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News & Politics

What's the one thing with the power to unite the fiercely oppositional -- and sometimes downright mean -- factions of the political blogosphere?

The Downing St. Memo? Naw, right wing bloggers seem to not really care that they were lied to.

Rove's dangerous outing of a CIA agent? Ditto. See above.

Nope, like the Yankees to baseball fans everywhere, or the aliens to the warring nations of Earth in Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero, bloggers from across the spectrum have come together to battle against what many see as a threat to their existence: FEC regulation.

It's no joke actually. Commentators from your civics teacher to TV pundits are perpetually lamenting the decline of ordinary citizen participation in our democracy. So now that technology has made that significantly easier, the FEC has threatened to make it dangerous -- or, at the very least, costly.

It's a complex issue but the essence of it is this: With regard to campaign finance laws, the FEC refuses to grant bloggers the same exemption enjoyed by the rest of the media -- the New York Times, Fox News etc.

Duncan Black aka Atrios put it this way:

"I'm troubled by the fact that participants in this emerging medium, which allows anyone the opportunity to participate in the national political discourse at a minimum cost, would face stricter regulation and stronger scrutiny -- along with the potential for ruinous legal expenses -- than would participants in media outlets owned by large corporations such as Time Warner, General Electric and Disney ... "
In response, a number of blogs underwent miraculous overnight transformations, like this one, from a blog called The Talent Show, in a post titled: The Talent Show is dead, long live The Talent Show:
In order to avoid any potential pitfalls, let me use this opportunity to announce that this post will be the last one on The Talent Show blog," writes Greg. "Starting either late today or tomorrow, I will relaunch (without any fanfare whatsoever) my new web magazine, The Talent Show. I will still be the primary writer around here, but the traditional blog posts will be replaced with articles of varying lengths and topics. I will also be replacing the comments with article specific message boards. The look of the site, the writing style, the subject matter, the content, and the technological back-end will be identical to what I'm using now, but the change (as least as far as the FEC is concerned) will be drastic. Starting tomorrow, my days as a blogger are ending and my days as a writer begin.
Right winger LaShawn Barber is worried too: "The law as applied to bloggers would mean that our linking to a particular candidate’s web site could be seen as a 'contribution' to the campaign. As ridiculous as it sounds, we could be charged with a crime if found in violation."

Conservative blogger Mike Krempasky, one of the bloggers who testified before the FEC, asked this question, carefully chosen to strip any partisanship from the debate: "What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh's multimillion-dollar talk radio program -- but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience?"

The counter argument goes like this: According to Carol Darr, head of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University, “They [bloggers] want to preserve their rights as political activists, donors and even fundraisers -- activities regulated by campaign finance laws -- yet, at the same time, enjoy the broad exemptions from the campaign finance laws afforded to traditional journalists."

A good argument, sure, but at this point is there anyone who doesn't see dozens of political activists, donors and fundraisers in the media? Traditional Journalism isn't traditional journalism anymore.

It might be a better use of time to rethink the entire structure of media and the entire structure of campaign finance and not simply to apply old laws and distinctions to emerging forms of media.

The multi-partisan heat generated by the blogs appears to have worked as the FEC appears to be leaning against regulating blogs. Perhaps this temporary détente can serve as a model for future campaigns that don't seem to tug too hard on competing ideologies -- like minimum wage perhaps?

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