Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Bloggers, press expose lying Hill staffer

Posted by Richard Koman - October 2, 2006

Until last week, Mike Caulfield toiled on his Democratic blog, NH-02, in relative anonymity. He is part of a movement in political blogging - superlocal blogs that focus on incumbent Republicans - and he worked hard to expose the positions of incumbent New Hampshire Republican Rep. Charlie Bass.

Then RollCall exposed the fact that Bass' No. 2 staffer, Tad Furtado, had been posting on NH-02 and another Democratic blog, BlueGranite, pretending to be a supporter of Bass' challenger Paul Hodes who saw the virtues of Bass's positions. For instance, writing as IndieNH, Furtado wrote in response to Caulfield's post on Bass's position on stem cell research:

I hate to look like I am pimping for Bass (this is the 2nd post on this and related sites that I've done this), but I want Hodes and my party to hit Bass where it will hurt.

Stem cells ain't it. To his credit, Bass was a key supporter of the bill and was part of a small handful of D & R members who made it happen.

When it all came out, Furtado was gone - a powerful political staffer brought down by bloggers. At a press conference a week ago, Bass told how it went down: "He came right out and said to me, 'I'm sorry. I'll do whatever you say I should do.' Although this is a rather severe way of resolving the problem, in my mind it's the only way to do it."

But that was last week's story. I offer Caulfield's inside version of events below, but what I'm really interested in is why Furtado thought this was a useful thing to do and how blogs and traditional media worked together - even at arm's length - to expose the story.

"There's this gap in political coverage between what the Republicans are doing and what your congressman is doing," Caulfield says. "The way blogs work, you have this wonderful style where you can say in three paragraphs, 'This is what Charlie has done and just link to the source documents.' You won't find that anywhere else because the press focuses on national issues."

"We spend three hours going through source documents and writing blog entries with links to sources. It's a package that's ready made for a reporter or an interested citizen."

Because newspaper articles go behind a pay-wall after seven days, blogs tend to rise to the top of Google searches. So, blogs are not only loaded with links to valuable source documents, they are easy to find.

"Tonight I will see searches for 'bass and torture' and people will hit a post I did a month ago. He votes on that bill and they see this. If they search on 'bass and gitmo, my site will among the top hits, and they will see when he went to Gitmo in 2003 his one quote was, 'I think gitmo is being run well.'

"So why was this guy commenting on my site? It's about connecting the dots and preserving history. His comment makes its look like even an ardent Democrat is not so sure about this story. 'I'm a real big supporter of Hodes but ...' He's trying to angle the story so it doesn't get pushed into the mainstream media or if it does he's able to tweak the angle."

Caulfield may never have thousands of readers, but he's not reaching for thousands, just a core audience of activists, campaign volunteers - and reporters. "We spend three hours going through source documents and writing blog entries with links to sources. Its a package that ready-made for a reporter or interested citizen. It only takes that one perfectly packaged the story hit by one reporter at the right time. When the conditions are right, it doesn't have to be 20 reporters, sometimes its one reporter who sees one thing and asks one right question. His (Furtado's) worry is in the wrong circumstance, that reporter might hit me once.

Ultimately, the distinction between journalists and bloggers is ephemeral. They are both part of a reporting continuum. Reporters are certainly learning to use blogs and bloggers may eventually find that they can connect with the media, too.

"People are working hard, doing research. This is real reporting. If journalism is the first draft of history, blogs are the outline, the notebooks of history."


Here's the blow by blow:

"I'd been up maybe 14 days and someone comes on as IndyNH and made a post I thought was strange. I had written about a press conference where Bass was explaining that a stem cell research bill would actually be good for Republicans."

Here's IndieNH's comment:

I hate to look like I am pimping for Bass (this is the 2nd post on this and related sites that I've done this), but I want Hodes and my party to hit Bass where it will hurt.

Stem cells ain't it. To his credit, Bass was a key supporter of the bill and was part of a small handful of D & R members who made it happen.

I think the poll and press event this blog aims at was designed by the patient advocacy groups (i.e. cancer, aids, etc.) to convince other GOP members of Congress. So it was very helpful that Bass the others assured them that the base was so split. I assume Bass' support is bassed on the science and his own views regarding stem cells, but in this case he was pitching to other members who might have their fingers in the wind.

So comeone everyone, let's find the silver bullet on Bass and not play to his dance card, OK?

"Two days later, I wrote something on minimum wage - Bass hadn't approved the increase. Another comment:

'I just checked on the vote record from this week (July 29) and Bass voted to increase the minimum wage to $7.25. Looks like our voices had an impact.'

"That was odd, that someone would be so sophisticated to look up congressional logs, so so naive to not realize what has behind that vote."

The first time Caulfield checked IndieNH's IP address, it showed him as coming from New Jersey. When he checked it again, it came up as a House address. "I pasted it into Google and it came back housegate-10 - a proxy server that a large amount of house traffic flows through.

"I couldn't see anything more but googling him on the web, he only made pro-Bass statements. He kept coming back from the House at regular intervals. There was something systematic in the way he was hitting the blogs. He was also commenting at BlueGranite and it was also coming up House for her. Some guy was doing this systematically."

As for another site - Yankee Doodler - Furtado was visiting regularly but never left a comment. "To this day he wonders why he was left out."

"We didn't know who it was, but we had logged a dozen messages from this person, they were all pro-Bass. We didn't have any evidence but just recently a staffer for NJ Gov. Tom Kean had done the same thing to a blog called BlueJersey.

"We didn't know exactly who this was but any reasonable person would conclude it's someone in Bass' office. We put it on DailyKos as an individual diary. The next day it was posted on the front page of the DailyKos. Someone connected to the Hodes campaign (Bass's Democratic challenger) called RollCall. They called Bass' office, which has already been alerted, and they admitted it was true."

Story link | Subscribe free | Categories:




ForemskiInnovator.jpg

The Holmes Report names Tom Foremski one of the top 25 Innovators of 2013.




-->