The Guerrilla Warfare Behind 'Haley-Gate'
Inside the blogospheric battle rocking South Carolina
In October 2009, The Atlantic's Mark Bowden wrote a trenchant piece about today's changing media environment. It is an analysis of what happens when conventional journalism is superseded by the blogosphere. For Bowden, the result is that news becomes a blood sport. Paid journalists entrusted to report evenhandedly are supplanted by ideological bloggers who want to advance a particular agenda. "Winning" the news cycle isn't about having information--it's about having ammunition. To a large extent, this appears to be what's happening in the "scandal" involving South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley.
The word scandal is in quotes because no one can yet say if Haley has done anything wrong. At this point, it's primarily a battle of unconfirmed assertions floating around the blogosphere. At center-stage are two conservative bloggers: Will Folks and Erick Erickson.
Folks ignited the whole ordeal by claiming that in 2007 he had had an "inappropriate physical relationship" with Haley, who is married. Haley denies the allegation "100%" but Folks continues releasing material to support his claim. The latest disclosure is phone records of lengthy conversations between Folks and Haley during the time Folks says the affair occurred. One call begins at 2:24 a.m. and ends 146 minutes later. The evidence, however, is far from conclusive because, at the time, Folks worked for Haley as a consultant. Her campaign plausibly insists the conversations were strictly work-related.
Enter conservative Redstate blogger Erick Erickson. Erickson is currently viewed as the salient voice discrediting Folks's allegation. As soon as Folks disclosed the alleged affair, Erickson began refuting it. Initially, Erickson's response was that "hot women don't have affairs with ugly poor guys." Then, on Friday morning, Erickson attracted a great deal of attention by reporting that Folks was paid money to "procure the story and guarantee it hit at the most opportune time -- right before the primary." In another post, he writes "We know who bit. We know who didn't bite. We know who paid Will Folks to push this story out there." Building suspense, he promised to start "naming names" later in the day. Here's Erickson referring to himself in the third person:
Who did it? Well, you press people have had Will Folks string you along all week, reporting every salacious non-detail. So RedState.com's fearless, intrepid Editor Erick Erickson is going to do exactly the same thing -- at least for a couple more hours. You will have to tune in for the identity of the campaign trying to destroy Nikki Haley later today.
Then at about 2:00 p.m. Friday, he wrote the follow-up post. Somewhat apologetically, he admits he doesn't have proof:
With apologies to RedState readers... I've had no hesitation in stringing the media along like Folks has done. He wanted his fifteen minutes of fame and got a week. Now he needs to show us what he has and, if he has what he says he has, let Haley supporters make up their minds. No one needs to humor him with another week of sensational salaciousness. There are kids and a husband involved in this mess too. I have no clue if anyone is behind Will Folks doing this. He really could feel aggrieved for some reason and just want to take out Nikki Haley. But I have a theory, I have some facts, and I've drawn some inferences to form my opinion.
Erickson and Folks's coy, misleading blog posts have left the public—especially in South Carolina—on pins and needles. The question is: should we come to expect this from the blogger-driven media? It's surprising how neatly Bowden's thesis applies to the Nikki Haley blogwars:
Work formerly done by reporters and producers is now routinely performed by political operatives and amateur ideologues of one stripe or another, whose goal is not to educate the public but to win. This is a trend not likely to change.
For now, the only thing certain is that Erickson and Folks will continue propagating conflicting information until hard evidence is unearthed.