The 2008 election is still far off but presidential candidates are already finding themselves ensnared in controversy, as Democratic contender John Edwards is realizing this week after coming under fire for hiring two outspoken liberal bloggers.


At the end of January, Edwards hired bloggers Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon.net and Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare’s Sister as campaign staffers. On Tuesday, the Catholic League, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, called the bloggers “anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots” and demanded that Edwards fire them for making defamatory remarks about Catholicism in previous blogs.


According to the New York Times, McEwan referred to President Bush’s supporters as a “wingnut Christofascist base.” In a December blog posting about reproductive rights, Marcotte said “the Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics.”


While Salon.com reported Wednesday that the bloggers had been fired, the Associated Press reports this afternoon Edwards’ statement that “he was personally offended by the provocative messages two of his campaign bloggers wrote criticizing the Catholic church, but he’s not firing them.”


The clamor surrounding Marcotte and McEwan highlights an interesting issue of political campaigns in the Internet Age. While politicians have typically relied on traditional media like newspapers and television to spread their message, many are now turning (by necessity) to new media to advance their campaigns. And though there have been some political casualties from the marriage between the Web and politics (George Allen’s “macaca moment” being the most glaring example), the Edwards duo have proven that bloggers themselves can be campaign liabilities.


But while their firing remained unconfirmed, the mere possibility of Marcotte and McEwan’s dismissal had bloggers on the left decrying Edwards and his campaign. “It didn’t take long for the Edwards campaign to get schooled on Swift Boating — by proxy, no less,” wrote Pam Spaulding on Pandagon, home to Marcotte’s blog postings. “The biggest mistake of all is that a campaign with a long way to go to get to the finish line is so easily spooked by elements on the right that aren’t worth the time of day. Team Edwards, the votes you want aren’t going to come from the crowd that reads [Michelle] Malkin or pays attention to [Catholic League President Bill] Donohue …”


Michael’s Site agreed with Spaulding. “[Y]ou can tell this whole episode is so much bullshit,” wrote Michael, “because of the lack of any equal scrutiny of other candidate’s staff hirings.” He added: “Rumor has it that Melissa and Amanda have been canned, which if true, just goes to show that Edwards just wasn’t cut out for the job. If he can’t handle the pressure from this fake scandal, imagine how cowed he would be when the real big dogs of the smear-o-sphere have him in their cross hairs.”


Some bloggers, however, were not as incensed about the possible firing. “Did whoever picked these bloggers (and I doubt it was John Edwards personally, as I doubt he has time to between his visiting the ‘two Americas’ and tending to his 102-acre estate) know about the kinds of things posted on the blogs of the bloggers in question, or was it just poor research on their part?” asked SisterToldjah. “The lefty blogosphere’s defensive reaction to all of this is symbolic for the Democratic Party on the whole, most of whom refuse themselves to apologize or retract highly offensive, often misleading, and sometimes outright false accusations they make about our troops, and the CIC.”


According to Theobromophile of Helvidius, a Pachyderm, Edwards would be better off if he fired the bloggers, especially Marcotte. “Miss Marcotte might be from Texas, but she isn’t Southern (in fact, she slams Southerners), has made some nasty comments about people in North Carolina, and generally expresses views so narrow and extreme as to alienate most residents of Berkeley, California,” he wrote. “Mr. Edwards cannot get past the primaries if he alienates the Southerners and the Christians, which happens to be Miss Marcotte’s raison d’etre.”


The Edwards controversy may be just the beginning. As more politicians utilize the Web to reach the electorate, we could see new dimensions in political mudslinging. “Fasten your seatbelts my friends,” said the Fat Lady Sings. “It’s gonna be a bumpy election!”

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Satta Sarmah is a CJR intern.