Friday, January 06, 2006


Minnesota Republicans Exposed

The thing about most reality-based blogs is that most of us aren't being paid by anyone to say the things that we say. We'll go after people on "our side", whatever that is, as hard as the people who on any given day are supposedly our enemies. (The most cogent and best-informed criticism of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton, for instance, comes not from the right but from the left. And I needn't tell most regular readers of this blog about how I feel about Joe "MBNA" Biden.) The fact that we're much more willing to let the chips fall where they may, and to provide accurate information in its proper context, is probably why a reality-based blog like DailyKos gets more readers than all of the top conservative blogs combined. Most of the bloggers over on the right-hand side of things are very truth-averse, even those that don't consciously realize that they are. They don't like examining root causes, or pursuing things to their logical conclusions, because such things endanger their ability to do what they do and still consider themselves morally upright human beings. And many of the biggest right-wing blogs are not only given to repeating RNC talking points verbatim, but they are in fact run by powerful GOP operatives. Three of the RNC's favorite lockstep bloggers are located in my own backyard: PowerLine, Hugh Hewitt, and the guy who runs "Minnesota Democrats Exposed". And now, the bozo behind that latter blog has himself been exposed as a high-value Republican operative who is being sued for knowingly lying about people with malice aforethought:

PATRICK CONDON Associated Press MINNEAPOLIS - A Democratic public relations consultant has sued a Republican blogger for defamation in a case that could offer a key test of the First Amendment rights of bloggers. The lawsuit pits Blois Olson, the president of PR firm New School Communications and a well-known Democratic political commentator, against Michael Brodkorb, a Republican operative who publishes the blog "Minnesota Democrats Exposed." In the suit, filed in Dakota County District Court, Olson disputes a series of postings by Brodkorb last week about criticisms Olson made of the congressional campaign of fellow Democrat Coleen Rowley. Brodkorb wrote that an anonymous source told him that the Rowley campaign refused to hire New School Communications for consulting work, prompting Brodkorb to ask why Olson didn't disclose that when he criticized Rowley in several news stories. "That is false, that is a lie, that is defamation," Steve Silton, Olson's attorney, said Wednesday of claims that New School tried to get consulting work with the Rowley campaign. Silton said Olson and New School have not sought or performed campaign work since 1998. Olson is co-publisher of the Politics in Minnesota newsletter, and is a regular commentator on KTCA's "Almanac" and WCCO-AM. The lawsuit asks for $50,000 in damages, and demands that Brodkorb retract the postings about Olson. [...] Brodkorb, 32, has operated the blog since July 2004 - but up until Wednesday, he did so anonymously. He decided to out himself because of Olson's lawsuit. Until last June, Brodkorb also worked for the state Republican Party, most recently as director of communications and research. He said none of his supervisors knew of his blogging, and that he never used party resources to fund his blog or to provide it with information.
If I were Blois Olson, I'd be sniffing around Brodkorb's ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends, if any, to see if that really was the case. Does anyone really believe that in the top-down, command-and-control environment of the Republican Party, none of his bosses would have known that the Communications and Slander Research Director of the Minnesota GOP was using his blog as an RNC talking-points-and-slander propagation device? But I digress:
Brodkorb is now a freelance consultant doing opposition research for political candidates, and said he also keeps that work separate from his blogging.
Oh, suuuuuure he does. Pardon me while I gag. Now, here's the tiny grain of truth on which professional oppo spewer Brodkorb based his attacks against Olson:
Rowley's campaign manager, Joe Elcock, said Wednesday that Buck Humphrey, a New School employee, did approach the Rowley campaign last June seeking consulting work. Silton said if that's the case, Humphrey did so as a free agent and not on behalf of New School, and that Olson was unaware of it.
Exactly. As Olson says, neither he nor New School have done that sort of work since 1998. But here's my favorite part of the whole piece:
The lawsuit raises a myriad of questions about how the law will view bloggers who report news on their sites, said Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota professor who teaches media ethics and media law. Kirtley said Brodkorb will likely have to decide if what he presented is reporting or opinion. "If what you're doing is expressing your opinion, that's classic political speech," Kirtley said. "It's going to be protected." But, she said, "If you present factual statements that are untrue that you demonstrably know to be untrue, that's actual malice and that's going to undercut any broad protections."
But if Republicans aren't allowed to lie with malice aforethought, then most of their political strategy is down the toilet! They're just left with unreasoning fear and "Southern Strategy" bigotry (which, really, is just another form of unreasoning fear). (By the way: This isn't the first time Brodkorb's outed himself, though it's the first time he did so deliberately, as far as I know. Here's how he outed himself by accident back in October of last year.)

A fascinating case.

This is one of those cases I'd hate to have to be the lawyer for either side.

First off, I'd have to go to law school. Definitely a minus.

But that said. I'm wondering exactly how Olson's attorney will claim more than nominal damages (not that those are so nominal if you have to pay the plaintiff's attorney's fees). And if I am Brodkorb's attorney, I am wondering how it is going to look for someone who does opposition research to have published a potential libel. Even if an anonymous source did tell Brodkorb something false, "reckless disregard" would probably apply even if "actual malice" could not be proven. Olson is not a public figure and unlike people who post on political boards he was clearly not out looking for a fight, so this seems pretty much slam dunk.

My guess is it will settle out of court for $5K damages plus attorney's fees. And Brodkorb will decide whether he wants to do oppo or whether he wants to blog.
I'm almost hoping that it makes the rest of the Minnesota right-wing blogging contingent realize that they need to dial it back, or risk attacking the wrong person.

On second thought, I WANT Hindrocket et al to think that, Brodkorb aside, they can slander folks with impunity. Because then they'll eventually go after someone who has the cash, the brains, and the will to go after them.
Excellent post guys. I’m from Minnesota but have been away for some time. It always makes me sad to hear that my native state is starting to lean towards the conservative. We have to kick Coleman out on his ass, when we get the chance! Keep up the Good Work!

Come visit my blog!
Right there in the lede is a bit of media atrocity. How is this case a test of the First Amendment right of bloggers? Telling lies is not protected by the First Amendment. Am I just oversensitive, or does that lede sound like a warning that we don't dare go after people who tell lies or we'll all lose our right to publish?
MEC says, "Telling lies is not protected by the First Amendment."

It is if you're careful to lie about only public figures. Ask Susan Schmidt.

It is if you own the New York Times. Ask Beverly Bassett Schaefer.

It is if you lie about foreigners. Ask Saddam Hussein.

And I don't know how Wen Ho Lee is doing, but if you lie about someone having committed an act of espionage, you're most of the way home free. Ask Jeff Gerth.

Though it looks like things aren't going so good for Jeffy and pals
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