The dangers of blogging at work

An anonymous blog is filling a void for some Capitol Hill staffers who want to vent their frustrations about where they work.

Touchy feely it is not. The online journal Blah Blah Blahg, at www.blah-blahg.blogspot.com, has echoes of Jessica Cutler. She’s the brunette staffer whose raunchy sex blog got her fired in the summer of 2003 from the office of Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). Recklessly, she posted from her office computer address and discussed her romps with Capitol Hill aides, both single and married. Although there is little sex talk on this latest blog, the language is raw and the complaints about coworkers and lawmakers are vicious.

Some staffers relate to the rants and all the complaining about office hierarchy. Others say it bears little resemblance to their congressional office experience.

The blog began in mid-March, but its creator, who will only say that he or she works in politics and is new to Washington, is anonymous. Go figure — he says he wants to keep his job.

“I’m not trying to be coy or create any artificial hype,” the blogster writes in the first posting. “I would just rather, for my job’s sake, stay anonymous.”

As blogs are becoming a significant presence in some congressional offices, with press secretaries checking search engines such as Feedster and Bloogz daily for hits on their bosses, it’s a wonder why more offices are not addressing the issue with some degree of formality. Last summer, information posted on a Washington, D.C., blog, blogactive.com, lead to the resignation of former Rep. Ed Schrock (R-Va.). The site suggested that the lawmaker was gay. Shortly thereafter, Schrock, a retired U.S. Navy captain who is married and has one son, resigned.

Most congressional offices do not have official rules regarding personal e-mail and blogging, as members and senior staff trust aides to act professionally. “We don’t have an official policy,” said Heather Davis, press secretary for Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.). The chief of staff thinks we’re mature enough to handle day-to-day operations.

One office not commenting on the subject is DeWine’s, which was the epicenter of scandal in the summer of 2003 when Cutler created her scandalous confessional and Capitol Hill was reeling over her X-rated romances.

Amanda Flagg, DeWine’s spokeswoman, who was working for the senator during the Cutler ordeal, said she needed to go away and check the office policy on blogging, and came back to say, “The office policy is that I can’t release office policy information.”

Thanks.

Some members have spelled out such guidelines and have taken the leap of sharing them with The Hill. “As for our office, we do not allow posting or running a personal blog on office time and computers,” said Thomas Bean, spokesman for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). “These are time and resources paid by the taxpayers.”

In a recent entry to the Blah Blah blog, one anonymous GOP staffer aired his or her grievances in a lengthy diatribe. “Working on the Hill sucks. … It sucks for everyone except for members, chiefs of staff and morons (more on this later).

“If you are stupid enough to want to work on the Hill, don’t think you can just jump in and start making legislation; there is an order to how things work. The interns are on the bottom. Let’s not even talk about them. They eat s- - - and smile. Then there are the staff assistants. They come in two varieties: Prozac cheery and one step from the razor in the wrist.”

The aide goes on to demoralize schedulers (“the stupidest person in the office”), legislative assistants (the so-called “Holy Grail” of the office) and legislative correspondents (those who write bulls- - - letters). One Republican aide who looked at the site was turned off by what he read. “Well, I didn’t think my job was that bad, but now I am depressed,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The aide said he believes the site is full of “extreme cases” of disenchanted staffers but agreed that there are elements of truth to what the angered blogger writes. “Yes, the pay sucks,” he said. “That is no surprise. There is a reason that most of the employees in congressional offices are under 30.”

He surmises: “If these people are that miserable, then they need to leave their jobs.”

Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) office handbook does not specifically use the word “blogging,” said his spokesman, Jason Kello, but an aide can get fired for inappropriate blogging.
“We have a very strict policy,” Kello said. “We specifically address examples of sensitive or confidential information that we deem as important to being kept in the office, and that includes the professional and personal lives of all office employees. Violations of this can result in discipline up to and including immediate termination, and that would include broadcasting over a Web log.”

Many aides under 30 increasingly look to blogs rather than to more traditional media outlets for news and analysis. A month ago, one Democratic staffer was called “old school” by younger aides in the office for reading print copies of The Washington Post and The New York Times rather than reading them online.

The aide said he rarely looks at blogs because of their lack of objectivity, finding them a “dumping ground for personal grievances.”

Nonetheless, he said, the postings on the Blah Blah blog are “somewhat reflective of life on the Hill. Working in some of these offices can be very difficult, especially for younger staffers who did high-profile internships or high-achiever just-out-of-college types who’ve never held a real job.”

Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-Colo.) office has a unique policy regarding blogs — the congressman is all for them and runs one off his website.

“It’s the thing right now,” said Tancredo spokesman Carlos Espinosa. “He actually writes stuff on it, anonymously of course, so no one knows what the hell he’s saying.”

Tancredo’s mission is to get an idea of what people are thinking and feeling both in and out of his congressional district. There is only one condition: it must be relatively tasteful, meaning no vulgarity. “There’s a few who call Tom an idiot,” said Espinosa. “We’re OK with that.”

So Tancredo’s rules regarding blogging is that there are no rules. As long as Tancredo staffers aren’t wasting a lot of personal time, if they are gathering information and learning something from it, it’s fine.

And if a staffer wants to vent about Hill life?

“If it’s on their own time, hey, we all need to release that kind of tension,” Espinosa said.