Ugh, blogging about blogging…that is just the worst. I had promised myself I’d stop doing that (sometime after this), because really, who cares? At a certain point, please, shut up with the gassing about blogging and social media and the tools and just write some stuff, am I right?
But the saga of the Blue Hog Report (BHR), a liberal blog that shut down last week after the Arkansas GOP started asking questions about the proprietors’ state employment, is ripe for discussion. Let us discuss!
You can get a solid, balanced write-up here. It boils down to this: a couple of guys, Matt Campbell and Jeff Woodmansee, were running a rather partisan blogging/journalism operation at the BHR. It was quite well done! The blog did a marvelous job of exploring the bumbling of the bumbling Secretary of State Mark Martin, a bumbling Republican, in particular.
The state GOP noticed said bloggers were state employees and started asking questions through Freedom of Information Act requests—the same types of questions Campbell was asking about employees of the secretary of state’s office. In response, Campbell quickly killed the site and all his associated social media accounts.
Several bloggers rushed to the BHR team’s defense, decrying the “suppression of speech” and attacking the Arkansas GOP’s political motivations. These responses strike me as overheated and beside the point.
Before we slip the crown of thorns atop Matt Campbell’s head, he didn’t really handle this so well, did he? It seems like he would have done better to declare his state employment publicly, wouldn’t it, rather than disguising it? He did disclose SOME things about himself: We knew he was a lawyer, and if you were a regular reader of his blog, you knew he was married with a couple of kids.
He was happy to disclose things about himself, yet at no point did he disclose he was an employee of the Arkansas Supreme Court. That seems like, y’know, kind of a relevant thing. Moreover, he wrote some pretty hard-hitting stuff honing in on how other state employees spent their time, so he painted a big target on himself. He was leading with his chin. Those who live in glass houses, etc. I am now out of cliches to illustrate this point.
For example, on May 4, Campbell wrote a funny post detailing how Princella Smith, then an employee of the secretary of state’s office, was spending her days, based on published sources. He insinuated that the only way Smith could have worked a full 8-hour day, as she claimed, was through time travel, based on his reading of the public record. (I would link to it but, as I noted, his site is gone).
But since Campbell was a state employee, too, as we now know, it seems like someone could have constructed a timeline and asked similarly pertinent questions about how he spends HIS time, based upon the time stamps of his blog and social media accounts. Perhaps that’s why he disappeared the BHR site and all associated accounts so swiftly upon the GOP’s filing of the FOIA request?
The way this has played out makes it appear that he had not thought through the consequences of his actions, which, if you’re going to blog, you should probably do. Example: When my old sparring partner Blake Rutherford left to take a state job in the attorney general’s office, he folded his blogging operation, the much-missed Blake’s Shark Tank, wisely surmising that trying to wear both hats would only lead to trouble. Blake was a good deal wiser than Campbell, wasn’t he?
None of this is to defend the Arkansas GOP, because, ugh, those guys. Politically, the move was a ham-fisted, disproportionate response, and will only serve to turn Campbell and his associate bloggers into martyrs. Vendettas against media people rarely pay out much in the way of dividends.
But it’s well within the GOP’s rights to file a FOIA request with the state, so people should stop whining about their motivations. It’s a legal mechanism, a tool, and they made use of it. The motivations with which the tool is deployed are irrelevant if there is a question of government accountability and appropriate use of taxpayer funds. In Campbell’s case, reasonable questions could be raised based upon the timing of his blog posts and frequent social media engagement.
Meanwhile, blogger Jason Tolbert at the Tolbert Report, whose well-earned reputation for diligence is only matched by his excitable and histrionic streak, has now shut down HIS blog as…as what, a gesture of dissident solidarity? When the story broke Tolbert was complaining about “suppression of free speech,” which he’s apparently now countering by suppressing his own speech. Take that! So I guess Tolbert will shortly be declaring war against the Republican Party of Arkansas, which we can add to his ongoing wars against Mike Huckabee and proofreading.
What a mess. And the thing is, does the loss of a blog or other social media voice matter? No. (Pro-Campbell blogger Michael Tilley at The City Wire in Fort Smith makes this point ably.) The great strength of a distributed information network is that some players fade away and are replaced by new players. Sometimes, old players fade away, but then try to make ill-conceived comebacks, even though everybody was kind of glad they had gone away in the first place and wishes they would have just stayed gone. Ahem.
But ultimately, there will be enough voices that efforts to target any one of them will prove fruitless. Which will prove to be the case with the GOP’s effort to target Campbell and the Blue Hog Report.