Just Above Sunset
July 3, 2005 - "Time" Folds and No More Blogs?

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The business with Time magazine keeping its reporter out of jail, and avoiding big fines, by releasing his confidential sources, and the New York Times going the other way, isn't the only media story out there.  (Quick summary here.) 


Is it important that the press be able to gather inside information from people who don't want their names revealed?  Isn't what is said by the government or a large corporation good enough for us all?  Why do we think we have a right to know what's really going on, and have a free press?  Don't we trust our leaders?  You get the idea.  Yes, it is a bit more complicated than that.


But if you have some "whistle-blower" kind of information, or think you know something others should know, don't tell anyone from Time - as soon as they get a court request from those in power, to find out who is saying all these bad things, they'll give you up.  You're toast.  Keep to yourself - or tell Judy Miller from the New York Times when she gets out of jail.

This is big stuff.

Little stuff, however, is still important.

For example, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is proposing to bring blogs and other forms of Internet political advocacy under the umbrella of the federal campaign-finance and spending laws.  The agency held a hearing into the proposal Tuesday, June 28.

This all boils down to a simple issue.  Expressing a political opinion in a magazine is the stuff of having a free press - the Weekly Standard can cheer our current neoconservative empire builders and the Nation can rail against them.  No big deal.  Newspapers can write editorials advocating what they will.  Out here some newspapers even say Arnold Shwarzenegger is a joke as governor, a bumbling fool.  Really.  They all have what is called a "media exemption" from the federal campaign-finance and spending laws.  Expression opinion is not political campaigning.  Even Fox News has this exemption, although their preference as to who is elected to which office is always clear.  The press can rant in all directions.  It's what they do.

The Federal Election Commission is proposing that those of us who have daily political web logs (blogs), or weekly sites like
Just Above Sunset, do not merit this exemption.  What we write, whether or not we are paid for writing what we write by any campaign, is, under the proposed new rules, in fact, an "in kind" campaign contribution to the left or right, or whomever.  (Disclosure: no one pays the editor or anyone who writes for Just Above Sunset or its daily web log anything to say what is said, or for any reason.) 

This proposal is most curious.


The idea is that if something appears on these sites that suggests, for example, the current administration might be a bit wrong-headed in attempting X, Y or Z - then that should be reported as an "in kind" contribution to some group or other - the Democratic Party or Move-On or whomever - with all the bookkeeping that might involve.  And they would have to estimate its monetary value somehow – by the number of page hits? – and count that as a contribution.  If I say George Bush is a cool guy, the same applies.  The Republican Party or whomever would have to note that as an "in kind" contribution.

The general idea is that somehow we have to get campaign spending under control.

For a run-down of what was said at the hearings visit Tech News World for this, where Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of dailykos.com, asserts, "We have a democratic medium that allows anyone to have true freedom of the press. We have average citizens publishing their thoughts through research, through journalism, their activism and encouraging others to do the same."

Yeah, but does one get a "media exemption" to the FEC rules?  Moulitsas is working with a lawyer who volunteered to help bloggers fight new government regulations - and he says he is prepared to lobby Congress himself if necessary.  Note he is the treasurer of BlogPac, a political action committee formed last year by bloggers.  Yes, this web writer is a member.

What about the guys on the right?  Michael Krempasky, founder of redstate.org - which is just what you think it is - called bloggers "citizen journalists" and said that like traditional media, they should get an exemption from campaign finance regulation.  His question?  "What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh's multimillion-dollar talk radio program, but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience?"

Yes, Limbaugh has the "media exemption."

An editorial from one of the few outlets addressing the issue here


… The proposed rules exempt Internet communications from these laws - except for paid political advertising. That's a huge, unacceptable exception because the entire contexts of overtly political blogs could be classified as political ads.

Moreover, the commission would decide whether a given blog should be included in the "media exemption" in the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. That exemption protects the traditional media from campaign-finance contribution and expenditure rules.

The notion that a government agency should get to decide which forms of communication are media and which are ads runs counter to the spirit of American free speech. We have never liked McCain-Feingold for that reason. Americans who are willing to do the work of civic engagement can make these distinctions.

The First Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution in an era of partisan printers, revolutionary committees and correspondence, and pamphleteers - long before the conventions of modern journalism came about. The blogosphere is part of that proud tradition. Even minimal regulation would stifle its growth, which is why bloggers should seek relief in court if the commission follows through on regulation.


Yeah, whatever.  The commission really wants to decide who gets the exemption.

Whatever are we, who write commentary, going to do?

It seems we're going to do an end run.

We'll call ourselves magazines, not blogs!


See this from Talk Left, Thursday, June 30, 2005:


The Day the Bloggers Died

As of yesterday, blogs are dead.

Say hello to the Online Magazine Community. Others joining so far:

Crooks & Liars
Sadly, No!
Swing State Project
Law Dork
Dispassionate Liberalism
Chaos Digest
The Political Forecast

Talk Left is joining the community. We are now "the online magazine for liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news."


Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, was really put off when I started Just Above Sunset more than two years ago and kept referring to it as "an online magazine." In March of 2004 when I switched to a new hosting service and changed the masthead to Just Above Sunset Magazine he was more than wary.

Now it seems I was prescient.  I'm claiming a media exemption. 
Just Above Sunset is a magazine, really.  And the daily web log isn't called a blog anywhere - As Seen from Just Above Sunset in the masthead only says "Notes on how thing seem to me from out here in Hollywood" - although to be safe I could change that to "A Daily Magazine from Hollywood."  Hey, Time and Newsweek are online.  Daily newspapers have online editions.  Works for me.

But I don’t think that's going to wash with the Federal Election Commission.

I just wish someone on the left would pay me.

No, I don't.  This is just fine.

And if some leftie organization has to count what I write as a campaign contribution, that's their problem, not mine.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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