Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Tempest in a Teapot?

[Note: About 2 hours after I posted this I realized I had made an error and deleted a pargraph.]

From time to time there are big kerfuffles and voices are raised and great anger and angst ensues and everyone wonders “what the heck happened?” Well, there is a kerfuffle, the size of which depends on your proximity to it, and I fear the root cause, or one of the root causes, leads back to me.

Let me give you the backstory. For about three years I have had an ongoing but not constant email correspondence with the editor(s) of the PoliticsPA website, who uses the name Sy Snyder (the named of a deceased PA governor). I don’t know who the person or people are behind it. I don’t know the gender of the editor(s) or even if I have always emailed with the same person, although there has been enough continuity in the language used for me to believe that I have emailed with the same person for much of that time. The conversation has primarily been on technical, not political matters, although it has ventured into baking and television and other assorted topics. I have complained about the attention (good and bad) that some politicians have received on the site, but I haven’t really detected any definite party bias in the selection of favorites. Sy has been unfailingly polite, even when I have not, and pleasant, even when I’m sure I’ve been annoying. On the rare times when he/she has given me information it has proven accurate.

It was Sy who suggested I take up blogging but he/she has never asked me to write about a topic or person and I’ve never had any indication that Sy follows this or any other blog regularly. So I took it upon myself to bring blogging to Sy, whether Sy wanted it or not. When I discovered politically-related blogs in PA that weren’t on the PoliticsPA blog list, I would email Sy about them. When the blogging world as I knew it championed a candidate or a cause I would sometimes send an email saying “you should pay attention to this,” with links to relevant blog postings, especially if it was something the MSM was missing Sometimes it would show up on the site (probably after 400 or 500 other people had emailed about it); sometimes it would not.

As the writer of this blog I have been invited to sit in on two conference calls, one with Joe Hoeffel and one with Ginny Schrader. I chose to blog about the Hoeffel call and his new web venture, a number of times. The three most frequent topics to show up here are postings in favor of Joe Hoeffel, in favor of Seth Williams, and against the legislative pay raise.

I chose not to write about the Schrader call [beyond a brief mention]. I have been out that evening and did not get in on the call until it was half over, and already into the question and answer phase. I asked about flooding, a problem in that area. Schrader said her opponent had called for a study but she thought something needed to be done about flooding, although she didn’t know what. That did not strike me as being a well-formed answer, especially from someone who ran for the office before and has had additional time since then to work on policy positions. I also noted that she described a neighboring county as having a better organized Democratic party than the county she would primarily represent. I was not surprised at the notion of one county’s party being better organized but that she picked the one she did as an example, as I had heard it described as being unorganized as well. I don’t have a transcript of the call but my memory is that she did say another county’s party was better organized, possibly because there was a higher percentage of D’s there.

In any event, I chose not to write about the call because I missed so much of it, but also because my impressions of the candidate were not that great. For the record, I saw Ms. Schrader once at a rally but did not speak to her. An area blogger is a big supporter of Schrader’s and had been sending out advance emails about her candidacy announcement and the conference call, had moderated the call, and had invited me to participate. I didn’t want to rain on his parade so I said nothing about it in the blog. However, I discussed it with Mr. Jane, talked about the candidate generally with a friend who is familiar with Bucks County, and mentioned my impressions in an email to Sy. That Friday Sy gave Schrader a down arrow in the weekly up and down list, mentioning the conference call, and giving as examples not being informed on an issue and denigrating the county party. Sy cited “numerous sources.” I am assuming I was one of them, although what I said and what Sy said were not quite the same things. To the best of my knowledge none of my previous emails with Sy have found their way into an up and down list. Sy has political contacts light years ahead of anything I have ever heard or found out. If Sy has my email and wishes to release it I give my permission to do so.; I didn’t keep a copy.

The up and down list is updated every Friday and backfiles are not available so the note would have faded into oblivion in a matter of days. Unless, of course, someone takes offense and calls everyone’s attention to it and that is what has happened. Chris Bowers of mydd.com, who volunteered on Schrader’s campaign last time and moderated the conference call, has made public a letter he sent to Sy reagarding the up and down note. There are a few things in the letter I would like to clear up.

Chris says he personally knows all the bloggers who were invited. I have never met Chris, never spoken to him on the phone, and never, to my knowledge, even been in the same room with him. Our acquaintance has consisted of a half dozen emails sent out over the past few months. Perhaps one of those was sent to me individually; the others were group emails, usually with recipients “bcc’ed” so I do not know who else, if anyone, they were sent to. Also to the best of my knowledge Chris has no idea what my real name is or anything about me, other than that I write a blog. I did not initiate contact with him; he initiated it with me. When he has sent out notes in advance of upcoming events and asked us to not to write about them until after the fact, I have honored that request. He placed far more trust in an unknown person (me) than I would have had the situation been reversed.

[This paragraph deleted when I discovered an error in it, roughly 2 hours after posting.]

I received an email from Chris, again with recipients bcc’ed so I don’t know who else received it, complaining about the note showing up on PoliticsPA and saying this would jeopardize future conference calls and that someone had “snuck in” or that PoliticsPA was making things up. I have problems with this. There were no conditions sent on attendance at the call. If those attending are only supposed to write or say good things this should be made clear from the start. Even those who take the “if you can’t blog anything nice don’t blog anything at all” attitude surely can’t be expected to never mention the call to anyone ever. Suppose I had blogged my comments and someone picked them up from there – is that better or worse? I’m not sure what the expectations were but I do expect not to be invited to any more conference calls and I hope those invited to future ones understand that they are only to write or say positive things about them, not only in their own blogs but generally in emails or conversation. Or perhaps there should be a list of people participants can NOT talk to about the calls.

Chris also sent out links to stories stating that PoliticsPA is run by a conservative think tank in California. I read through this briefly but the only connection I can see is that they have a similar name and were started about the same time. This seems to me to be a real stretch of logic. From my own research and my email with Sy I doubt the think tank and the website are run by the same people. I admire Chris’s passion and enthusiasm and he works hard on his blog; it shows in his readership.

I wish Ms. Schrader the best. I wish Chris the best. I wish Sy the best. It amazes me that writing a blog that, at most, 40 people at day look at has put me in so much hot water and caused, at least in part, such a tempest.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good post. I'm glad this is getting cleared up. I regularly read PoliticsPa.com. They are insiders, but I think they aren't right-wing.

Tulin said...

I have a tremendous amount of respect for you for posting that - especially in the swirl of activity on MyDD and GrassrootsPA.

Chris Bowers said...

Jane,

You can write whatever you want about people. Everyone with a blog does. As far as discrepancies go, I'd like to point out a few myself:

"Chris provides a list of blogs that announced Schrader’s candidacy and includes this blog on it. I did not announce her candidacy, although he sent me an advance notice of this event. I did mention her as a candidate at an event that other candidates were attending. Perhaps he considers this the same thing. I do not."

Here is what you wrote:

"id get to listen in on the last half of a conference call tonight with Ginny Schrader who declared her candidacy for the 8th district today."

For me, saying that someone declared their candidacy on the same day they did so is the same as announcing that person's candidacy.

"Chris also sent out links to stories stating that PoliticsPA is run by a conservative think tank in California. I read through this briefly but the only connection I can see is that they have a similar name and were started about the same time. This seems to me to be a real stretch of logic. From my own research and my email with Sy I doubt the think tank and the website are run by the same people."

As you will notice in my updates of the Sunday post, and in my post on the subject yesterday, I posted a retraction on that subject that I though fit in the same spirit as their retraction of the Up & Down piece.

"Chris says he personally knows all the bloggers who were invited. I have never met Chris, never spoken to him on the phone, and never, to my knowledge, even been in the same room with him. Our acquaintance has consisted of a half dozen emails sent out over the past few months."

OK fine, I don't know you “personally,” I only know of you through cyberspace. I do know the other eight people who were on the call personally—that is, we have actually held verbal conversations. I suppose it is obvious enough that I didn't know you personally, because if I had then I would have known what happened with this whole thing from the get-go.

"Even those who take the “if you can’t blog anything nice don’t blog anything at all” attitude surely can’t be expected to never mention the call to anyone ever. Suppose I had blogged my comments and someone picked them up from there – is that better or worse?"

As you note, you have not been on many of these calls before. I myself have been on hundreds, many of which are much larger than this, so perhaps I should have made the general expectations of such a call clearer and not assumed everyone else knew. The expectation of a blogger conference call is that you are supposed to write whatever you think about the call on your blog. That's why you were invited—because you are considered to be a member of the alternative progressive media. What is not expected is that you would not write information about it that you thought could be bad, but then pass that information on to another member of the press who was not invited on the call to write about it for you. It is the same as a regular press conference call—it's on the record, and you are free to write about it. However, I do not know of a legitimate journalistic practice where someone is invited to a presser, decides not to write about it, but then passes that information on to someone else who was not invited to that press conference so that person could then write distorted information. Had you simply posted what you thought about Ginny Schrader on your blog, and then a site like PoliticsPA had picked up on it, that would have been fine. My impressions of conference calls have been written up in the Washington Post—but they quoted me from my blog, not as a leaked source.

The point of these calls, as I thought I made clear in the emails you discussed in this post, was to connect local prominent Dems to locals progressive blogs. Instead, you decided to pass on writing about the call, and then send information about it to a group that was not invited to the call. The reason they weren't invited is because the purpose of the calls was to ingratiate local blogs with local Dems. We have a national problem with friction between blogs and established Dems, and on a local level I was trying to alleviate it. There had been a press conference for other members of the media earlier that day. Had I thought this served the same purpose, I would have invited them to the call. I did not—I only wanted local bloggers and other local alternative press sources.

You can come on any future conference calls you like, but for crying out loud, write about them on your blog. Don't have other members of the press do the writing for you. The reason you were invited to a blogger conference call was so that you and other bloggers would write about something, not pass the buck to non-blogger sources. If those sources then want to write about the call by quoting what you said on your blog, fine. I have been on conference calls with literally the entire Democratic leadership. If, instead of writing about those calls on my blog I leaked them to Drudge, I could have caused almost irreparable damage to the national Democratic Party. But I wasn't on the call to leak and have my leaked comments distorted by a third party. Instead, I was on to write what I thought about them myself.

Thank you for your post. I hope that clears things up.

ACM said...

heh, fun week. :)

if the layout of PoliticsPA didn't directly siphon IQ points out of my brain, I might read more of their stuff, but as it is I wander elsewhere for nonpartisan reasons...

up with civility!
cheers,
a

albert said...

a-cha! clarification! great post. me, i'm all for discourse. it did seem, to me, that Sy had fabricated the info because s/he was not actually on the call and the sourcing of her/his post seemed ambiguous. thank you for this clarification.

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris said...

Linked. Enjoyed your piece.

Eligere said...

Hi Jane,
I was the first person on the call, and left at the very end with everyone else. Although we are not acquainted, and you came late, I know everyone else on the call. There were not numerous bloggers present, and so for Mr. Snyder to say he heard from numerous sources was inaccurate and, at best, sloppy.
Second, it is not a stretch to say that an organization funded by the John M. Olin Foundation, which funds the engines that drive conservative agitprop, as well as the very conservative Claremont Institute, is probably not dedicated to impartial coverage. The Olin Foundation doesn't fund anything non-partisan.
I appreciate your choice not to write about the conference, having attended only the last part. Ginny spoke about a number of important issues before you arrived, including her strong feelings about the importance of supporting local candidates in Bucks, her commitment not to raise money locally until those races have finished and her great hopes for the Bucks County Democratic Party. I wish that Mr. Snyder had shown the same good judgment.