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Non-paper trail

Bloggers may sometimes regret what they write -- and now presidential candidates who hire them may too.

February 11, 2007

THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL campaign has its first official political-religious-technological controversy. Last week, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, issued a broadside against Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, two relatively obscure bloggers recently hired by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, calling them "anti-Catholic, vulgar, trash-talking bigots." The candidate's response -- and the blogosphere's -- show how both entities are changing each other.

Donohue's first attack landed on Tuesday. He dug up about 10 instances from the last year in which Marcotte and McEwan bluntly (and occasionally in hyperbolically profane style) criticized the Catholic Church, rebuked conservative Christians or simply used some of the seven words that one isn't allowed to say on TV. For Edwards, Donohue's call for Marcotte and McEwan to be ousted was a double-edged sword. If he refused, he'd invite the wrath of conservative Christians; if he complied, he'd alienate the liberal activists who are key to his campaign. The latter responded by highlighting the words and deeds of some of the people hired by Republican candidates, such as Patrick Hynes, a sharp-tongued conservative blogger who has been a consultant with Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaign.

Edwards -- possibly distracted by the universal healthcare proposal he unveiled Monday -- let the issue percolate for a couple of days before letting the two women off with a warning: "That kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign." The move mollified left-leaning bloggers but not Donohue, who pledged to escalate his publicity blitz against Edwards. At week's end, the battle for control of Edwards' agenda continued, healthcare policy battling blogger controversy for media attention.

The conflict over the bloggers is likely to be just the opening salvo in a wave of guilt-by-association attacks. By trying to gin up support from the blogosphere, candidates are bringing lots of folks into the campaign who've left long trails of (often intemperate) commentary online. So not only do candidates have to worry about having their own gaffes preserved and promoted on YouTube, they may have to distance themselves from what their employees said before coming onboard. Expect this kind of nuttiness to continue until voters show that they care more about a candidate's thoughts than those of the hired hands.

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