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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


A fundamental misunderstanding

Fighting words

Can liberal bloggers be both partisan kingmakers and independent journalists? The blogstorm over the John Edwards campaign points to some tough lessons.

By Joan Walsh

Feb. 16, 2007 | I was on the convention floor in Boston the night Barack Obama unofficially became a candidate for president, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Up to that point, the Fleet Center was like a stale bag of popcorn, with uninspired party stalwarts going through the motions of nominating Sen. John Kerry, largely because he was a decorated Vietnam veteran and couldn't be smeared as a gutless pacifist (can you say Swiftboat Vets?). Then came Obama. You felt history being made as he described, and then began to heal, the nation's ugly red state, blue state divide. "We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states," the Illinois senate candidate told the crowd. "We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states." I got teary; so did others around me. I found myself imagining a convention where this son of a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother was the presidential nominee -- but in 2012 or 2016, not 2008.

Yet 2008 is the year Barack Obama is running, presenting me with a choice: Do I put aside reservations about his inexperience and vote that sense of history? Luckily, I have more than a year to decide. The Democrats have a strong roster of 2008 candidates; I like a lot of them; the choice will be tough. But in my heart I know this: If I had to go into a voting booth tomorrow and pick a Democrat, I'd very likely be moved by the memory of that electric moment in Boston, and vote Obama.

So imagine my surprise at finding a vocal cadre of Salon readers and some bloggers claiming a) Salon is crusading against Obama, because b) we support Sen. Hillary Clinton, when in fact we are doing neither. The evidence? Three controversial Obama pieces in the last month (one of them made more notorious by a headline snafu), plus a scoop last week about the John Edwards campaign firing and rehiring two feminist bloggers after they were targeted by Catholic bully Bill Donohue. (This week both bloggers quit.) The backlash to the Edwards scoop, even more than the outcry over our Obama stories, was puzzling but also enlightening. We weren't the only people who had solid information that Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan had been told they were leaving the Edwards campaign. But if any bloggers knew, they didn't report it. The bloggers closed ranks around the Edwards campaign, some even claiming that Salon had gotten the story wrong. There were suggestions, in Salon letter threads as well as in blogger-to-blogger whispers -- it was loud; we could hear you! -- that we'd peddled misinformation, or perhaps been peddled it, to help Hillary Clinton.

The controversies over our Edwards and Obama reporting gave me a new window onto the ever-changing terrain of politics, media and the Internet as we head into the 2008 campaign. The two different sets of concerns were nonetheless inspired by a common suspicion: Salon must be in the tank for one of the candidates -- in our case, the common supposition was Clinton -- because, it seems, almost everyone else on the Internet is, or wants to be!

Before the Marcotte-McEwan meltdown, liberal blogfathers Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and MyDD founder Jerome Armstrong came under scrutiny, even attack, for their work on behalf of Democratic candidates, especially former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. (Armstrong was on his payroll; Kos was merely friendly, but surprisingly friendly given Warner's centrism.) Then Warner announced he would forgo a 2008 run, as did netroots favorite Sen. Russ Feingold, leaving the field without an official candidate. When the blog-friendly Edwards campaign -- the candidate's wife Elizabeth has reportedly blogged on lefty sites under an assumed name -- hired Marcotte from Pandagon and McEwan from Shakespeare's Sister, it was hailed as a victory for the blogosphere. Thus preventing their firing, or denying it had ever happened, became crucial for building "the movement," as MyDD's Chris Bowers so often describes his blog colleagues' goal.

That isn't true. People wanted them to keep their jobs so they could eat. It's easy for established people to forget what the value of a good job is.

I don't think Salon is in the tank, but every paper gets this charge.

But Walsh thinks the power lies in the hands of a few bloggers and it doesn't. It isn't about what Bowers or Stoller say, or Kos does, but how people react to it.

Instead of the blogosphere joining the search for truth, we encountered a decision to close ranks. The bloggers had never been fired; Salon was wrong; everyone move along, there's nothing to see here; please return to your stations. It started to look as though protecting the Democrats, the Edwards campaign and the role of bloggers in the new political firmament -- or some combination of all three -- was much more important. Only Steve Gilliard at the News Blog defended Salon and confirmed he too knew the bloggers had been fired -- and only in a comments section on his blog. "Anyone who thinks they weren't fired are dead wrong," wrote Gilliard. "I spend much of my day communicating with other bloggers ... I had been told they were fired when the Salon piece ran. Then the negotiations began and a LOT of people held their fire ... I have multiple sources on this, but because of who they are, I won't name them." A few days later Gilliard would denounce Salon for our perceived vendetta against Obama, not entirely unreasonably, given the headline mess.

See, this is bullshit. I don't remember ANY posts on this, because people wanted them to keep their jobs. My readers started to call Salon liars and I knew that was untrue. If they feel that's a pat on the head, fine.

But this was NOT about protecting the Edwards campaign. In fact, the feeling was that the Edwards campaign was going to pay a heavy price for buckling under to an anti-semite like Donohue.

It was personal, intensely personal. Not some grand scheme to protect Edwards from his ineptitude. Something I have zero interest in doing.

Also, once Salon ran their first story, there was nothing more to write. It was known that these women were fired and then not fired, and many people felt that they had a right to keep their jobs.

Not everything has naked political motives. A lot of bloggers are struggling to pay their bills. There is an element of personal loyalty which says we don't try to make each other poorer. Especially, when they move a thousand miles away from their hometown.

But Walsh doesn't get something essential about blogging. A blog has one writer and thousands of active supporters. I can rant as much as I want, but whatever power I have comes from the people responding to my words. Withouth that, it doesn't matter what I say or do.

So while she's worried about people selling out, without supporters, it wouldn't matter. Bloggers are the pointmen and women for people who have their concerns, but not the time or ability to express themselves.

Anyone who thinks differently is delusional

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