If you stop by here regularly you may have noticed I haven't posted for a while. The reason is that I've been working on something else lately. All I'll say about it is that it pays money and it's interesting work. The important thing is that it occupies my time and my mind to a point where I can't do blogging the way I want to do it. Doing the research, writing and sometimes re-writing, and then formatting an article takes time, energy, and concentration. After writing an article, I'd generally spend a little time engaging in discussions at other blogs on the subject, and occasionally shamelessly plugging what I'd written. It might not look it at times, but writing here took a good deal of time and effort, sometimes even when there was no resulting article or essay. My hard disks are littered with the corpses of unfinished articles. Now that I'm working more-or-less full time, I don't have enough left at the end of the day to pick up a thread and start writing. One thing I've learned from all this is that the folks who do this for a living, or try to, are amazingly more productive than I am. Taylor Marsh, Christie Smith, and Josh Marshall, among others, often write several times what I could in a day.
All this leads me to Senator Barack Obama's actions this week. One philosophical difference between me and many of Obama's more ardent supporters is that I think actions speak louder than words. Saying things is easy. Doing things, particularly difficult or humbling things, is hard. I'm writing, of course, about the MySpace brouhaha. In this instance, Obama's actions were that he allowed his campaign to take over an unofficial MySpace website that had been run by a Los Angeles paralegal named Joe Anthony without any compensation. The campaign apparently pressured MySpace into allowing them to take it over without Anthony's consent, and without compensating him in any way for the work he'd been doing on the site for the last two and a half years. As someone who, like Anthony, put a lot of time and effort into something for nothing more than satisfaction, I think I can relate to Anthony's situation.
I've seen comments like this one at MyDD:
$40K for three months part-time?
pretty good deal. I guess I should start making fake celebrity myspace pages too.
I'll bet this guy doesn't come home after a full day at the office and try to rustle up the energy to write a few pages about whatever's happening, then answer comments and e-mails. In any event, Anthony put a lot of time and effort into the site, and all he received in return was this:
Speaking on background, Obama campaign staffers are spreading word that Anthony just wanted a "big payday."
The Battle to Control Obama's Myspace
Which reportedly was about $39,000. This may seem like lots of money, but over two and a half years it's barely poverty level wages. What's more, the Obama campaign, according to Anthony, didn't bother to negotiate, they just took the site from him. I think Obama's campaign staffers need to practice the phrase "no comment" a few hundred times so they get used to using it. Just how much of a clunk do you have to be to think that comments like "he just wanted a big payday" are going to win over anyone?
The second thing Anthony has gotten, according to this article he wrote late today, was a call from Obama:
I just received a phone call from Barack Obama himself.
He expressed his appreciation and we agreed that there is something to be learned by everyone involved at this point. (Frankly, I was a little surprised by the call, and was too nervous to remember any exact quotes)
I assured him that this is just a horrible thing that happened and obviously he wasn't responsible and shouldn't be held responsible. It's his campaign that perhaps mismanaged this whole thing. He of course stands by his campaign, but again. . . much to be learned by all.
TC from Barack Obama (!!!)
You can tell this guy's a fan. I would have asked Obama where my freakin' $40K was.
To me, this sounds pathetic. One of the things I, and a great many others, have been concerned about with Obama is his lack of experience in politics. Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill used to say "All politics is local", meaning knowing what's important to people about their own situations and their neighborhoods is what's important, even for a national politician. Tip O'Neill didn't lose his job - he retired as Speaker. He would have known that there was no profit in pissing off a guy who's volunteered as much time as Anthony has and who has helped Obama's popularity with a segment of the populace most politicians can't seem to reach. Obama probably blows this much cash weekly on high-priced consultants who give him bad advice. His website, as Howard Fineman observed, is the most amateurish of all the serious candidates'. It's hard to imagine that you could make a campaign website hard to navigate, but they managed somehow. They were willing to push Anthony aside for what? To run this website the way they run this?
If I continue to write long enough, and if anyone sticks around long enough to read what I've written, they'll find out that I'm not much good at being a partisan. If someone's being a jerk, I'm inclined to say so no matter which party they belong to. Obama's being a jerk. He let his staff take this guy's site away and not compensate him, and then thought that a phone call and no actual compensation would be enough. Of course, there could have been all sorts of miscommunication going on in that call, including Anthony's having missed an offer or even completely misunderstanding the conversation, but for now I'm going to stick with he's being a jerk. I'm hoping Obama will prove me wrong in the days ahead, but I'm not betting on it.
If Obama had half the brains his fans think he does, he'd have hired this kid and used him as an adviser on courting the youth vote. Instead, he not only managed to honk off a considerable portion of those folks, but he's managed to make an ass of himself doing it. I think if he wants to salvage this situation he'd better do something tangible soon, which would include apologizing for his campaign's high-handed behavior. It doesn't matter whether Obama knew this was going to happen before it was done. It's his campaign and he's let this situation continue.
A real politician would know that.
UPDATE: Rob Joseph found this response by Joe Rospars, Obama's "New Media Director":
At the end of the day, this is all new for everyone -- this Joe, that Joe, and everyone participating or commenting on it. We're flying by the seat of our pants, and establishing new ways of doing things every day. We're going to try new things, and sometimes it's going to work, and sometimes it's not going to work. That's the cost and that's the risk of experimenting. Joe launched this profile for all the right reasons, and for a while grew it with us.
Our MySpace Experiment
It's a new medium, so apparently the old rules of giving someone something of value for his work don't apply.
He maintains that Anthony had given them access to the site, but then cut it off. As Chris Bowers noted in his introduction to the release, that changes things a little, but I don't think it changes the basic unfairness of the situation, nor that the Obama campaign decided to smear their own volunteer on background rather than either shut up or come out with a full and reasonable explanation. They did offer him some sort of job, so they at least did that part of what I suggested. Other than that, though, my opinion hasn't changed.
Is such a site worth $40K? Micah Sifry of TechPresident.com asked the question of several folks in the business this question:
But from talking with Joe, and even from Joe Rospars defensive post on the Obama site, it's clear he did a lot more than that and spent a great deal of time--at least five hours a day starting this January, he says--responding to individual emails, pointing people to information on how to register to vote (something he is rightfully intensely proud of), answering their questions about Obama, and so on. If you hired someone to do this for you to promote a movie or a product or a candidate on MySpace, surely you'd have to pay them something. Top internet consulting firms charge anywhere from $50-$150 an hour for staff time. If Anthony put in just 5 hours a day over the last 18 weeks, that could be anywhere from $30,000 to $90,000 in value.
How to Value a MySpace Mega-Group
In short, what he asked was toward the low end of what he could reasonably have asked for. Some of the experts had other ways of valuing what Anthony had built there, but none seemed to think he was asking too much.