Lost in Cyberspace

Presidents and Pandagon

John Edwards' online troubles may have been introduced to many Austinites, ironically, in print. Warned an Austin American-Statesman editorial Feb. 16, "Internet bloggers are political nitroglycerine. They're highly unstable and can explode at any time."

One of these oh-so-volatile substances was Amanda Marcotte. An Austin resident, she had recently been hired to tend presidential candidate Edwards' campaign blog after her success at the popular liberal blog Pandagon (www.pandagon.net). (Another blogger, Melissa McEwan, was recruited by the campaign from Shakespeare's Sister, www.shakespearessister.blogspot.com). The hires, widely hailed across the liberal blogosphere, drew the ire of conservative bloggers, who began searching Marcotte's and McEwan's postings for anything useful for smearing them and Edwards. "The blogging on a campaign has little relationship, content-wise, from personal blogging," says Marcotte in an e-mail interview. "Basically, it didn't occur to me that people would deliberately blur the difference between writing as myself and writing for someone else."

The smear initially floundered – until Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, picked up on some of Marcotte's remarks on religion. Ostensibly created to defend the church from defamation, under Donohue the Catholic League has become a cog in the right-wing noise machine, inveighing on the endless culture wars when not attacking prominent Democrats like John Kerry. (Despite his persistent accusations of bias elsewhere, Donohue is somewhat of a bigot himself, famously claiming, "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.")

In the wake of Donohue's cable news harangues, mainstream newspapers largely followed his storyline. Characteristically, the Statesman's editorial gloated, "It was interesting that both bloggers, who made their reputations with sometimes vicious personal and ideological attacks and occasionally vile and profane language, didn't like being on the receiving end. ... You dish it out, you gotta take it." As evidence, the paper cites an almost comically coy post from Pandagon stating, "The Catholic Church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics." Says Marcotte, "In contrast, the e-mails I got were mostly rape threats, implied or outright stated as such, or variations on 'Why do you hate Catholics?' which is something you can only believe if you hear only the spin and have never researched what I or Melissa writes about." Marcotte's breaking point came when a tossed-off line in her Pandagon review of Children of Men referencing the virgin birth revived the anti-Catholic charges anew. "At that point, I realized ... [Donohue] was going to persist until I had no choice but to quit, so better to just get it over with," said Marcotte. Shortly thereafter, McEwan also resigned.

As a feminist in a male-dominated field – not to mention an atheist – Marcotte feels her uniqueness may have made her an easy target. "Your average blogger is hard to attack because they fit a stereotype – male, khaki-clad, partisan nerds – that doesn't tend to fit into any pre-existing media stereotypes that could be used to scare the Petersons back home about what terrible people bloggers are," says Marcotte. "Nothing against those guys, since I feel in reality I'm one of them, but ... the media doesn't have a shorthand to make them look scary, which I think is what a lot of corporate media types want to do. But 'outspoken feminist' and the hint of fornicating female behind it is a tried-and-true media villain, so the first chance they got, the corporate media slurred bloggers with that brush."

Still, even a few sympathetic voices were surprised not by the controversy, but by Marcotte's initial hiring, knowing the fearless, uncensored voice that made Pandagon popular would be more than enough for the right to manufacture a controversy. But Marcotte doesn't seem to buy it. "The notion that I'm angry is pure sexism and goes right back to the idea that women have no right to complain or speak against injustice. ... It's a nifty trick, isn't it? Equating the anger of people agitating against injustice with reactionary anger? Helps people shut down the brain and not have to think about the importance of the former."

Below, Marcotte reflects on the recent chain of events.

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John Edward, Austin American-Statesman, Amanda Marcotte, Pandagon, Melissa McEwan, Shakespeare's Sister, Bill Donohue, Amanda Marcotte, Pandagon, John Edwards, Bill Donohue, Catholic League, Melissa McEwan, Shakespeare's Sister

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