The YouTube Slime

Many people have heard about or seen snippets of the YouTube hit piece portraying Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as the Orwellian Big Brother figure. They know about it not necessarily because they've pointed their browsers to YouTube to view it — and not because it is accurate, fair, or prepared by someone who was prepared to stand behind it with his or her real name.

They know about it because the mainstream media have published articles about it, including significant headlines and photos from the posting, and because TV media have broadcast and re-broadcast and re-re-broadcast it free as "news."

Was it news? Was it worth legitimizing by republishing it? Would the Washington Post or MSNBC republish an article from the National Enquirer that includes a photo of Hllary Clinton conferring with a Martian?

Howard Kurtz, one of the nation's most astute media commentators, wrote a relatively long article for the Washington Post recently about the outing of the anonymous author of the piece. The article included a huge "Big Brother" photo of Sen. Clinton from the YouTube clip.

Kurtz reported that the author, who used a pseudonym to mask his true identity, was outed by the Huffington Post and was forced to own up to authoring the piece.

Kurtz also reported that the author had been fired by a website consultant company, Blue State Digital, retained by the Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) campaign. Good for them, and good for Sen. Obama's campaign for approving that decision.

But this was not the first time this individual had utilized anonymous hit pieces on the Internmet against a political opponent in a campaign. He reportedly had previously used anonymous postings on behalf of one of Ohio Rep. (and now-Sen.) Sherrod Brown's opponents in the Democratic primary.

Having a great deal of respect for Sen. Obama (although I am a strong supporter and fundraiser for Sen. Clinton), I hope his campaign can answer all remaining questions about this incident — such as whether Blue State or the campaign knew that this individual had used similar anonymous attack postings before and whether anyone in the campaign knew the identity of this person before the Huffington Post sleuthers completed their sleuthing.

The fact is, too often anonymous posters or commenters on websites or the blogosphere engage in character assassination as a substitute for rational political discourse. And too often they are given legitimacy by re-publication in the mainstream media. Legitimate newspapers and TV news programs quote their attacks and innuendo, and some even call them for political comments in news stories on the presidential campaign. Why?

They are not legitimate journalists.

They don't usually care about the facts.

And there is little evidence that their techniques are supported even by the liberal and anti-war activists in the Democratic Party they claim to represent.

One imagines many of the more extreme of them sitting in pajamas in the middle of the night, pecking away at the computer, alone and frustrated with nothing better to do, but secure (at least until Ariana Huffington starts digging) that they won't be held accountable for their rantings because they invent names to hide behind. And they hope that the mainstream media will rebroadcast and re-publish their comments — what George Will recently quoted one of the bloggers describing as their "electronic primal scream" — unedited.

Indeed, it is now becoming a pattern that the more extreme the posting, the more the free publicity — especially, it seems, if the tantrums are about the hated Hillary Clinton.

So back to the main question: Why are these extreme bloggers and YouTube attack authors treated seriously by so many serious journalists?

Some might say some journalists think going to the blogosphere for a quote is a substitute for hitting the streets and the campaign trail to interview real people, most of whom have probably never looked for factual information on YouTube or the blogosphere.

Another reason, many journalists would say, is because of the apparently large number of hits to the posting in question — which apparently legitimizes including it in reporting or even writing a separate story on it, as Howie Kurtz did. The number 2 million was repeated over and over as the number of hits to he YouTube Hillary piece.

But the journalists mentioning this number cannot know who constitutes this 2 million. Are they 2 million different people? Are they Hillary haters? Are they Hillary supporters only curious to view the piece?

Maybe there should be a new website — something like the airlines' "Watch List" and perhaps named the "Character Assassin Political Watch List" — on which the bloggers who deal in these sorts of character attacks would be fully outed and identified.

Which leads me to another question and a topic for another day:

Does Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a man whom I deeply admire and respect, have on his payroll the man who created, in my opinion, one of the dirtiest TV ads since the Willie Horton spot — the "Call me, Harold" (Ford) ad in the 2006 Tennessee Senate race?

If so, why?

I would nominate the writer and producer of that ad to be on this new "Character Assassin Political Watch List" — actually achieving the No. 1 spot, just above the producer of the Hillary YouTube hit piece.