Earlier, I discussed a potential ethical dilemma I — and other bloggers — are likely to face as the presidential campaign heats up. The problem is that certain traditions have been established between political campaigns and journalists, ones that govern how they interact. These traditions have been worked out between the two camps, and have served both fairly well for some time.
The problem is, the campaigns are playing by those same rules with bloggers, and we aren’t journalists.
In the earlier piece, I mentioned how one person affiliated with a campaign had sent me some stuff (which, I admit, I found exceedingly dull — “here are some polls that show our candidate doing great, and this other one tanking!”) preceded by “Not For Attribution.” I declined the “tip,” but that was in large part swayed by the fact that it was the sort of info I don’t give a rat’s ass about. I don’t cite polls, I don’t like polls, I don’t care about polls.
But what would I do if I got a tip that was really, really juicy, but saddled with the same conditions?
“Hey, Jay, Rudy Guiliani here. Here’s a video of Dennis Kucinich running down baby seals in an SUV. Just don’t tell anyone where you got it.”
My instinct in that case would be to toss up the video, with a note saying that Rudy Guiliani wants you to see this — but doesn’t want anyone to know he was the source.
On the other hand…
“Jay, this is Barack Obama. I have this video clip that you would love to post, but you can’t let it out that I gave it to you.”
“I can’t do that without some more info. I promise I won’t repeat it, but can you tell me what it’s about and why you don’t want your name attached to it?”
“It’s from a ‘Girls Gone Wild’ video. It shows Mitt Romney with a cigar and a rum and coke, wearing a ‘Che’ T-Shirt, while a bunch of girls flash the camera.”
“Yeah, I’d definitely want to see that video — and post it. But why don’t you want anyone to know you supplied the video?”
“Because I was there, too, and my wife would kill me if she found out.”
In that case, I’d most likely keep Obama’s name out of it, and run like hell with the video.
The difference, I think, is that in the first example, I was not given the chance to accept or refuse the conditions before I was given the tip. The tipster gave me the info, then attempted to retroactively put strings on it — and I don’t play by those rules.
It’s similar to the laws that banned “negative option” marketing. “Here’s a widget. If you like it, we’ll bill you later and send you another widget each month. If you don’t like it, send it back.” Um, no. Thanks for the widget, but I never asked for it, so I’m sure as hell not going to pay for it. Send me any more, and I’ll keep them, toss them, or refuse them — but there’s no way I’m going to pay for stuff I never asked for and never agreed to pay for.
It’s also why I loathe the CAN-SPAM act. It’s negative option marketing — “Here’s our ad. We’ll keep sending you these ads until you tell us to stop. Hope we don’t overflow your e-mail box in the meantime.”
So here’s my clear rule: you want to send me tips, be my guest. But unless I agree beforehand to any conditions, you can expect that I will ignore it, use it, fisk it (I’m most proud of my fisking of Michael Moore), or attribute it however the hell I feel like at the time. Once it enters my mailbox, it is my property and you have given up all rights to control it.
If you don’t like those conditions, feel free to shop your tips to someone else. There are a zillion other bloggers out there. Hell, there are easily a dozen or so just within the Wizbang network.
I know it isn’t some grandiose statement of principles, but it meets the most important condition: I can live with it.