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February 1, 2005

The Deeper Payola of Personal Interest

When it comes to corruption, the focus is always money, and I have to wonder whether the obsession over direct cash payments doesn't distract from a larger complication in sorting through information to find the trustworthy. Consider a question that John Hawkins posed in a blog symposium:

John Hawkins: If we're talking about 2008 and a candidate with the resources to do it, I would buy blogs every month for 6 months leading up to the primaries, ask several bloggers to consult (no pay) mainly to stroke their egos, do some interviews. It's easy to stroke egos in the blogosphere and get a buzz going. Then next thing you know, all the bloggers are talking about candidate X and people pick up on it. It's a pretty good way to create a huge buzz around a candidate and make sure you get good press (even if they won't admit that's part of the reason they're doing it).

Karol Sheinin: I do invite bloggers to events..

La Shawn Barber: Would I take money from a political candidate to blog? Thinking...

Karol Sheinin: Hugh, you write in 'Blog' that everyone should have a blog. Wouldn't a lot of people then have conflicts of interest?

Hugh Hewitt: Yes, but the only conflicts I worry about are the bought-and-paid for variety. As a center-right Evangelical, pretty much everyone knows where I am going to come from. There is no hidden agenda, just an agenda. It is the hidden agenda that worries me.

Again, we focus on the money. So and so was given such and such a gift at such and such a value, but perhaps we underestimate the value of the giving. Everything from cash to advertising revenue to links to simple emails can "stroke the egos" of just about anybody. Pursuit of the favorable impression pervades politics, media, and business, requiring readers/voters to find ways to judge intentions on alternate bases whether money has changed hands or not.

I'm certainly naïve of the mindset of those who have enough money that it ceases to be something useful and becomes a form of compliment. Perhaps, though, it would assist us in understanding influence if we consider it in terms of that naïveté, rather than the jaded terms of the wealthy. As Hewitt suggests with his "just an agenda" comment, and as I've suggested in the case of Maggie Gallagher, there are more relevant kinds of evidence of sincerity — such as consistency. Seeing money as uniquely corrupting pulls our attention toward a shiny bauble for which many of the players about whom we should truly be concerned have no real interest.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 1, 2005 1:12 AM
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