About a month ago now, Markos Moulitsas, creator of the popular left-wing website DailyKos, stood on a stage in Las Vegas and proclaimed, “We have arrived.” His followers at the first-ever YearlyKos convention cheered, and cheered more when Moulitsas declared, “There’s no doubt we’re turning the political world upside down.”
That was then. Now, the liberal blogosphere is filled with contentious fights, accusations, counter-accusations, and general uneasiness over the Moulitsas machine. It started when word got out that Moulitsas’s business partner Jerome Armstrong, with whom he’d coauthored Crashing the Gate, had gotten into trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission a few years ago for unethically touting penny stocks on the Internet. Then came word that Armstrong had been deeply immersed in astrology and had occasionally used alignments of the stars and planets to shape his political analyses.
All that looked a little, well, odd, not only for Moulitsas but perhaps more for former Virginia governor Mark Warner, who had hired Armstrong to work on his nascent 2008 presidential campaign. But then critics, among them the bloggers at The New Republic’s “The Plank,” started looking into the interrelationships among Moulitsas, Armstrong, and some of the other political candidates who have hired Armstrong’s firm. A number of the questions centered on Ohio, where Democrat Sherrod Brown hired Armstrong in April 2005 for a possible run for the U.S. Senate. Moulitsas at first preferred insurgent Democrat Paul Hackett. (You may remember Hackett as the candidate who called President Bush a “chicken hawk” and couldn’t see any difference between Republicans and al Qaeda.) But then Brown decided to run, and within days Moulitsas did an about-face, writing that “it might be a good idea for Hackett to stand down.” The question is whether Moulitsas’s tie to Brown through Armstrong played a role in his quick change of support.
There have been other questions about the activities of Moulitsas and Armstrong in New Jersey politics, as well as their connection to the Howard Dean campaign of 2003. But with the exception of Armstrong’s SEC matter, no evidence of corrupt doings has emerged so far. So why is all this receiving so much attention? Largely because Moulitsas and DailyKos are supposed to be the next Big Thing; mainstream reporters flocked to the YearlyKos convention and proclaimed the bloggers the newest force in Democratic politics. But reporters are also watching this story because they suspect there is more going on than meets the eye. The political blogosphere is a wild and woolly place. Bloggers with intense political beliefs and no experience in practical politics are getting into the game. There is money to be made, although few mainstream reporters fully understand how that is done on the Internet. Moulitsas is the biggest blogger around, so he’s in for his share of questions.
All of this has made Moulitsas quite unhappy. Like a beleaguered politician, he has responded by attacking his critics and mostly ignoring their allegations. But he should have known that fame would bring scrutiny. That’s just the way the world works, and he might as well get used to it.