Book Review: ‘Digital Assassination’

Originally published at The Washington Times
Ghostwritten by K. Daniel Glover

The Internet is a boundless universe of information and connections that fuels the economy, enhances world culture and fosters democracy. But it also is home to digital assassins who lurk undetected and lob verbal, visual and technological grenades to ruin reputations — and enlist others via social media to achieve their evil ends more quickly.

That’s the ugly reality of online life as painted by Richard Torrenzano and Mark Davis in their new book, “Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks.” It’s a largely accurate portrayal — one that brands, businesspeople and public officials must take seriously if they want to thrive in today’s digital age.

Torrenzano and Davis at times go overboard in their rhetoric, particularly when it comes to blogs and social media. They also give too much credit to journalists for having kept character assassination in check during the 20th century. The chapter on “truth remix,” for example, is based in part on the prejudicial and flawed premise that “traditional media has been replaced by a blogosphere that creates falsities out of truth in order to compete for ratings and clicks.”

But the authors are not Luddites. They repeatedly emphasize that we humans are the problem and that modern technology has merely increased our capacity for lies, deceit and uncommon cruelty motivated by greed, jealousy and other character flaws. They identify parallels between character attacks of the low-tech past and the high-tech present to prove the point.

“This power of the new digital assassin to destroy is as powerful as YouTube but as old as civilization,” Torrenzano and Davis write. Their aim is to illustrate the depth, reach and speed of that amplified power and to teach people how to fight back.

Read the full review at The Washington Times.

The Impeached Former Judge

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

To voters in Florida’s 23rd District, Democrat Alcee Hastings is simply their representative in the House. They first elected him by 59 percent of the vote in 1992 and subsequently have returned him to Congress in majorities ranging from 73 percent to 100 percent. He was just re-elected to an eighth term without opposition.

But to those outside Florida’s 23rd who’ve heard of him, and especially to bloggers, Hastings is “the only member of Congress ever to have been impeached and removed from office as a federal judge,” to quote from the “Almanac of American Politics.”

The “Almanac” goes on to say this about his past: “Hastings was charged with conspiring with a friend to take a $150,000 bribe and give two convicted swindlers light sentences. A Miami jury acquitted Hastings in 1983, but the friend was convicted. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals called for impeachment in 1987 and referred the case to Congress. Hastings was impeached by the House by a vote of 413-3 and convicted by the Senate, 69-26.”

Hastings’ history as a judge is significant now because he is being considered for the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. Jane Harman of California is the ranking Democrat on that panel, but in a departure from tradition, may not be automatically elevated to the committee’s top post in January.

That’s because Nancy Pelosi, the newly elected House Speaker for the new, majority-Democratic Congress, reportedly is not fond of Harman, and is not eager to elevate her fellow Californian to the Intelligence chairmanship. Despite his impeachment and removal from the judiciary, Hastings has the important backing of the Congressional Black Caucus for his promotion.

The prospect of Hastings becoming chairman has prompted plenty of complaints in the blogosphere, even among Democrats. Stephen Kaus proclaimed Hastings “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” at The Huffington Post, and Justin Rood of TPMMuckraker did some thorough background reporting on the Hastings bribery case (go here, here and here).

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Interior Conspiracies

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

A few months ago, Mark Nickolas of Bluegrass Report worked himself and fellow Democratic bloggers into a tizzy about a blog ban aimed at state employees in Kentucky. Nickolas smelled a conspiracy engineered by his political nemesis, Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, and sued to overturn an Internet-filtering policy that Fletcher’s administration had applied not just to blogs but to numerous categories of content.

Now there is fresh conspiratorial talk about a blog ban — only this time it’s at the federal level, and bloggers on the right are the ones crying foul.

The rumors surfaced last week, thanks to a self-described Interior Department employee who clearly has too much spare time at work. Upon realizing that employee access to certain Web sites had been restricted, the employee compiled a list of inaccessible blogs and contacted Gates of Vienna.

“Please, please get the word out about this,” the employee said. “It not only royally sucks that I can’t read stuff during down times at work, but they are being so blatantly biased as to what is being blocked.” The worker’s list of banned sites included Captain’s Quarters, Little Green Footballs, Michelle Malkin, Power Line, Protein Wisdom and Wizbang. The list of still-accessible blogs included Americablog, Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo.

Gates of Vienna dutifully spread the word online, and before long, the online legend of the Interior Department blog ban had taken firm root. Atlas Shrugs, Bird of Paradise, Boker tov, Boulder, Brendan Loy, Little Green Footballs and The Retread Ranger Station were among the blogs to post entries about Interior’s actions.

Loy penned this taunt: “I’d love to see the department higher-ups try and explain the selection of banned sites — although I’m guessing this is probably the idiotic decision of some mid-level IT muckety-muck who thought (stupidly) that no one would notice, so I’m sure if the question is asked loudly enough, the policy will change.”

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The Online Curse Of Incumbency

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Bloggers of all political persuasions hate “the establishment.” If that wasn’t clear before last Tuesday’s primaries, it certainly is now. Voters in Connecticut, Georgia and Michigan handed electoral pink slips to three members of Congress, and blogs were a factor in all three upsets.

The Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut, where netroots hero Ned Lamont defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman 52 percent to 48 percent, generated the most attention. If blogs were published in newsprint instead of online, the Internet activists who fret about global warming would have consumed enough paper in writing about the Connecticut battle to destroy a rain forest.

But the role of blogs in defeating Lieberman went far beyond just ranting against him for his support of the Iraq war and other initiatives of President Bush. Bloggers were involved in the race from start to finish, as detailed by writer Ari Melber at The Huffington Post and the The Nation.

Lamont met with at least one key blogger (Matt Stoller of MyDD) early in his campaign, later hired another (Tim Tagaris) away from the Democratic National Committee, and used a third (Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake) as a volunteer production editor for his first video blog. Bloggers helped raise more than $300,000 for him online. They also followed his campaign across Connecticut and swarmed his headquarters on Election Night.

Before the votes were counted, some top bloggers tried to downplay their role in aiding Lamont. And when Hamsher embarrassed the campaign by painting Lieberman in blackface, Lamont unconvincingly claimed, “I don’t know anything about the blogs.” Now that Lamont has won, though, bloggers are beginning to boast of their newfound power within the Democratic structure.

“[B]logs are now vital parts of the party, displacing the lobbyist-lawyers-operatives whose organs were the New Republic and the Washington Post editorial page, and whose power flowed through their alliances with insular state machines and bigwig journalists,” Stoller wrote Wednesday.

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Trying To Trump The Competition

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Two years ago this fall, Raj Bhakta made a splash on the reality TV show “The Apprentice.” His wardrobe (bow ties) and antics (jogging in his boxers after losing a bet) helped make him the standout personality among 17 other candidates.

But in the end, Bhakta didn’t make the cut. Donald Trump fired him in the ninth episode, costing Bhakta the chance at a $250,000-a-year job with one of America’s most famous entrepreneurs.

Bhakta is in another competition this fall. He is trying to parlay his “Apprentice” fame and entrepreneurial experience into a lower-paying ($165,200) but higher-profile job as a congressman, and in his bid to unseat Democrat Allyson Schwartz in Pennsylvania’s 13th District, he is using the blogosphere to generate buzz and bucks.

The most obvious element of Bhakta’s effort is his campaign blog. “Team Raj” typically posts multiple entries a day, and the candidate himself makes an occasional appearance. On Friday, for instance, Bhakta penned a critical response to a speech about violent crime by Philadelphia Mayor John Street, whose city is in the 13th District.

The blog also includes a “donate” button in the shape of a bow tie. It takes visitors to a page that features the “Joe Biden 7/11 Challenge.” The fundraising gimmick calls attention to a wisecrack in early July from Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., about not being able to “go into a 7-Eleven or into a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”

Bhakta, who is of Indian ancestry, seized on the quote as an opening to invite donations of $7.11, $70.11 or $700.11. “I hope you’ll show the senator what a silly thing he said,” Bhakta said in an audio statement explaining the challenge. The challenge, which was promoted by some bloggers, yielded several thousand dollars, Bhakta said in a telephone interview.

That’s just one example of Bhakta’s outreach. The candidate granted an interview to The Real Ugly American that in turn generated links to Pennsylvania and national blogs. “We don’t have to beg [the media] for an interview,” a worker for Bhakta wrote. “This campaign and the blogs can communicate directly with the people.”

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The Master Of Eminent Domain

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

On June 22, the Pacific Legal Foundation entered the blogosphere. The launch of the group’s blog, PLF on Eminent Domain, was the perfect end to a year marked by keen public interest in a legal doctrine that guarantees governments the right to “take” private property for public use.

The year started June 23, 2005, when the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in Kelo v. New London. The case pitted the city of New London, Conn., against homeowner Susette Kelo and her neighbors. The city used the power of eminent domain to condemn and then buy their properties in order to redevelop them, and the Supreme Court concluded that the seizure was constitutional.

The decision triggered a wave of public outrage that manifested itself in opinion polls, media commentary, legal analysis, and online rants.

Kelo has been in the news again lately, as President Bush in June signed an executive order on eminent domain. Critics of the ruling also marked its anniversary with protests and continue to ponder their next steps to protect their private property. Blogs are part of that equation.

It took the Kelo decision to really get bloggers engaged on the issue. Eminent Domain Watch was created before then, but founder Alan Krigman said he never found either other blogs or conventional Web sites dedicated to eminent domain until Kelo.

“We started [in 2004] at the time that the Michigan Supreme Court reversed itself on the Poletown decision,” Krigman said. “It was my intuition that this would start the dominoes falling. Had Kelo not been heard by the [Supreme Court], I believe the Michigan reversal would have triggered at least some action.”

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Welcome To The Mainstream, Bloggers

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

When the history of the online media revolution is written, 2006 should merit special mention as a turning point for the blogosphere. This is the year, for better or for worse, when bloggers earned their first official media stripes.

Bloggers have considered themselves media almost since the beginning of their brief existence. They proudly claim the “citizen media” mantle and call their work by names like “grassroots journalism,” “participatory journalism” and “public journalism.” But self-proclamation doesn’t carry the same weight as official recognition — something bloggers have only just begun to win.

The first significant victory came in March, when the Federal Election Commission largely exempted blogs from campaign finance rules on the grounds that they are media. They applied to blogs the same exemption that governs newspapers, broadcasters and other traditional outlets.

The commission had hinted at such a decision in a November advisory opinion that said the costs incurred by one blog publisher “in covering or carrying news stories, commentary, or editorials on its Web sites are encompassed by the press exception.”

The later rules, which the agency approved unanimously, recognized “the Internet as a unique and evolving mode of mass communication and political speech that is distinct from other media in a manner that warrants a restrained regulatory approach.”

More recently, bloggers have scored wins in the state judicial and legislative branches, including a ruling for independent journalists who had been sued in California by Apple Computer.

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The Quest For Online Integrity

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Old Mr. Webster defines integrity as “the quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.” That seems simple enough. But in the bitterly partisan, shoot-from-the-hip realm that is the blogosphere, defining integrity is anything but simple.

Just ask Josh Trevino. He is the motivating force behind a blog called Online Integrity, which bills itself as “a nonpartisan, non-ideological commitment to basic decency.” The project generated both enthusiasm and endorsements for a few days in early May. But its call for bloggers to respect people’s privacy on the Internet quickly deteriorated into the kind of partisan, virtual shouting match that is endemic to the blogosphere.

Though more than 200 bloggers have signed the “statement of principles” at the site, the quest for a nonpartisan consensus about virtue among bloggers is all but dead. There have been no posts at Online Integrity or the related Yahoo group in weeks, and much of the commentary since the initial wave of praise has been critical. The project even spawned a satire blog.

“A very frustrating and informative exercise in coalition-building,” Trevino lamented of his efforts.

Trevino, a co-founder of RedState, had high expectations at the outset of the project. Having witnessed personal attacks against some of his blogger friends on the right and the outcry on the left over the decision by Michelle Malkin to post the contact information of anti-war protestors, Trevino thought the time was ripe for an ethical consensus.

Four bloggers, two each from the right’s RedState and Daily Kos on the left, supported Trevino’s plan for a “code of practice.” About a dozen other bloggers — more from the left than the right, Trevino said — were invited to help draft the understanding.

“With the exception of Oliver Willis, who sent a rather petulant e-mail charging us with covering for Michelle Malkin … and Georgia10 of [Daily Kos], who remained silent, all the invitees agreed to participate,” Trevino said.

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What’s A Conservative To Do?

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

At 10:49 a.m. on Saturday, May 13, Bruce Kesler of Democracy Project fired the rhetorical shot heard ’round the conservative blogosphere. Under the header “Conservative Battle Fatigue,” he diagnosed a trio of his favorite online writers as having the political equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Their open criticisms of President Bush and the GOP-led Congress, Kesler said, are symptoms of the ailment. They have been “worn down by defending difficult positions at the forefront of the battle against irredentist Democrats in Congress and their fifth column in the media.”

Kesler concluded with this hopeful yet pointed thought: “I wish them a speedy recovery, before more adversaries are allowed to breach the walls because of their petulance.”

All three bloggers — Stephen Bainbridge, Ed Morrissey and Mark Tapscott — rejected the diagnosis. And thus began a debate about what a true conservative is supposed to do when the “compassionate conservative” in the White House and the Republican revolutionaries in Congress lose their way on the path of rightward-ness.

Tapscott took the lead, noting that one of his goals “is to encourage a discussion in the blogosphere about whether the GOP deserves the continued support” of its base. An editorial he wrote for The Washington Examiner helped accomplish that goal by inciting Kesler to speak, and Tapscott then seized on the opportunity to continue the debate at his blog.

Over six days at Tapscott’s Copy Desk, he posted seven entries on conservative battle fatigue. Tapscott outlined a series of conservative-minded votes on immigration, federal spending and other issues that Congress could take to “nationalize” this year’s election and regain favor with its electoral base.

If they fail, he said, “conservatives then have an obligation to find or create a new party.” And they can do that by seizing the tools of the Internet. “What the Internet has done to the mainstream media … can and most likely will be done to all of the ‘Bigs’ of our society, including Big Government and the political parties that live by it,” Tapscott wrote.

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Anything But Neutral On ‘Net Neutrality’

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

The surest way to incite the collective hostility of bloggers is to seek limits on how they use their medium of choice: the Internet.

The Federal Election Commission learned that lesson last year when word spread of potential campaign regulations for blogs — an idea the agency largely abandoned as the result of a blog swarm. Now bloggers have major communications companies and their congressional allies in their sights over an obscure concept known as “network neutrality.”‘

The bloggers are stinging their targets relentlessly. They have lobbied members of Congress to support their cause; they have ridiculed and condemned those who don’t; and they have venomously derided one industry spokesman as a “mouthpiece for deception.”

“This is something bloggers care about because the free Internet is a key principle for the blogosphere,” said Matt Stoller of MyDD, who has written frequently about the issue in recent weeks.

Network neutrality is an important aspect of the ongoing debate over reforming telecommunications law for the first time in a decade. Most observers agree that changes are long overdue in an era when high-speed Web connections, Internet telephony, online video and other services have revolutionized communications.

But they disagree about whether the few firms that control most broadband pipes should have virtually free reign over those lines. Companies like AT&T want the right to charge more for certain high-speed services, but major technology companies like Amazon.com, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! are insisting on equal treatment, or network neutrality.

Hundreds of bloggers agree with the net neutrality crowd, and they quickly have become a significant presence in the debate.

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