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Institutional Blogging

A weird incident over the weekend demonstrates the potential problems of institutional blogging. Matt Yglesias wrote a rather innocuous, inside-baseball post arguing that, although it’s “a neat organization,” Third Way is “incrementalist” (not to mention excrementalist) and is really “messaging and political tactics outfit” rather than a think tank.  Out of nowhere, the blog was commandeered Sunday night by Jennifer Palmieri, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, for a special note saying Matty doesn’t always represent CAP and that CAP thinks Third Way is super duper.

Not at all surprisingly, the first post got a handful of comments, most having little to do with the topic at hand, whilst the second got a storm of angry responses.  Julian Sanchez is “impressed” because “In something like six years of blogging, this may be the most spectacular act of institutional tone deafness I’ve seen.”  Indeed.

CAP employs Matt to write a blog for them and, contrary to the views of some commenters, it’s absurd to expect that they should simply let him post whatever he feels like posting.  Institutions start blogs with the purpose of advancing their institutional agenda.  Writing for CAP is different from writing for a general interest magazine or on one’s own space, both of which Matt did previously.

At the same time, Palmieri’s handling of this was hamhanded.    She should simply have taken Matt aside after his post and let him know he’d crossed a line.   Like any other institution, CAP has some toes that it can’t afford to step on. They just need to tell their writers where the boundaries are and they can then decide whether they can live with those restrictions.

Brendan Nyhan is worried:

There’s no way that this sort of reaction won’t create a chilling effect on Yglesias. How could he not think twice about criticizing Third Way or other CAP partners in the future? It’s the reason we need smart bloggers like him at independent outlets like The Atlantic that won’t enforce a party line.

But maybe Matt wants to be more than a pundit?  Working at CAP allows him to be at the periphery of shaping policy in a way that’s much harder than at even a prestige venue like The Atlantic.  But straddling that fence imposes constraints that don’t exist on a personal blog.   One presumes, for example, that we’re not going to see any “John Podesta is really screwing the pooch on Obama’s transition team” posts.  [UPDATE:  Dan Drezner makes the same point in a different way:  "Way too many bloggers are giving Yglesias a pass on this.  He is the one who chose to move from the Atlantic to CAP, and he did so because he wanted to advance a political agenda rather than continue to be an observer on the sidelines."]

If he’s forced to toe the CAP party line on issues, regardless of what he believes, that’s problematic.  But  I’ve been reading Matt’s work since he was an undergraduate at Harvard.  His style’s evolved over the years as he’s matured as both a writer and a person but I haven’t noticed any significant shift in his analysis from his various moves.

UPDATE:  After half a day of ignoring the problem while his commenters turned every thread into a tyrade on the Third Way putsch, Matt strikes back with “Third Way’s First 100 Days: Retirement Security Edition,” wherein he asserts that “Third Way’s First 100 Days agenda strikes me as pretty weak tea” and proceeds to explain why. We’ll see if his tongue-in-cheek disclaimer will suffice to keep the Third Way hounds at bay. Thus far, the appetite of the commenters for vengeance has not been slaked.

UPDATEJeffrey Goldberg is a real smartass.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. [...] Namely, she doesn’t understand the independence and libertarian nature of blogging. [...]

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    it’s absurd to expect that they should simply let him post whatever he feels like posting

    ?

    I don’t know whether it’s absurd or not. That depends entirely on what MY’s agreement with CAP was when he came on board. I’m in no position to decide what CAP sees as in its interests or against them.

    However, I do think it’s absurd to edit after the fact. Either he should be edited or not, if edited his work should be edited beforehand rather than with disclaimers afterwards, and that policy should be the same for all of CAP’s writers.

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  3. r�nato says:

    my inner cliche nazi wants to send you to Bergen-Belsen for writing, ‘tow the line’ when it is supposed to be, ‘toe the line’.

    As in, when you are lining up for formation in the Army, your toes are supposed to line up on the line.

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  4. Bithead says:

    LOL….

    I have my problems with Yglesias, but this example gives us a rather nasty illustrattion of what happens when less than lockstep leftism is employed.

    If he’s forced to tow the CAP party line on issues, regardless of what he believes, that’s problematic.

    Well, clearly what happened here is two things. First, CAP needed the prestige of a first circle blogger writing for them.

    Secondly, as seems typical for the left, it was beyond their wildest imagination that someone of the first circle would not be in lockstep with them. The objection, apparently, it that (Amazingly) Yglesias came a bit close to the truth for their comfort.

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  5. but this example gives us a rather nasty illustrattion of what happens when less than lockstep leftism is employed.

    This doesn’t strike me as an ideological situation, but rather one clearly, as James notes in the post, about the type of organization MY is working for:

    Institutions start blogs with the purpose of advancing their institutional agenda. Writing for CAP is different from writing for a general interest magazine or on one’s own space, both of which Matt did previously.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    That depends entirely on what MY’s agreement with CAP was when he came on board. [...] Either he should be edited or not, if edited his work should be edited beforehand rather than with disclaimers afterwards, and that policy should be the same for all of CAP’s writers.

    We agree.

    It would be unusual for an ideologically driven organization like CAP to pay someone to simply write whatever they feel like. Presumably, they pre-screened Matt’s writings and felt that he was generally in line with them and Matt did the same before hiring on.

    At New Atlanticist, I set an editorial policy from the outset that said that people writing under their own byline speak only for themselves and that if we intended to write as an institution we’d do so as “The Editors” to make that clear. I’m free to say what’s on my mind.

    At the same time, however, I’m cognizant that I’m a senior staffer at an institution and not just spouting off on a blog. So, I’ve got slightly different internal checks there than I do here. For that matter, the fact that I post under my real name makes me a different blogger than I’d be were I anonymous.

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  7. r�nato says:

    (btw, I enjoyed with and agreed with your post, which was why I failed to comment on its content, and instead decided to be a pedantic jerk…)

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  8. [...] this is also exactly the way of things, as James Joyner mattter-of-factly explans: CAP employs Matt to write a blog for them and, contrary to the views of [...]

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  9. Bithead says:

    This doesn’t strike me as an ideological situation, but rather one clearly, as James notes in the post, about the type of organization MY is working for:

    So, did Matt run afoul of their ideology, or not?

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  10. Bit,

    My point is that the conflict here, and the response, is not something that only “lockstep leftism” would engage in.

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  11. Dave Schuler says:

    I think it’s important to remember that MY isn’t an academic or a politician or a journalist in any sense but the sense in which we’re all journalists: he’s a blogger. Discretion isn’t the hallmark fot the blogger. If that’s not what CAP wanted, it picked the wrong guy.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    Discretion isn’t the hallmark fot the blogger. If that’s not what CAP wanted, it picked the wrong guy.

    Or maybe writing a blog for an institution paying you to advance their cause isn’t “blogging” in the same sense as writing on a personal blog?

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  13. The CAP kerfuffle…

    THE CAP KERFUFFLE…. You’ve probably heard a little bit about the blogospheric issue of the day. If you’re just joining us, the estimable Matt Yglesias had a brief item on Friday afternoon, principally about Barack Obama convincing centrists that an…

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  14. [...] of blog reaction/rebuke — check out William Beutler, Brad DeLong, Belle Waring, Ann Althouse, James Joyner, Brendan Nyhan, and many more – as well as follow-up posts from Yglesias himself and [...]

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  15. tom p says:

    Steve Benen has a post here in which he quotes Ezra Klein at length. He ends by observing that
    “At this point, Matt’s original post is still online; he hasn’t backpedaled on his opinion; and he hasn’t apologized. Palmieri’s post last night turned out to be clumsy, but the message wasn’t that troubling — Matt says things, and sometimes his employer disagrees with those things. All things being equal, that’s not an unreasonable position for a think tank in CAPAF’s position to take.”

    In other words: A tempest in a teapot.

    And Bit:

    but this example gives us a rather nasty illustrattion of what happens when less than lockstep leftism is employed.

    There is plenty of “lockstep” on both sides. Take note of the “Operation Leper” project at Redstate.

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  16. BO Bill says:

    First they came for Matt.

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