I don’t understand why the following concept is difficult to understand: If you are are working for or with a particular candidate, and then you write and publish an opinion piece lovin’ on that candidate or hatin’ on his or her opponent, you must disclose that relationship if you want to maintain any credibility whatsoever.
Chuck Muth has inserted himself in yet another Republican primary race, this time a rural Senate seat, and again he’s publishing hit pieces on one of the candidates without disclosing a past or current consulting relationship with the other candidate. (It’s been widely reported that Muth has long done consulting work for Ed Goedhart, and Muth’s Citizen Outreach CEO Dan Burdish apparently worked out of Goedhart’s office at the Legislative building in Carson City while the Assembly was in session.)
Jon Ralston called Muth (and the Nevada Appeal, where the piece was published) out on it, and the response it elicited from Chuck is… bizarre.
Muth claimed the article was published by mistake in the Appeal, and therefore the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. (Ignore that in Chuck’s “defense,” he shows screen captures of his E-mails with the Appeal wherein he clearly says he’s fine with the disclosure-less article that was published being published as is, he just expected a different one to run instead.)
But before the piece on the Goedhart/Goichoechea race ran in that newspaper, it was published on Chuck’s own blog.
Presumably, Chuck hit the “publish” button on his own blog post. Like, on purpose. And yet there wasn’t any disclosure there, either.
So here’s my primary beef – is Muth saying that because it’s “only” a blog and not a “real” newspaper, the basic rules of honesty and credibility don’t apply? Ugh. Did a guy who made a name for himself publishing on-line commentary REALLY make that argument? Really?
Blogging is a critical tool to counteract the “gatekeeping” of an ideologically hidebound traditional media. Online publishing is the ultimate expression of the free exchange of news and ideas that the First Amendment was specifically designed to protect. But it only works if bloggers are credible, at least the more widely read ones. And bloggers are only credible if they don’t pretend to be impartial (even if ideological) observers when they clearly are not.
What’s so hard about disclosing a relationship with a candidate, anyway? I have no problem with a person working for a particular candidate explaining to me why they support that person. If anything, it means something that they’re willing to put their money and time where their mouths are and work to get their guy in office.
But as soon as they don’t make such disclosures, you have to wonder what else they (or their candidate!) might be hiding. When a self-appointed “conservative” does it, it hurts the credibility of our entire movement, and that’s something I refuse to tolerate.
The consequences to all of this can go far beyond mere cred. Muth himself is already facing legal trouble for failing to be sufficiently transparent in his past political activities. But it could get even worse.
A judge in Oregon recently used the “bloggers aren’t journalists” to (very wrongly, in my view) award a $2.5 million judgment against a publisher of unflattering facts and opinion about a powerful law firm.
Now, I oppose journalist “shield laws” that were relied on in that case because I think we’re all journalists by birthright by virtue of the First Amendment, and I therefore oppose setting up some special protection for government approved news purveyors. But it’s exactly this kind of behavior that Chuk Muth regularly displays that makes government officials more and more likely to maintain exactly this distinction between ordinary citizens with a soapbox and “actual” journalists, thus insulating themselves from real citizen journalists who can and should be helping keep a public eye on their public servants.
What’s maddening is that Goicoechea really has said and done things which ought to give small government conservatives pause. Chuck’s failure to disclose his potential conflicts of interest in that race, however, now makes it incredibly easy to dismiss such criticisms as meaningless politics instead of the real, substantive policy debate a primary should be. That does nothing to help Ed Goedhart or to advance the philosophies Muth claims to share with him.
The last line of Muth’s hit piece on Goicoechea just drips with unintended irony:
Politicians like Pete Goicoechea are fortunate that there are no truth-in-labeling laws that apply to campaign rhetoric.
It’s clearly not just the politicians who are so fortunate.