‘Nutpicking’ hits the big time

September 22, 2007 11:34 a.m.

For quite a while, conservatives have embraced an annoying strategy — trawl through liberal comments sections in the hopes of finding intemperate remarks. The right then takes these comments to “prove” that the left is made up of unhinged radicals.

The practice has always been rather self-defeating. In fact, about a year ago, Kevin Drum came up with a sensible maxim: “If you’re forced to rely on random blog commenters to make a point about the prevalence of some form or another of disagreeable behavior, you’ve pretty much made exactly the opposite point.” Eventually, the practice was even given a name: “Nutpicking.”

Unfortunately, the practice seems to have spread. Instead of far-right blogs trolling through liberal comment sections for fodder, now Republican candidates for public office are doing it.

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A Republican state legislator from Fairfax County has launched an attack ad on cable TV against his Democratic opponent that features unidentified, unverified quotes from a blog.

The ad by Del. Timothy D. Hugo points to a new form of negative campaigning in which information for an attack ad is sourced to comments posted on the Internet instead of more authoritative sources such as news reports or public records.

Hugo’s ad highlights critical comments about his Democratic opponent, Rex Simmons, that someone with the screen name “Pitin” posted on the Democratic blog Raising Kaine.

This is obviously absurd. The TV ad claims to alert the public to what “others are saying” about Simmons, and quotes criticism of the Democrat’s campaign from Raising Kaine, before concluding, “We just can’t trust Rex Simmons.”

Actually, we just can’t trust campaign commercials that rely on pseudonymous criticism from a blog’s comment section. In this case, there’s obviously nothing to stop the Hugo campaign from going to Raising Kane, leaving derogatory comments about Simmons, and then using their own planted denigrations in their own campaign commercials.

Nutpicking was irritating enough when it was confined to conservative blogs. Taking it onto the air is not a positive development.

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