Dissecting the Most Important Podcast Interview to Date

Internet | Accountability
A fifteen minute podcast conversation between Dave Winer and Joe Trippi sheds a little light on the Zephyr Teachout-Wall Street Journal controversy… and even less on blogger credibility.



There’s been a lot of early triumphalism of podcasting. This is the preparing a audio program that is meant to be primarily available on the Internet, which on the face of it is hardly revolutionary. What is unique about it is that it is still in the hands of amateurs, as radio was in the 1920’s (Thomas Edison dismissed it as a "craze" and a "fad"," according to biographer Neil Baldwin).

Audio is of course a tricky medium. It’s quick to prepare, and easy to listen to, but it is very inefficient for deliberation. To properly analyze it, it needs to be transcribed into words– and it often isn’t until long after the speaker has spoken and many people have heard them. The discussion we’re going to look at is 15 minutes long and is a 6 MB file. Removing the filler, interruptions, and repeated points, I can summarize this in text at 1/1000th the amount of space (and that’s without even compressing the text, as the audio file is). If blogging tends to the short side, podcasting tends to the pedantic– lending truth to the aphorism "Sorry the letter is too long; I didn’t have time to write a short one." (attributed to Mark Twain, Blaise Pascal, and Rudyard Kipling)

Now finally, there was a reason to not only listen to a podcast, but for one to be made. Former Dean campaign aide Zephyr Teachout had written a post on this which caused a subsequent firestorm on Friday after it was picked up by the Wall Street Journal. Over the next 48 hours, all sorts of net partisans writing vicious posts attacking Teachout for opening a Pandora’s box with her statements– as the conservative noise machine, from Robert Novak to Bill O’Reilly picked up on the story and used it to offset the Armstrong Williams payoff scandal. Some voice of reason was needed to either get to the truth, or calm the minions.


Joe Trippi was the campaign manager for Howard Dean, so he had firsthand knowledge of how the campaign had come to employ the bloggers Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and Jerome Armstrong. And who better to interview Trippi, coincidentally stopping by at his house on the Eastern shores of the Chesapeake Bay, but weblog pioneer Dave Winer, driving to Boston from Miami. The earlier leg of his cross-country trip had brought him to Florida by the end of last year, where he asserted his legacy to the domain of podcasting:

"Before the year is over, a hearty Fuck You to all reporters who recited the list of top podcasters and left out my own humble pioneering podcast. I was podcasting before any of those losers, you loser. Who the fuck do you think taught them 1. How to do it and 2. (more important) That they could do it. You reporters are schmucks. I figure since you never write about me, I could go ahead and piss you off, who cares what you think since you obviously don’t care what I think. Fuck you. No smiley."

I believe that a "smiley" would have perhaps indicated that the above need not be taken seriously. (for that matter, so would have the delete button, when used in combination with "Select All"). At least This podcast has spared me the embarassment, when I meet Dave at the end of the week, of not knowing how to pronounce his last name– it is not "whiner" but "weiner," as in the hot dog.

In the 15-minute interview, there were basically two questions covered. The first was Winer asking Trippi to provide some background about the campaign’s relationship with the bloggers. Secondly, Winer wanted to verify that any norms we might think we have in 2005 vis-a-vis blogging would not have been the same as 2003.

One thing that hasn’t changed– Winer still wants to be treated as a journalist. He’s half-a-journalist. He got the access to the interview, he published it on his website. But he hasn’t picked out the salient pieces which were said, and nor has he put them in any context. True to the distributed nature of the "participitory journalism," somebody else can do that. That somebody today is me.


Winer’s primary job would have been to ask the Trippi what he felt of two of Zephyr’s comments which were interpreted by Journal to be fresh evidence of a "payola" scheme:

  1. "On Dean’s campaign, we paid Markos and Jerome Armstrong as consultants, largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean."
  2. "While they ended up also providing useful advice, the initial reason for our outreach was explicitly to buy their airtime. "

We can leave Armstrong out of it, since Teachout had noted in a subsequent post that she had forgotten that Armstrong did not work on MyDD for the six months he was employed by the Dean campaign (she should have re-written the original post, and made a note at the bottom, and it was also revealed that she apologized to Armstrong privately, she should have made that more public).

Now, Trippi could have confirmed, denied, or done the thing which most seasoned political operatives do: danced around it and deflected it. Though the specific question wasn’t asked, Trippi had opportunity to disparage Teachout, but he did not.

And Winer– in either role as a journalist or blogger– could have dug in deeper, or just deferred to his interview subject. He chose the latter, since he seemed to agree with him. Yet weirdly, in the blog post, Winer does not post a summary of what "In our talk, Joe and I agreed that the Wall Street Journal had done a piece of terrible journalism, and furthermore they made a mistake by applying the ‘common practices’ of 2005 to decisions made in the summer of 2003." Instead, he left a line in his blog that he wrote ten minutes before posting the Podcast that relayed a swipe at Zephyr: Rogers Cadenhead’s "As an ethics expert, Zephyr blows." So either Winer had harsh feelings about Teachout and suspended them during the interview, or has interpersonal ethics about treating people fairly and suspended them while posting on his blog.

There’s the larger issue of politicians offering something more precious than money– access. What Winer wanted during the campaign was to get access to it, the volunteers, the advisors, the candidate himself. Who wouldn’t want to ride on the campaign plane? Winer’s blogging colleague David Weinberger actually got a bit of access, and became one of several technical advisors to the campaign; Trippi gave him thte title "Senior Internet Advisor." At the time of the interviewer Winer still didn’t know whether or not Weinberger was paid (he wasn’t). But t’s par for the course that people in, or running for, political positions provide access to journalists, and in return expect responsible coverage.

So let’s go to the audio tape… err, the podcast. I’ve captured the salient quotes during the discussion, either by direct quoting or getting the gist of what was said.



0:00 – Introduction, sound-check, re-introduction
2:22 – Winer immediately brings up WSJ story. Asks: What happened?
2:41 – Trippi: It’s two groups of people, Jerome Armstrong of MyDD and "Markos Zunigas" [sic] of DailyKos.
3:41 – Trippi thinks that Kos now supports Rosenberg; admits that he himself supports Rosenberg.
3:53 – I made the decision "Jerome and I had been talking since April of 2002." Discusses hiring of Jerome, and as part of that, Jerome realized he would shut down his blog. 4:30 – Trippi: Thus "Almost didn’t hire him". Jerome suggested great ideas, suggested Meetup. "I would be silencing one of the loudest voices in the blogosphere."
5:15 – Trippi: Markos had been pro-Dean, then had gone to Clark, and then when Clark had that shake-up, he was on his hired him for his understanding of the blogosphre." Thinks that Kos’s disclaimer would diminish his credibility somewhat.
6:40 – Saw that their blogging was a downside — "hits on credibility and efficacy"
7:00 – No comparison to Armstrong Williams. Trippi: "Total bull".

7:51 – Trippi: "With Markos, the other thing I’ve got to say is: what was really going through my mind– I can understand how Zephyr read this– I’m sitting there saying to myself, this guy gave me a lot of understanding, and helped me understand about who the folks were in the blogosphere that we wanted to do ‘guest blogs for Dean’ or things like that. And then he goes off and does Clark on me (well, not me, but he did it) and then Clark blows himself up a little bit, and Markos comes off of him. Well, the last thing I wanted was somebody with that ability and insight (at this point) to go run off and do John Kerry or John Edwards or even go back to Clark. We wanted the insight; I wanted to keep him away from everyone else, so, yeah, I wanted to hire him… But again, fully disclosing who he was working for."
8:55 – Wall Street Journal quoted Kos during the campaign as being a paid consultant.
9:10 – Winer: "During the Dean campaign, did you support any bloggers who were not on the Dean payroll?" Trippi: Yes. Winer than conflated the point about supporting the candidate. He was interested in whether the campaign had a prerequisite for supporting the candidate. He was not allowed press credentials.
10:11 – Trippi: you were going through normal channels!
10:41 – Winer: "In the summer of 2003, the idea that a blogger could be expected to be treated just like a reporter was pretty radical. I didn’t support Dean… but I still wanted access."
10:57: Trippi: On the sleepless summer tour, we were letting any blogger who wanted to travel with us go. Winer: Really.
11:10 – Winer: "The Times interviewed people who were on the Dean Advisory Board, David Weinberger, who was a tech advisor to the Dean campaign, without saying basically that he was…" Winer did not know whether Weinberger was an employee. Trippi said he didn’t believe so. Winer concluded his point that "the whole thing was a a mess."
11:46 – Trippi: "No other campaign had invited any bloggers onto their campaign, onto the big 737 with the national press corps." We didn’t know how to do it right.

12:13 – Winer: Wall Street Journal is acting as if the common practice of 2005 was the common practice of 2003. Trippi agrees.
14:00 – Trippi: "For the WSJ to do this today, and say, whoa, what were the ethics involved here? I mean, hey!"
14:45 – Trippi: "Bloggers are so damned independent, at least the ones I ran into.. during the political cycle. I couldn’t pay David Weinberger enough money to put words in your mouth."
15:00 – Winer: You’ve never paid me. Trippi: "that’s why I’m being trashed by so many people in your blogs." Winer: Me? Both laugh it off.
15:23 – Trippi has to run. Winer queries whether he has wi-fi. Trippi says no.


When Trippi wrote checks to Kos, what name did he put on the check? He referred to him as "Markos Zunigas", but his name is Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. This is nitpicking, of course.

And how much does Trippi read Daily Kos? He believes that Kos is supporting Rosenberg. I’m trying to find such an endorsement. I do know that in a December 6th post, Kos said: "As I’ve said before, Dean is my top choice. But Rosenberg would be an equally great reform option." Dean is still running.

Trippi said "He goes off and does Clark… and then Clark blows himself up a little bit" That does depend on how one defines "does". Here’s a post in Wired News providing the context: "A military vet, Moulitsas Zuniga founded in the spring one of the draft-Clark efforts. In June, he defected to Dean, signing up as a paid technical adviser, saying he became tired of waiting for Clark to make up his mind."

Still, this is all quibbles. What Winer didn’t followup on was why the decision for Armstrong to shutdown his blog was so cut-and-dry… and why it was not even mentioned for Kos.

David Weinberger did announce that he was "Senior Internet Advisor". He was unpaid. It’s not clear what point Trippi was trying to make at the end of the talk. But he didn’t need to pay Weinberger anything. He gave him a title, and gave him access.

Who is trashing Trippi in whose blogs, I don’t know.

How Trippi gets his Internet access, I don’t care.



Let’s just consider one more comment from Matthew Gross, Director of Internet Communications for the Dean campaign:

To my knowledge, there was never any internal expectation that either Markos or Jerome would provide anything other than technical or advertising advice or services, and those were the only services they did provide.

There is no disagreement between Trippi and Teachout on this point: Kos and Armstrong were retained so that they wouldn’t provide advice to anyone else– or, in Kos’s case, for free on Daily Kos. What is probably an error on Teachout’s part was "the initial reason for our outreach"– it was clear that Trippi had handled the outreach. But the initial reason is immaterial. What was the contract? Teachout had wrote: "largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean." And there are disagreements about whether this was true (and that’s putting it mildly).

Zephyr’s original query from July remains unaddressed. Are bloggers compromised by being a paid consultant? And what can we learn from the experience of the Dean campaign with Kos? I actually have some hard research on this subject, and I’m going to review it with a privileged group– some of the principals involved, and some academics.


But there are other questions about blogging/media ethics that should have been asked:

  1. What took so long for this to reach the principals. Zephyr created her blog on Monday and posted it there. Jerome Armstrong contacted her to post a guest entry on his MyDD website on the topic of the DNC Chair, and the output was Wings on the Donkey. How did they not discuss her previous post? Only after the story appeared in the Wall Street Journal did people start losing their minds.
  2. Should people be attacking Zephyr? and is it fair for most of them to be doing so publicly and anonymously? I had in fact abandoned the Dean discussion forums a year ago when I lost interest in communicating with people who hid behind pseudonyms.
  3. If the blogosphere is successful in channeling talking points up to the press, how come Crossfire’s Paul Begala is once again completely clueless about this? (In the Bush "bulge" story, he revealed himself complete unaware about the left-wing perspective).
  4. To the political experts, how does this really affect Dean’s chances? I sent an email to a party leader I know, and I suppose I’ll get an answer over the long weekend sometime. I don’t think it’s a blip on the radar screen.
  5. Does this appearance of a "circular firing squad" say something about the Democrats’ electoral ability? (as a comment to Zonkette asks). Or does it say more about the specific people firing the triggers — naive politicos who’ve been brought up on the value of publicizing information instead of being discrete. Check out the difference. Trippi didn’t throw any stones at Teachout, and instead targeted the WSJ. As did Laura Gross, Dean’s spokeswoman. Neither did Simon Rosenberg, the net-embracing head of the New Democrats Network.

These questions may be addressed the next time Dave Winer and Joe Trippi promised to meet– at the Berkman Center Conference on Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility. I just heard I’ll have an invitation there as well.


We return to the original premise of Winer’s: when will bloggers be treated like journalists? I have a simple answer: when they begin behaving like them. At the next campaign or political event, the media handler will field even more queries from amateur writers who feel that, they too, need access. "Well, I’m a blogger/podcaster." The question will come back as to whether they take the time to research what they put out, fact-check, put things in context. "Oh no, somebody else does that! It’s distributed!" But by this time the era of independent blogger-star may have passed, replaced by independent cooperative publications which are assembled by, well, editors. Skeptical? Have a look at the Online Political Writers Scorecard. That’s how the online world is trending.

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  • Response summary: 2 comments, 0 Viewpoints
    Winer is a man in a mission mcdtracy Jan 17 ’05 7:24AM
    . Why is the subject Winer’s integrity? Jon Garfunkel Jan 17 ’05 7:34AM
    Annotating the Winer/Trippi Podcast Anonymous Jan 19 ’05 5:51AM