Daily Kos For Sale?

Bloggers debate charges of some light corruption involving the eminent Markos Moulitsas.

It might not actually be the discovery of “The Blogosphere’s Smoke-Filled Backroom,” as Jason Zengerle writes on The Plank, but charges of some light corruption by the eminent Markos Moulitsas (or, simply, Kos) have gained a head of steam in the last few days.

The accusation surfaced with Chris Suellentrop over at his New York Times pay-per-view blog, The Opinionator, who highlighted the relationship between Kos and his frequent collaborator, Jerome Armstrong. The two once headed a consulting firm together and co-wrote a recent book about the effect of blogs on politics (coining the phrase, “netroots”). Well, it seems that there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest a kind of pay-for-play scheme, in which Kos, though not a consultant himself anymore, has been hyping political candidates who pay Armstrong for his services. This would explain, writes Suellentrop, Kos’s recent excitement over Mark Warner. The former Virginia governor has hired Armstrong, and the implication is that this is how he has gained Kos’s support, in spite of the fact that Warner is someone who “is a blank slate on the Iraq war and who is affiliated with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council that Moulitsas claims to loathe.”

Mickey Kaus presents the issue in its proper context, we think, as a question of “moral (not legal) corruption,” explaining that the real question is “whether one thing you get when you buy Jerome Armstrong’s services is highly effective ‘access’ to his co-author Kos — access that in practice affects Kos’ loyalties and the direction he sends his followers. If that’s the case, it seems just as corrupt (and just as non-illegal) as when a former Tom Delay aide sells himself to corporate clients in part on the basis of his ‘access’ to the big-shot he used to work for. That’s business as usual — but I thought the Kos reformers were supposed to be different.”

Kos hasn’t put up much of a direct defense so far. In a memo leaked and posted on The Plank yesterday, Kos asked his network of liberal bloggers to keep quiet about the matter: “My request to you guys is that you ignore this for now. It would make my life easier if we can confine the story. Then, once Jerome can speak and defend himself, then I’ll go on the offensive (which is when I would file any lawsuits) and anyone can pile on. If any of us blog on this right now, we fuel the story. Let’s starve it of oxygen. And without the ‘he said, she said’ element to the story, you know political journalists are paralyzed into inaction.” (So far, he’s been right.)

Still, Kos made sure to emphasize Tuesday on his own blog that he is not currently consulting, writing that “I don’t consult now. I haven’t consulted since 2004. I don’t plan on consulting in the future. I don’t want to consult. Why would I consult when I have the sweetest gig in the world? I mean, I get paid to blog and write! Why would I mess with that formula?”

One of the National Review blogs is, not surprisingly, on the case, and has a useful timeline of the suspicious connections between Kos, Armstrong and various politicos. Looking at the whole picture, we have to agree with James Joyner at Outside the Beltway who writes that “the real question is the nature of the relationship between Armstrong’s clients and the Daily Kos blog. That [Jon] Corzine was given a Daily Kos diary is hardly evidence of anything sinister; there are thousands of diarists, few of whom are multi-millionaires. The seemingly odd touting by Kos at every opportunity of Mark Warner is really the only red flag but there could be a non-financial explanation.”

So, Warner is the only strange piece in this puzzle. But as Glenn Reynolds has it, the whole story might be blown well out of proportion. He asks, “Is this a big deal? I’m not sure it ought to be. Blogs are a low-trust environment, and readers should be judging bloggers by what they say and how well they back it up, not by their credentials. On the other hand, it’s obvious that some blog readers are, well, not that bright and will do what they’re told without even following a link. (‘Poor, uneducated, and easily led?’) But I think those are the exception, not the rule.”

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.