Scalping and the right wing blogs
What Bob didn't seem to realize is that the right-wing blogosphere was going to try to get Edwards' bloggers fired no matter what. Unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action. They call it "scalping" -- they pick a target and harass that person and his or her employer until the person either jumps or is pushed out of the public eye. Whoever blogged for Edwards was signing up for a lot of bad hair days, and it wasn't going to be me.
Andrew Sullivan insists that he's never the word "scalping" to describe this practice. Whatever. (Below the fold I've got a few examples of Marcotte and McEwan's enemies using the term "scalping" to describe the campaign against them.)
Ross Douhat writes that he, too, "must have missed the memo" regarding the terminology. However, his interpretation the passage about right wing scalpers in my essay is exactly right:
But re-reading Beyerstein, it's possible that her "unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action" line wasn't meant to suggest that left-wingers don't scalp, but that they do other things as well, whereas right-wingers don't. This is an overgeneralization, obviously, but it gets a lot closer to an interesting truth about the blogosphere, which is that the lefty blogs have become way better at doing political things - raising money, raising issues, and influencing elections at the grass/netroots level - than most of the right-wing blogs.
The right wing blogosphere approaches political activism as a sequence of take-downs. They measure their success by the number of people they get fired.
I knew the right wing blogs were going to see the Edwards blog as a target-rich environment, no matter who the blogger was. It didn't help that Amanda had long-running feuds a lot of influential right wing bloggers.
It's funny that the right wing blogosphere didn't notice Amanda's alleged anti-Catholicism until the Catholic League offered to get their cause celebre on television. Over the years, Amanda has been attacked for any number of things, but her atheism and religious imagery were never that a big deal in blogworld. The right wing's beefs with Amanda were about sex, gender, and family law. None of the right wing bloggers cared about her religious beliefs one way or the other. Yet, suddenly when the Grown Up Right Wing Noise Machine wanted to make this fight about anti-Catholic bigotry, the right wing blogs fell right in line.
Ann Althouse says the left takes scalps, too. Maybe, but I can't think of many examples off-hand.
Not every public outcry is an example of scalping, even if someone ends up losing their job. When Ben Domenech got fired from the Washington Post it was for plagiarism, not for political speech. Jayson Blair got fired for making things up, Domenech got fired for stealing other people's work.
The most clear-cut examples of scalp-taking are coordinated attempts to silence someone by threatening their livelihood--like what the anti-gay zealots are trying to do to Amanda's co-blogger Pam Spauling.
Uproars over campaign hires are slightly different simply because all campaign operatives more or less forgo the distinction between public and private life. Part of the reason our current politics is so insipid is because every staffer's entire biography is considered a potential reflection on the campaign. It's fair to ask whether Amanda was the best person to do outreach for a campaign that needs to appeal to an electorate that's much more conservative than she is.
However, right wing blogosphere made a calculated decision to bring Amanda down. They obviously weren't squawking because they thought Amanda's hiring was a bad strategic decision for Edwards. They wanted to get Amanda fired for their own political reasons--partly to get even with a blogger who has been a thorn in their sides for years, partly to embarrass Edwards, and partly to counter the growing influence of the left wing blogosphere in mainstream politics.
The scalp-taking metaphor is apt. Not only do right wing blogs swarm to get people fired, they cherish trophy as a symbol of their collective power and a warning to their enemies. That's the really insidious part of scalping as a political strategy. It's all about intimidation: Piss us off, and we'll get you fired. Look what happened to Eason Jordan. He criticized the U.S. military and suddenly found himself out of a job because the right wing blogs didn't want to hear what he had to say. A lot of other journalists probably thought twice about criticizing the war or the military in light of what happened to Jordan.
I've heard Gannon/Guckert expose incorrectly cited as a left-wing scalp job. That wasn't a scalping. John Aravosis and other bloggers exposed a mole in the White House press corps. The mole lost his job when it was revealed that he was there illicitly.
So far, scalping isn't a big problem in the lefty blogosphere. It doesn't happen very often, and I'm grateful for that. However, I am seeing more and more lefty bloggers and commenters grumbling about how the left should start "fighting back" against disruptive and malicious right wing bloggers by alerting their bosses to their online activities.
Trying to shut people up by threatening their livelihood is despicable. Furthermore, if we further entrench the precedent that your private political speech can get you fired, the left will suffer much more than the right. The right wing is smart enough to fund infrastructure for its bomb throwers. There are lots of grants and think tank jobs and consultancies for good Republican surrogates. Most high-profile lefty bloggers are still trying to make a living in the free market.
Here are just a few examples of the term "scalp" being used by participants in the campaign against Amanda and Melissa:
But I cannot leave this subject without examining the role of those of us on the right who flogged this story into the mainstream media and may have cost Marcotte her job. Certainly our motives lacked nobility. I will be the last to argue that anything more than “scalp hunting” animated this effort. And the questions I raised in the quote at the top of this page remains valid: Is this all we are? Is this what we have become?
The Right Wing News approvingly calls Amanda's departure under the onslaught of right wing harassment a payback scalp:
Even now, there are liberal bloggers and MSM outlets leveling vile smears at Patrick Hynes for no other reason than because he's a conservative blogger working for McCain and they want a payback scalp. So, what Marcotte and McEwan got hammered with was only a small fraction of what conservatives are hit with all the time.