Oh dear. It seems our little pal Lance Dutson – you remember Lance, he’s the fellow who called us a “foul-mouthed femblog” – is having a bit of a blogger ethics problem. Now we know that Ms. Collins has managed to have her Senate Chief of Staff also fit in a lot of campaign work after hours, but it seems that her Internet Director still has not realized that he can’t pretend to independent blogger status when he’s actually doing campaign oppo work. But let’s let Carl Lindemann of TrueDialog.org explain:
What’s wrong with putting in an extra effort at your own place to help out a new, lucrative client? If your place happens to be a Web site and the client is a political campaign, it can raise important ethical concerns.
The case in point is how noted Maine “blogger” Lance Dutson has traded his independence to become a paid partisan in the Collins-Allen Senate race. Dutson has been regularly presented as a standard-setting example of “citizen journalism.”
Unfortunately, visitors to Lance Dutson’s Maine Web Report today might easily miss the fact that he has crossed over from providing independent “reports” to being a party to a story that has become the focus of his “reporting.” He holds the title of director of Internet operations for the Collins campaign. According to the Federal Elections Commission, Dutson’s consulting firm, Maine Coast Design, received a payment of $25,962 for “Website design” on June 25. This was the single largest expenditure reported in the Collins for Senator committee’s July 15 quarterly report.
How did this influence Dutson’s blogging interests? In June, he made eight postings to his site. Other than announcing his new role on June 1, he makes no mention of the Senate race. That changed after the campaign’s check cleared at the end of the month. Nine of the 10 entries in July focused on matters directly related to the campaign.
Of course, Dutson does not surrender his First Amendment rights by joining a political campaign. What’s problematic is the lack of any clear disclaimer on his site revealing his change in status. His site was known for providing an independent perspective. When he began writing about the Senate campaign in July, the notice that he had become a partisan in the race was already buried in his site’s archives.
Can the director of Internet operations for the Collins’ campaign honestly claim that his commentary on the Collins-Allen race is “independent” of the Collins re-election effort? If he makes vile or vicious comments about Allen and his allies, shouldn’t his patron be concerned? What about when he engages in name-calling, as he did recently referring to one blog with a national reputation as a “hate-site” or another as a “foul-mouthed fem-blog”? Does this reflect the “moderate” values that Collins seeks to promote, or does it stoke the flames of partisan polarization she claims to oppose?
To suggest that campaign operatives can break ranks with the official stance without it reflecting on the candidate is an invitation to abuse. It opens the door to smear campaigns where staffers are free to assail and insult opponents. If anyone takes issue with this conduct, the candidate can deny responsibility. It encourages candidates to amp up the dirty tactics — just offload them to “personal” Web sites where there is no accountability.
Lindemann finishes his OpEd in the Bangor Daily News with the following:
Dutson is a political novice and an amateur reporter. Perhaps he does not understand what it means for him to cross over from “citizen journalist” to campaign operative. Sen. Collins knows better and needs to take responsibility here.
Hear! Hear! That’s what we call real blogger ethics!