Thursday, March 29, 2007

Media Spins Stories (About Bloggers Spinning Facts) To Fit Own Agenda

by Kyle Michaelis
The New Nebraska Network received mention in Tuesday's North Platte Telegraph in an article surveying Nebraska's political blogs and our respective coverage earlier this month on the confusing reports of more than $140,000 in payments from 3rd District Congressman Adrian Smith's 2006 campaign to his father, Neal Smith.

Honestly, it's a pretty fair report with a mostly accurate depiction of the events. It's only the unfortunate headline - Bloggers Can Spin Data To Fit Own Agenda - that needlessly (and so hypocritically) challenges the integrity of sites such as this and SmithWatch.

See for yourself:
Political pundits blog opinions about elected officials and sometimes, putting out information leads to criticism or kudos. The story isn’t always complete before it gets posted for the world to see, as one Nebraska blogger, Lisa Hannah, found out....

Some choose to be public with their names, like Hannah, who started SmithWatch, and Kyle Michaelis with New Nebraska Network. Others like BeatriceFiddler are anonymous, as is Uncle Wiggily who hosts a pro-Rep. Adrian Smith blog....

Nebraska Democrats are vocal about the actions of Nebraska’s elected officials, and post opinions discussing information found in newspapers, on-line news resources, and on other Web sites, like OpenSecrets.org.

OpenSecrets.org is the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics, which claims it is a “non-partisan, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C. that tracks money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy.....

Hannah’s SmithWatch blog picked up on more than $116,000 that was paid to Smith’s father, Neal, for payroll processing. She quoted the source as OpenSecrets.org, which listed amounts paid to individuals and vendors for services during the election campaign.

Hannah admits she is keeping an eye on Smith; she voted for his opponent, Scott Kleeb. Michaelis blogs at New Nebraska Network, generally on the Democratic side .... However, even the information from OpenSecrets.org can be skewed, depending on the blog site.

The expenditures listed for Smith were totals, with no additional comments, memos or disclosures. Hannah and Michaelis picked up on the disclosure posting the totals to their blogs and other blogs picked up Hannah’s posting.

Smith supporters were quick to challenge the disclosures, and Smith detractors praised Hannah for telling the story....

Hannah blogged shortly after that other FEC documents showed the salaries listed in order...The salaries paid from the amount given to Neal Smith equaled the amount paid out to Smith’s employees as wages.

Although some bloggers are fielding comments that Neal Smith was paid that amount, he did not receive the money as a salary payment. And, the Smith’s did nothing illegal by paying salaries this way. Unusual, perhaps, but not illegal.
Although I was careful not to outright accuse Smith's campaign of any wrong-doing, I'll be the first to admit that I probably still overreacted to the underlying story. I've also expressed my regrets to the author of SmithWatch for helping to put her in a tough situation where she continues to be held responsible for little more than relaying to NNN and to AmericaBlog what OpenSecrets.org had already reported.

We're the ones who ran with the story and put it in the headlines, but she was left holding the bag. And, it was she who - the very next day - did the follow-up on the story that largely clarified the situation. Through it all, she never complained or attempted to blame anyone else for the confusion even though she would have been well-justified in doing so. For that, I can't possibly commend SmithWatch highly enough.

Still, I'm not going to apologize for NNN's original response. Recognizing that there are very obvious limitations on this site's resources - and that blogging/citizen journalism is a different medium with separate standards and expectations from its counterparts in the traditional media - I trust most readers would agree.

The New Nebraska Network asked a question - Did Adrian Smith's Family Cash-In on [the] 2006 Campaign? Thanks to SmithWatch, we have since received an answer that was immediately reported. The situation may not have been so suspect as it first appeared, but it remains disturbing that the press would turn a blind eye to these suspicions - or use them to undermine bloggers' credibility - rather than analyzing all the very legitimate issues and potential for impropriety raised by Adrian Smith's campaign's activities.

Payments made to a candidate's family members in such massive sums - more than $140,000 - damn well do deserve to be brought to light. Creative and still-unexplained accounting practices by politicians and their campaigns also demand investigation and disclosure to the public. Yet, it's unlikely that there would have been any sort of scrutiny whatsoever were it not for Nebraska bloggers.

This may not be our finest moment, but it's absolute proof of just how much of a need there is for the independent and progressive voices we provide that are otherwise so lacking in our state. The media won't do their job, and it's our democracy that has paid the price. So, here we are doing what we can to pick up their slack.

Our methods are somewhat different. Our motives are a hell lot more clear. And - damn it - we're not going anywhere. Deal with it.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Who's really spinning here? said...

You run a headline about the media spinning stories to fit own agenda and then go on to say that it was a fair article except for the headline. Who's really spinning here?

It is also funny that you run a headline about spinning stories considering you spun Pat Dorwart's letter to the editor in the previous post to fit your own agenda.

Personally I'd like to see more Democrats act like Danielle Nantkes. When is her court date agian?

3/29/2007  
Anonymous Dave Sund said...

But we're the scary bloggers, Kyle! We have opinions, and we state them freely and clearly... unlike, say, the Omaha World-Herald, that bastion of journalistic integrity.

And I see the ad hominem attacks on Danielle Nantkes haven't ceased yet.

3/29/2007  
Anonymous Who's really spinning here? said...

Dave

And your blog has NEVER attacked a Republican?

If you dish it you also have to able to take it.

3/29/2007  
Anonymous plains drifter said...

Anonymous spinner

ummm- the part in Dorwart's letter where she says she wishes more Republicans in Congress were like hagel seems to me to be calling all the other republicans cowards. I dont think Kyle spun it at all.

Since we can all safely assume the letter was written by Hagel's staff and submitted under Pat's name, there's no doubt its an indictment of all the other republicans.

3/29/2007  

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