(Disclaimer: I am not a paid political consultant and receive no remuneration from Pensito Review for my, ahem, contributions. Indeed, if my boss knew I was doing this at work, he’d probably DOCK MY PAY.)
A Forbes article by Steve McGookin explores the current quandry facing the Federal Elections Commission regarding the assumed power of Web logs to influence the political process. While the Internet consultancy Malchow Schlackman Hoppey and Cooper (which handled John Kerry’s on-line campaign) has submitted a letter calling for blogs to be granted the same exemption from election finance laws that “real” journalists enjoy, there remains the pesky issue of bloggers who are paid political advocates who do seem to influence election outcomes (not to mention journalists paid by the gubmint to promulgate policy, but that’s another matter).
While outlining the quagmire the FEC faces this summer, McGookin elucidates some of the questions the FEC is considering:
While a fundamental starting point, according to the FEC, is not to deter ordinary citizens from becoming involved in political activity, a big difficulty is placing any kind of accurate value on political activity conducted online. The Commission’s responsibility is to regulate only monetary exchanges, as opposed to intellectual, as well as deciding whether or not such activity even rises to a level where the FEC would be concerned in any case.
Most blog activity–political or otherwise–is carried out by individuals on what would charitably be described as a shoestring budget. But what about the increasing numbers of popular blogs that are using or adopting various structured business models?
Then there is the question of whether the FEC is limited to regulating only paid-for political advertising on blogs. Or is everything that supports or endorses a particular candidate appearing on a blog considered to fall under existing campaign contribution ceilings and, as such, subject to regulation?
To what extent are blogs–as distinct from mainstream media’s commercial online entities–protected, being primarily vehicles of individual personal opinion? Does the size of their audience make any difference?
Note that Pensito Review’s business plan consists of maybe someday hopefully getting a click-through deal with Amazon, and the estimated value of our combined “intellectual property” likely exempts us from any consideration of the “contribution” a PR endorsement would lend a hapless candidate. Size of audience? Let’s not go there.
That said, and the FEC’s concerns aside, there is other evidence that blogs just don’t matter that much, or at least no more than “real” media.
A Reuters article on a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project appears to suss out the fact that blogs just aren’t as powerful as the worry-worts at the FEC think they are.
Charting the discussion of issues during the 2004 presidential campaign, the study found political blogs — online opinion and information sites — played a similar, but not greater role, as the mainstream media in “creating buzz” around the candidates’ campaigns.
The study dispels the notion that blogs are replacing traditional media as the public’s primary source of information, said Michael Cornfield, a senior research consultant at Pew.
“Bloggers follow buzz as much as they make it,” said Cornfield. “Our research uncovered a complicated dynamic in which a hot topic of conversation could originate with the blogs or it could originate with the media or it could originate with the campaigns.
“We can say that if people still have that idea that the bloggers are the new fifth estate, that the bloggers are the new kingmakers, that’s not the case.”
Of course, the evidence is clear, if you follow Pew’s line of reasoning:
For example, it showed the Bush campaign paid more attention to an Osama bin Laden tape than did the blogs. At the same time, the Kerry campaign made more mention of missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than the blogs. The mainstream media made more mention of Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter than either the blogs or the campaigns.
Well, that should answer the questions for the FEC. Except the thought that perhaps the 40 out of 1.6 million blogs Pew examined were investigating more interesting issues than Osama, WMD or Ms. Cheney.
So please, FEC Director Scott Thompson, don’t treat blogs differently than mainstream press. According to Pew, Pensito Review is equally as irrelevant as the “New York Times.” Honest.