February 08, 2007

Swiftboating Redefined

It appears that the Marcotte/McEwan/Edwards blog controversy has entered a second day with little letup in the comments coming from both the right and the left.

For those of you just coming around to this story, the John Edwards campaign hired a pair of comically stereotypical feminist bloggers (on who's advice, no one will say), Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister, respectively. Once hired, some conservative and libertarian bloggers began bringing to light some of the previous posts written by these bloggers (focusing on Marcotte in particular), many of which are offensive to those outside of the insular world of far-left political blogging. A right-wing bigot by the name of Bill Donahue began calling for their heads for comments written by these two that he said were anti-Catholic, these comments hit the New York Times, and the brouhaha went mainstream.

By late yesterday afternoon, word leaked out that Marcotte and McEwan had been fired by the Edwards campaign...or not.

There have been a lot of pixels slung around on both sides in the blogosphere over this one, but I've been particularly fascinated at the response thus far from the liberal blogs trying to close ranks around Marcotte and McEwan.

Some are attempting to the "right-wing character assassination machine" for the issue being raised. Others are declaring a "rightwing Swiftboat-style attack" on the two bloggers. Another claims that the "smear train" has been fired up.

My, how the goalposts have changed.

According to Wikipedia, character assassination can be defined as:

Character assassination is an intentional attempt to influence the portrayal or reputation of a particular person, whether living or a historical personage, in such a way as to cause others to develop an extremely negative, unethical or unappealing perception of him or her. By its nature, it involves deliberate exaggeration or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person...

In practice, character assassination usually consists of the spreading of rumors and deliberate misinformation on topics relating to one's morals, integrity, and reputation.

Also according to Wikipedia, "swiftboating" can be defined as:

Swiftboating is American political jargon for an ad hominem attack against a public figure coordinated by an independent or pseudo-independent group, usually resulting in a benefit to an established political force.

This form of attack is controversial, easily repeatable, and difficult to verify or disprove because it is generally based on personal feelings or recollections...

"Smear train" and other assertions made on the left to describe this conflagration are not so easy to define, so let's focus on whether or not the allegations of "character assassination" and swiftboating" really apply to this case.

Character assassination requires "deliberate exaggeration or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person," and "usually consists of the spreading of rumors and deliberate misinformation on topics relating to one's morals, integrity, and reputation."

That is clearly not in evidence in this instance; Marcotte has been hoisted on her proverbial petard for her own controversial words, not for the words of others. The only possible claim of manipulation that can be made is that some critics have chosen to publish shorter excerpts of her commentary for the sake of brevity. Her comments, however have not been taken out of context, and a reader disturbed by her excerpted comments will be no less offended if they read the entire post in its entirety. In some instances, the full posts only serves to make Marcott'e comments more appalling to those offended by the excerpts. These comments made by Marcotte reflect her own, true feelings, as written by her own hand. A review of her comments resulted not in character assassination, but character definition. Charges of character assassination are completely false.

What about the charge of "swiftboating?"

The charges against Marcotte and McEwan are neither "difficult to verify or disprove." We have permalinks to what Marcotte haven't erased, and the rest is captured in the Google cache. The greatest damage done, clearly has been from a spotlight being cast on their own freely-given words. These words are, however, clearly based upon their own personal feelings, so one could presumably make the argument that they "swiftboated" themselves.

Other liberal bloggers have complained that Marcotte and McEwan have complained that the rantings on their personal blogs does not indicate in any way how they may perform as part of the Edwards campaign. It is of course true, but that was not the argument they were making when they pilloried Ben Domenech for the plagiarism he commited prior to joining the Washington Post as a blogger.

As a matter of fact, Media Matter's own David Brock stated:

...with each hour bringing new evidence of Domenech's racially charged rhetoric and homophobic bigotry, the time has come for the Post to end its ill-conceived relationship with Domenech. Examples of Domenech's views include:
  • In a February 7 post on RedState, Domenech wrote that he believed people should be "pissed" that President Bush attended "the funeral of a Communist" -- referring to the funeral for Coretta Scott King. As you know, labeling the King family "communists" was a favorite tool of the racists who opposed them. In another RedState post, Domenech compared "the Judiciary" unfavorably to the Ku Klux Klan.
  • In still another RedState comment, Domenech posted without comment an article stating that "[i]t just happens that killing black babies has the happy result of reducing crime" and that "[w]hite racists have reason to be grateful for what is sometimes still called the civil rights leadership" because black leaders "are overwhelmingly in support" of abortion rights.
  • In yet another, Domenech wrote that conservative blogger/journalist Andrew Sullivan, who is gay, "needs a woman to give him some stability."

Domenech has also been caught at least once apparently fabricating a quote. A June 20, 2002, entry demonstrated that Domenech made up a quote he attributed to Tim Russert in order to defend President Bush.

In a post on, Domenech once agreed with a commenter who called Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin "an embarrassment to the saner heads at the paper."

It is time for "saner heads" to prevail. Will The Washington Post honor its history as one of America's most respected news organizations -- or will it stand with Ben Domenech, tacitly endorsing his assault on Coretta Scott King, his offensive suggestion that a gay man "needs a woman," and his fabrication of a quote?

America is watching.

David Brock seemed very concerned about the rhetoric and bigotry of Domenech, even moreso than his plagiarism, if his letter can be believed. He and his fellow liberals were quite against what they construed as hate speech then.

Funny how Brock and other liberals don't seem to have a problem with the incendiary rhetoric and the readily apparent bigotry of two of their own, now.

Update: Edwards is not firing Marcotte and McEwan.

I lack the words to fully express just how devilishly amusing this is to me.

Luckily, Jeff G. captures the essence of this debacle perfectly:

But lost on these Marcotte supporters—who are cheering on the power of the “netroots” to cow a politician into keeping on an ugly and hateful liability—is that Edwards just showed up Marcotte and McEwan as frauds and posturing blowhards, writers who have been pulling the wool over their audiences’ eyes by posting vicious “arguments” they never truly believed. To use the loaded language of establishment feminism—he publicly castrated them—and in so doing, he made fools out of their audiences, to boot.

Further, in doing so, he has shown himself to be nothing more than a calculating political opportunist of the worst sort—one who believes the voting public so daft they might actually buy a statement like the one he just released.

As I wrote yesterday, I don’t care one way or the other, personally, about whether or not Marcotte and McEwan are allowed to keep their josb. That’s Edwards’ call. And from a blogging perspective, I suppose Edwards’ decision is good news.

But let’s not confuse the effect with the rationale—which is both risible and insulting. Because were it really never Marcotte’s intent to malign anyone’s faith, she probably wouldn’t have dedicated so many hate-filled blog posts to, you know—maligning anyone’s faith.

Of course it was her intent. Just as it was McEwan’s intent. And worst of all, Edwards knows it. That he has pretended to take the two at their word, in an ostentatious gesture of “trust,” is precisley the kind of staged treacle that makes people doubt the sincerity of politicians; and that both Marcotte and McEwan have assured their own personal Patriarch that they’ll behave, now that he’s promoted them to the grownups’ table, is, to put it bluntly, one of the most pathetic public surrenderings of personal integrity I’ve ever seen.

Seriously. We should feel bad for them.

That is, were we to actually believe they meant any of it. Because how this plays out for the netroots is this way: either they are cheering on an ideological sellout, or they are knowingly and happily embracing an opportunistic liar. So. Congrats to them. Once again, they’ve covered themselves in white hot sticky glory!

There is more, of course, so be sure to read the whole thing.

My take away on this is that Marcotte, McEwan, and Edwards will say or do anything it takes to attempt to preserve their limited relevance. Once the primary season is over, Marcotte's and McEwan's futile efforts will be forgotten, but their willingness to prostitute their principles for a furtive brush with greatness will last far, far longer.

At least Edwards will still have nice hair.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at February 8, 2007 10:45 AM

Did the women steal from anyone?

It's not snark, I'm really curious. Any writer -- and I expect lots of bloggers as well -- get quite upset at the thought of someone stealing their work, which is what Domenech did.

As I understand it, the problem with the two women, as perceived by the right wingers, is that they are uncivil in some of their postings on their personal blogs.

I do not see comparing them to Domenech as a fair comparison.

Posted by: zhak at February 8, 2007 11:16 AM

Keep setting up those strawmen, zhak; they are so easy to knock down.

It must have been difficult skipping over the thrust of David Brock's arguments, which placed more emphasis on what he felt was Domenech's rhetoric and bigotry, but you found a way to do it. Congratulations.

No, I don't think that anyone has accused Marcotte or McEwan of plagiarism, nor should they. They should instead focus on their rhetoric of bigotry, which is quite abundant: bashing Christians, Catholics, God, angels, men, Southerners, people who chose to reproduce, and so on and so forth.

Don't get me wrong--both Marcotte and McEwan are serially non-civil, but that label can be overwhelmingly applied to most left wing blogs, who somehow seem to feel, like back in fourth grade, the ablity to usher forth profanities is the "in" thing to do. They apparently think it is "edgy," while most find it to be the mark of someone lacking in vocabulary and intellectual dexterity.

No, the reasons Marcotte/McEwan/Edwards are under fire is that these two bloggers regularly engage in what their targets quickly and accurately identify as a kind of hate speech. It isn't criminally actionable hate speech by any means, but if you can't feel the venom, contempt, and raw hatred with which they've targeted these and other subjects, then you suffer a catastrophic lack of perspective.

It is also inarguable that the displayed rhetorical bigotry of Marcotte--McEwan, I've frankly not much read--is far beyond any "rhetoric" or "bigotry" ever published by Domenech, and by that standard, the comparison is beyond fair to Marcotte, and perhaps instead a comparison unfair to Domenech.

If that is the case, I should perhaps apologize to the plagiarist.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at February 8, 2007 11:43 AM

Yes, you should absolutely apologize to Domenech, because incivility is so much more objectionable than outright theft.

One might argue that repeatedly questioning the loyalty and patriotism of those with whom you have political disagreements is not the strongest demonstration of civil discourse. But as long as no foul language is used, the mask of polite interaction can be maintained, I suppose.

The use of vulgarities is often a manifestation of the outrage that comes from being the continual target of lies and slanders, or from having what one might once have believed unassailable rights inexorably whittled away by an administration that puts political expediency ahead of all other considerations. Sometimes a sputtered obscenity is all that can issue forth in the face of the utter contempt for human compassion displayed by those on the right with increasing frequency these days.

In any case, making the argument that publishing a few curse words or angry thoughts is somehow more repugnant that deliberately stealing the ideas of others and claiming them as your own shows a level of moral confusion that should be very disturbing to your readers, if not to yourself.

Posted by: Singularity at February 8, 2007 12:41 PM

Make sure you get that last one, folks: plagiarism is worse than hate speech, and when issued from people Singularity admires, hate speech is just "a few curse words or angry thoughts."

Further, I'd add that Marcotte's problems don't arise from "being the continual target of lies and slanders." Frankly, most of her problems come from being quoted accurately.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at February 8, 2007 12:57 PM

I try to not spend much time filling empty vessels or cure terminal myopia...but leftists look at fresh road apples and smell roses.

These two leftist verbal cesspools are virulently hateful, spasmodically sinister, write as if they have Socialist Tourette's...and one of the flailing apologies that comes'S BUSH'S FAULT!

No. It. Isn't.

The impaired vision and even more impaired reasoning of the bulge and spittle corps...propagandizing for the World Populist playbook's blather...PREDATES George W. Bush, by several decades.

This inanity may have increased in volume...the mendacious mate with the obnoxious to produce megaphone streetcorner preachers and shouters with keyboards...but the inane "message" hasn't changed in 40 years.

What's ironic and somewhat that in all their high froth and curselather...they are nearly to a tee...the tantrum throwing poster children for EVERYTHING they SAY...they stand against. Too wound up to recognize it...too shallow to self-reflect on it, too self-absorbed to correct it.

Posted by: cfbleachers at February 8, 2007 01:55 PM

Edwards is not firing Marcotte and McEwan.

The man knows quality when he sees it.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at February 8, 2007 03:26 PM

Amanda never attempted to erase her archives either singularly or as a plural.

Hinting that she did and doing it in garbled English - now that's classic swiftboating.

You go, Gomer

Posted by: DeWayne at February 8, 2007 09:36 PM

Although Jeff G. is correct that the reconcilation is a "staged treacle", he and you) are wrong to think that Marcotte and McEwan have surrendered their personal integrity. For them and their comrades, it is simply another instance of the ends justifying the means; lying to further their ideological goals is just another weapon in their arsenal.


Posted by: Andy at February 8, 2007 10:37 PM

Dewayne, what fantasy world to you live in? Marcotte clearly wiped her Duke post, completely replacing the disputed text of that post with something else.

You, sir, are a liar.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at February 8, 2007 11:13 PM

Don't confuse him with the facts, he's on a roll.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at February 9, 2007 02:07 AM

Dude, did any of you bother to READ what those folks wrote? And you're calling the BLOGHOST uncivil?

What the hey?

Frankly, I don't find making up a quote "worse" than going out specifically to lie and insult someone's religion-- both of them are childish, wrong, and generally done for bad reasons. Frankly, both are a form of lying, for that matter.

It's one thing to disagree and argue with someone on something as important as religion; it's another to rephrase the conception of Jesus as a porno and then go further into stupidity.

Posted by: Foxfier at February 9, 2007 11:36 AM

Actually, CY, bringing up Ben Domenech is pretty much the essence of the strawman argument. Media Matters documented his rhetoric (as they do, incessantly), but he was fired for his plagarism. Pretty hard to separate one from the other, donchya think?

Marcotte is vulgar, and clearly a poor choice for any political campaign. I think tarring McEwan with the same brush is patently unfair, her major crime appears to be using profanity. As Eric Cartman once said, "What's the big deal? It doesn't hurt anybody. **** ****ity **** **** ****".

And thanks for bringing Jeff G to comment, he made a nice point, and all without any unnecessary ****slapping.

Posted by: Crusty Dem at February 9, 2007 02:14 PM

What everybody seems to be losing track of in all of this tabloid hoopla, is what kind of Man Who Would Be President would A) choose people like this for his staff in the first place and B) stand by them after they are exposed for what they are?

This man would be making monumental decisions for us all.

Posted by: Bane at February 9, 2007 05:37 PM