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The blogging cover-up

CNET News.com's Charles Cooper says the upcoming political conventions are setting themselves up for embarrassment.

Web logs have done more to spark opinion-sharing than anything since the creation of the Internet. But is this new vehicle of unconstrained expression fated to come under the thumb of the powers that be?

I'd like to believe that free debate will remain unfettered, but the reality is that the big political interest groups won't ignore a medium that allows them to so powerfully manipulate a party message. Moves are already afoot to shade the blogosphere ever so slightly for partisan advantage.

The Democrats plan to invite a limited number of bloggers to their summer political convention in Boston. A Republican spokesman quoted by the Associated Press says the GOP is still thinking about what it wants to do. My hunch is that they'll do pretty much the same as the Democrats. And why not? This is the best guarantee of "positive" coverage since the spinmeisters in the Pentagon came up with the idea of embedding reporters with the troops fighting in Iraq.

Without questioning the integrity of bloggers lucky enough to receive credentials to attend the conventions, let's also face facts: When it comes to crafting the message, neither party is above suspicion. The last thing the respective handlers want is to invite a wild card. Imagine Michael Moore at the Republican National Convention. How about Rush Limbaugh hanging out while John Kerry delivers his stem-winder? You get the idea: Control the message at all costs.

"You've got to closely watch what they do," a political consultant recently told me, adding that campaigns can't afford to adopt a casual approach to blogs that pop up during races. "Some of them are really crazy."

If not crazy, then agitated. If not agitated, definitely hostile. And if not hostile, then most assuredly independent. Such may be the attributes of blogging democracy, but it sure ain't what political professionals want to unleash into the midst of their media moment of the summer.

Because this is such a hot race, the parties are not going to take unnecessary chances. So after vetting the list to weed out any cantankerous curmudgeons, the candidate pool will consist of mainstream hacks, true believers and morally rancid suck-ups to political authority. In other words, the kind of folks who will blend quite nicely into the big show.

Sounds good on paper, but the plan will inevitably boomerang. Do you really believe that bloggers with legitimate street reps won't scream bloody murder? The reality is that the parties will get skewered--rightfully--for manipulating these oh-so-shiny cyberprops when they'd be better served by inviting folks of an independent bent.

Even if the two parties do show courage and allow for a multiplicity of blogging voices, I'm afraid that the writing's already on the wall. Scrolling through countless "political blogs" on the Internet, how many of them are authored by party operatives? Truth be told, there's no way to really know the answer. Still, in a word that has raised agitprop to an art, I don't take anything at face value anymore.

Now you can go roast wieners over the weekend. Happy Fourth of July.