The Progressive Noise Machine

It’s funny, but for all the talk about the ‘Right Wing Noise machine’ on the ‘net, the reality is that the left has far out organized and outplayed the right in the political uses of new media.

Much of that is genuine, a slice of it is deranged, and now we have some evidence that at least a little bit is Astroturf.

Over at the Jawa Report, Rusty Shackleford backtraced an anti-McCain Youtube video and – I think pretty conclusively – linked it to Obama’s campaign. I’d love to see the left doing this kind of research as well – I think these kind of actions are questionably illegal and certainly undermine the authenticity of the dialog on the blogs. I’m amused but not surprised that no left-wing blogs are showing up on the Memeorandum cloud around this post.

In 2004, I wrote about the increasing and hidden ‘professionalization’ of the left-wing blogs, and how for a few hundred grand a year folks like Media Matters managed to have a meaningful impact on our political dialog.

23 thoughts on “The Progressive Noise Machine”

  1. It’s kind of a big deal to me, because to the extent that the people reading this wonder if I’m doing for money (I’m not…the only money I get for this is the fat Google revenue that almost offsets the hosting costs) they will read it differently.

    The risk is that by polluting the pond, we’ll devalue citizen opinion because it will be valued like paid opinion.


  2. G_Tarhune,

    There are three problems, one moral, one civic and one legal.

    1. (moral problem) The statements made in the video are factually incorrect.
    2. (civic problem) If the Obama campaign is behind it, as alleged, it means that the Obama campaign is attempting to duck criticism for attacks. If not nipped in the bud, this could easily lead to campaigns (any campaign, any party) essentially circumventing the public’s ability to know what they are saying by creating “plausible deniability” around any but the most mild criticisms of their opponents. This would in turn over time lead to undermining the public’s ability to make informed electoral decisions.
    3. (legal problem) If the Obama campaign is behind it, as alleged, then they have almost certainly violated very serious FEC rules. These FEC rules (agree with them or not) are designed to make campaigning transparent, particularly in who funds political campaigns directly or indirectly. If those rules can be circumvented at will, then the entire facade of campaign finance reform (agree with it or not) will come tumbling down.

    Actually, there is another moral problem raised by issue 3 above: Barack Obama has campaigned as being above this kind of sleazy (because false accusations are made) attack. If he is not, then he not only has brought into question his civility/new politics commitments, he has also removed the only distinction he claimed before other than being part-African: his judgement.

    Now, if none of this strikes you as problematic, consider your reaction if it were to turn out that the McCain campaign were doing the same with “Obama is a Muslim” videos.

    I am not yet convinced that “Rusty Shackleford” is correct in his derivations and guesses. I am reasonably confident in his integrity, but I also understand that his partisanship leads him to wrong conclusions at times. So I am willing to sit back and wait to see what else develops, but I am not willing to say in advance that, if the accusations are true, it still means nothing. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  3. I agree with what Jeff wrote and I would just add another problem for Obama should Rusty’s story turn out to be true and reasonably provable:

    4) The cultural factor. For better or worse it considered unseemly in normal society for a man to attack (not merely criticize mind you) a woman and a guy who does so risks being labeled a bully. A guy who does so secretly and through a surrogate not only risks being labeled a bully but a coward as well.

    Obama has already gotten himself in trouble when he and his campaign publicly went after Palin and people rightfully asked why the top of the Democratic ticket was being compared to the bottom of the Republican ticket which only highlighted Obama’s own shortcomings. If it should come to light that he or his campaign (the two are inseparable in many people’s minds) was secretly launching a smear campaign behind surrogates, it not only brings up all of the problems Obama had when he publicly went after Palin but makes him look like a bully and a coward.

  4. It seems that left-wing blogs were not involved here, though, except as intended dupes. Perhaps they are professional dupes.

    There are certain reviewers in the entertainment media who allow their names to be attached to promotional quotes that are actually written by publicists, in exchange for a fee. (“Incredible! The feel-good movie of the summer! Etc!”) These people are known as “Quote Whores”.

  5. bq. The risk is that by polluting the pond, we’ll devalue citizen opinion because it will be valued like paid opinion.

    If someone came to an opinion prior to being allegedly “paid” to promote it, then once again I see no conflict or problem or hypocrisy.

    Citizen opinion is already devalued but not for the reason you claim. I certainly do not judge whether I agree with someone on the basis of whether they are getting paid or not to promote a position but rather because I have the capacity to evaluate it independently and come to my own conclusions. Are you suggesting that most other Americans are not capable of this?

  6. G_Tarhune (#7),

    I think that question is a rather tendentious reading of what AL was saying, based on an admirable but false model of how people reach conclusions. We are rationalizing — not rational — animals. We tend to reach conclusions based on a lot of factors (with rational reasoning from explicitly-stated first principles in a very small corner of the field), and these factors include most highly our prior experiences and prejudices, and, almost as highly, the social context in which we are embedded.

    Social context includes what is being said by people around us and the prevailing opinions of the social groups of which we are a part. We weight those opinions and statements by a large number of factors, including whether the person saying a thing is saying it as their honest opinion after careful thought, as their honest opinion after hearing it from someone else that we know we agree (or disagree) with, or whether the opinion is being dishonestly expressed (paid spokesmen get less credit than an unpaid booster or critic of the organization whose spokesman is at issue). I would be stunned if you, despite your disclaimer, treated a statement from the McCain campaign’s press handler as worthy of equal consideration with, say, mine (voting for McCain, but don’t really like him), Marc’s (not voting for McCain, but reasonably fair), Markos Zuniga’s (voting for Obama and quite proud of how little thought he puts into any issue beyond whether it is anti-Republican in some way) or any of the “Obama is a secret Muslim” kooks (should need no other explanation). Whether you rate the opinions from each of those groups as more or less reliable may well vary, but I have never met a person yet who does not distinguish between paid and unpaid opinions as part of their weighting of the social context of statements, to the point where someone who is paid to agree with you gets little more credit than someone who is paid to disagree with you, in fact.

    So yeah, most people can independently evaluate comments (except maybe those requiring deep historical or technical knowledge of one kind or another) and judge the statements on their merits, but that’s only a small part of how people react to those statements. Whether a statement will change someone’s opinion, in any way, depends far more on all of those other factors (particularly their prejudices about the topic and their judgements of the credibility of people espousing various positions) than on the ability to evaluate the statement independently for its truth or falsity. This is particularly so because so much of what we are talking about here is pure opinion.

    I think a central point of Marc’s reasoning (#2) is that he writes in part to have an effect on others’ opinions. I do as well, in addition to honing my own opinions. I suspect that you, too, write at least in part because you expect that what you write makes a substantive difference; you are not a mere troll, and thus you must expect something beyond creating noise. If all of our opinions are devalued by their mere appearance on a blog, rather than in a mainstream news publication, are our attempts to promulgate our views not then rendered less effective than they would otherwise be? And would not anyone in such a position be at least annoyed that his own credibility was being damaged by others’ attempts to take advantage of that credibility (and that of all of the people who have established the credibility or at least the authenticity of at least a part of the Internet) to spread paid messages without admitting to it?

    I think that the central point that you are missing is that last bit: people who work hard to build up credibility and an authentic voice hate to see their standing lost because of the actions of those who use the reflection of that credibility and authenticity onto themselves. Imagine a credible journalist, for example, at the time of Rathergate; how appalled must such a one have been at the further damage done to his own credibility merely because of one news room’s misdeeds?

    For what it’s worth, I would be as annoyed by the possibility if it were being done by the McCain camp.

  7. Anybody see the SNL sketch this weekend with the NYT newsroom meeting? The honchos were going to send 30 reporters to dig up dirt on Palin in Alaska, but none of them had ever left Manhattan or LA. They brought in an Alaska ‘expert’ that spent 6 months as in intern there and he had them try to identify some pictures of objects (shotgun was called an assault rifle or a 355 Magnum etc). But my favorite was when he showed them a picture of a snowmobile and one of the reporters asked if it was a ‘baptizing machine’. Can’t find it on the NBC site but maybe its around somewhere.

  8. Links broken. NBC nazis. Why would they possibly want to encourage people to watch SNL by letting fans watch clips and share them with friends? Idiots. They screwed up the Battlestar Galactica web stuff too. Oh good, force me to buy the DVDs which wont be out for 6 months. How but instead i just watch Lost.

  9. “What the Left is doing is just following the Goebbels model. I am not the least bit surprised.”

    The modern left is even more sinister than that, as they can use modern technologies to target children. Even Goebbels could not do that.

  10. A.L., I ask in all seriousness, if the funding of this ad is traced back to the Obama campaign, is that going to change your vote?

    I mean, what is your vote based on at this point anyway? Being able to work the Chicago machine? That seems to be the most valid reasoning right now, but it’s not very appealing.

  11. Re to Andrew J. Lazarus:

    _”13 and 14: You might want to see a doctor.”_

    Or maybe they can read and have been to college? Who said “We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution” to a Communist Dictator? Hint: his name sounds like William Ayers. And we now know of one way that Ayers (and Obama who controlled the funds) “targeted children”:

    If have have ever been to a college campus and seen what we ( yes I said we ) do to young adults … Goebbel is a name that comes to mind.


  12. It’s funny, but for all the talk about the ‘Right Wing Noise machine’ on the ‘net, the reality is that the left has far out organized and outplayed the right in the political uses of new media.

    It’s not the size of the machine, it’s the muffler on the engine. There’s a lot more “below the radar” stuff on the left, from my observation. But the Right Wing Noise machine is in full gear, and I get a little tired of it (and I’m voting for Palin/McCain). I actually like Obama enough that, if he were a little more centrist and, um, not part of the Democratic party, I’d actually vote for him. I love his political style, I like how he’s handled his campaign, I’ve found the criticisms from the “Right Wing Noise” machine to be tiresome and overblown. Of course, I liked Clinton (not enough to vote for him, either time, but I did like him). Could not stand Gore or Kerry.

    But . . . I’m glad to see someone on the left acknowledge that there is a Left Wing Noise machine. I am amazed how many people on the left, and the right, cannot acknowledge that politics is practiced on both sides of the aisle. Refreshing, Armed Liberal, refreshing.

    Personally, I believe those ads were the “independent” work of Axelrod–I sure don’t think that was run by Obama–and the “cover up” is an effort to prevent Axelrod from having to be thrown under the bus.

    What the Left is doing is just following the Goebbels model.

    I know I’m standing athwart the blogosphere here, but I would love it if we could retire comparisons of political pundits and party flacks to Goebbels. I don’t ever want to hear how 9/11, or anything else, is a modern Kristallnacht. I do believe many folks on both sides (although, a few more on the left, there was a reason I ceased to be a liberal so many years ago) believe that “the ends justify the means” when it comes to politics. But that doesn’t mean they’re frickin’ Nazis. Come on, people.

  13. “I do believe many folks on both sides (although, a few more on the left, there was a reason I ceased to be a liberal so many years ago) believe that “the ends justify the means” when it comes to politics. But that doesn’t mean they’re frickin’ Nazis. Come on, people.”

    Well said.

  14. My inner Nazi says you’re wrong, TOC.

    It also said to call you a brownshirt.

    (Don’t worry. I’m throwing it under the bus.)

  15. Hmmm, believeing the ends justifes the means doesn’t mean you’re a Nazi. Perhaps not, but add torchlight parades, call your leader lightworker or the annointed one, and you’ve really have something.

    Somehow I can’t see the Boy Scouts or Rotary adopting the methods and morales of the Kos Kiddies or DU. But then German Jews refused to believe the Nazis would actually do what they said they would do.

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