.

If the funds you receive are not applicable towards supporting your habit then the funds are excess. Skim them right off the top as you receive them and do with the contributions wha the wealthy folks want to do but the tax code limits them.

Wretchard is, I believe, a software programmer and I'm pretty sure Charles Johnson does graphic/web design by trade. I don't really know about anyone's particular affiliations, but those are two blanks that can be filled.

Don't forget Wonkette ... she's paid to blog by her employer, an advertising agency. Guy also owns Gizmodo, a few other blogs.

AL wrote:

C'mon guys, these are guesstimates on political stance; I'm more interested in connections.

It's interesting to note that in my (limited) knowledge, the only top-tier blogs that have non-overt partisan connections (Blogs for Bush sounds pretty "out", I'd say) are connected to Media Matters and the Democractic Party.

Actually Marc, there is a connection between the two. In the case of the “astro-turf” blogs that are really shills for a particular party or advocacy group – the one on the right (blogs for bush) was upfront about it whilst the ones on the left were more covert about it. By the same token it seems rather similar to your tendency to label left-wing bloggers (TPM and TNR) that are closer to your own politics as “moderate” whilst assigning an ideological label to those you disagree with even though they’re just as ideological as ones you affixed a label to.

The connection is that in both cases, people on the Left feel the need to obfuscate their biases (whether trying to mask them as “moderate” rather than “ideological” or not being upfront about their connection to a particular partisan/ideological group) whilst people on the Right tend to be more upfront about this.

I don't agree that boing boing is not political.....

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