Left-wing bloggers were put on the defensive today as a report in The Weekly Standard revealed that The Finland Station, a left-leaning website known for its political commentary and analysis, is in fact a wholly-owned subsidiary of DCI Group, a political consultancy paid to run “Astroturf” campaigns for the likes of the Sierra Club, the ACLU, the SEIU and Howard Dean. Articles from prominent left-wing bloggers such as Atrios, Chris Bertram, and Josh Marshall have been featured on TFS in the past. The Weekly Standard demonstrated that TFS often chose its issue areas based on the consulting deals its owners had made with various clients, timed articles to coincide with astroturf campaigns, and ran pieces by representatives of its clients alongside articles by freelance commentators—including well-known left-wing bloggers. For example, in conjunction with a campaign paid for by the Free Software Foundation, TFS printed a column promoting free software as the New Socialism. Such columns were then picked up and cross-promoted by the foundation without mentioning the flow of money between the parties.
Embarrassed lefty bloggers have angrily defended themselves. “I was never leaned on to present a particular view,” said Chris Bertram. “Besides,” he went on, “it’s the calibre of the bridge pilings that matters, not the source of the money. Just ask Spiro Agnew. I mean ideas. Calibre of the ideas.” Other commentators felt the same. “First of all,” said Henry Farrell, “No-one on this earth tells me what to think or write. And if you read my stuff I think you’ll find it’s hard to argue with that,” he continued. Meanwhile Atrios said he had “no time for silly conspiracy theories, unless they are about ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. I’m definitely open to those.”
Predictably, commentary from the right side of the blogosphere has been harsh. “The article never suggested that the bloggers were being leaned on, bribed or otherwise corrupted” said Megan McArdle. “In fact it went out of its way to say otherwise. It’s more that the bloggers were just convenient bits of ideological scenery. By putting forward their ideas sincerely, they allowed TFS to slip in its pro-union, anti-freedom astroturf by-the-by. So they contributed to an agenda that was often already bought and paid for. Ayn Rand would have been appalled by such weakness.” Glenn Reynolds agreed. “This is just typical left-wing misdirection,” he said. “These commentators were effectively part of a lobbying outfit. You might even say they were objectively pro-Howard. All their whining now won’t change that.” Pejman Yousefzadeh was even harsher in his critique. “It’s a disgrace,” he shouted. “The problem with TFS’s operation is so obvious even a 15-year-old Model UN delegate from the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros Islands would see it immediately. It’s got nothing to do with secret meetings or money under the table or undue pressure—typical left-wing tactics, I might add—and everything to do with inadvertently lending your own hard-won credibility as an independent thinker and commentator to an operation whose main purpose turns out to be to publicize policy positions paid for by your boss’s clients. But I wouldn’t expect any of those lefties to wonder whether their integrity had been hijacked by profiteering political mercenaries—integrity is a conservative virtue, after all.”