To Two Bloggers
By WILLIAM M. BULKELEY and JAMES BANDLER
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
January 14, 2005; Page B2
Howard Dean's presidential campaign hired two Internet political "bloggers" as consultants so that they would say positive things about the former governor's campaign in their online journals, according to a former high-profile Dean aide.
Zephyr Teachout, the former head of Internet outreach for Mr. Dean's campaign, made the disclosure earlier this week in her own Web log, Zonkette. She said "to be very clear, they never committed to supporting Dean for the payment -- but it was very clearly, internally, our goal." The hiring of the consultants was noted in several publications at the time.
The issue of political payments to commentators has become hot following disclosures that the Bush administration paid a conservative radio and newspaper pundit, Armstrong Williams, $240,000 to plug its "No Child Left Behind" education policy.
With the growing importance of blogs -- short for Web logs -- Ms. Teachout said she thinks bloggers need to rethink their attitudes toward ethics. A blog is an online personal journal or series of postings, dealing with just about anything. Millions of people use blogs to post diatribes, rants, links to other sites and erudite analyses hourly, daily or sporadically. Some make a little money by selling ads. The Dean campaign's adroit use of the Internet helped make its long-shot effort credible.
Ms. Teachout's posting shook the confidence of many people in the blogosphere, as many bloggers like to call the online community. Bloggers have been quick to criticize the unspoken biases of mainstream media, and they helped expose the questionable documents used by CBS News in a report about President Bush's National Guard experience.
The partisan Democratic political bloggers who were hired by the Dean campaign were Jerome Armstrong, who publishes the blog MyDD, and Markos Zuniga, who publishes DailyKos. DailyKos is the ninth most linked blog on the Internet, according to Technorati, a measurement service, and in October, at the height of the presidential campaign, it received as many as one million daily visits.
The two men, who jointly operated a small political consulting firm, said they didn't believe the Dean campaign had been trying to buy their influence. Both men noted that they had promoted Mr. Dean's campaign long before they were hired and continued to do so after their contract with the campaign ended.
Mr. Zuniga said they were paid $3,000 a month for four months and he noted that he had posted a disclosure near the top of his daily blog that he worked for the Dean campaign doing "technical consulting." Mr. Armstrong said he shut down his site when he went to work for the campaign, then resumed posting after his contract ended.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Dean said the two bloggers hired by the campaign did nothing unethical because both disclosed their connection to the Dean operation.
Ms. Teachout said the campaign never explicitly asked the bloggers to promote Mr. Dean. But she said the Dean campaign wanted to keep them from shifting to rivals. Ms. Teachout said she has been raising the issue as part of a broader push on her part to get bloggers who are also consultants to publish their client lists. She said that as more people have turned to bloggers for news, she came to the conclusion that bloggers "have an active responsibility to be absolutely transparent."
--Jeanne Cummings contributed to this article.
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