Monday, September 24, 2007

Tim Hugo: Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell

CORRECTION: Lowell Feld just sent me an email correcting a mistake in this post. I said that Raising Kaine had endorsed Rex Simmons in the primary, which was an error on my part. Raising Kaine originally endorsed Morris Meyers. They do support Rex Simmons fully in the general election. AIAW.

By now most people who are interested in blogs and campaigns have probably caught Tim Craig’s Washington Post story last Saturday, where Raising Kaine objected to a Tim Hugo campaign ad, which Lowell Feld called deceptive.

Hugo aired an attack ad against his opponent, Rex Simmons, and attributed damaging quotes, disparaging Simmons’ integrity, to Raising Kaine. RK endorsed Simmons in the primary and certainly is supporting him in the general election against Republican candidate Hugo. But the ad makes it appear as though Raising Kaine were critical of Simmons.

Nothing could be further from the truth. One diarist at RK, however, did post a critical diary after a bruising primary where his candidate lost. Nate de la Piedra, of Next Generation Democrats, expressed some personal anger in his ill-considered diary, which he later removed.

The main objection by Feld and others is that Tim Hugo did not properly source the quotes used in the ad. The argument is that the quotes should have been sourced to the diarist not simply to RK. It wasn’t that Hugo lied. It’s that he told a half-truth designed to mislead the public.

In the WaPo story, Hugo admitted he knew who had posted the diary and not just that person’s screen name but his real identity. That’s tantamount to making a deliberate decision to mislead viewers.

This controversy has swirled around the blogosphere all weekend with bloggers on both sides of the spectrum weighing in. The rightwing, of course, was simply gloating that it happened to RK. That’s a shame because it will probably come around to them, as all things that go around do. It will be harder for them to whine when they are treated unfairly if they don’t stand up for ethical sourcing now.

Anyway, one of the more rational and principled disagreements with the left, though, comes from Bwana at Renaissance Ruminations. His main point is that while it was probably something he personally wouldn’t do, the diary was fair game as was the blog RK as a whole. His point seemed to be that it’s going to happen to blogs regardless of how much we object to it, so we might was well either get used to it or figure out how to prevent it by changing what we allow to be posted on our blogs.

Bwana is not wrong. You can rail against reality but it’s gonna be reality anyway. Unscrupulous politicians and their campaign operatives are going to continue making unfair and misleading ads as long as they are effective no matter how much we object.

So, we do have to figure out how to slow them down or not let ourselves be taken advantage of.

One obvious way would be for Raising Kaine to change the way it does business. It could go from being a community of progressives, which encourages ordinary citizens to air their opinions in diaries in a free forum to one that polices what goes up on the site. Lowell has always envisioned RK as a citizen’s public square where people meet to consider a variety of opinions. That makes RK more vulnerable than my blog, for example, or Bwana’s. I am, after all, a one-woman show. I’m the only one responsible for the posts on AIAW.

However, I don’t think Lowell, Josh and the rest of the RK management ought to change the nature of RK. It’s a valuable forum. But they have already taken one very simple step that newspapers and even radio and TV stations use when they air differing opinions. RK will now have a visible disclaimer that the views of individual diarists do not represent the views of the entire RK community. Of course, RK will also continue to get out the word that they endorse Rex Simmons and have done so since the primary.

But here’s another suggested way to handle it. Continue to insist loudly and publicly that Tim Hugo ran a misleading and deceptive ad. Get the word out. Turn it around on him. He claimed we can’t trust Rex Simmons.

Well, guess what?

We just can’t trust Tim Hugo. He’ll say anything to get elected. And he doesn’t care whose opinions he misrepresents and how many people he misleads.

Want to discourage dishonesty? Keep pointing it out. Maybe some people think that what happens to RK is the consequence of having a popular public forum that encourages a freewheeling debate. That may be true. But being publicly called out as a deceptive liar is the consequence of being deceptive and lying.

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