Internet-era character assassination

Tucked on the back page of the Metro section of today’s Washington Post is the curious, well-reported tale by reporters Timothy Dwyer and Tim...

Tucked on the back page of the Metro section of today’s Washington Post is the curious, well-reported tale by reporters Timothy Dwyer and Tim Craig of local Virginia political candidate Jeff Dion, who recently ended his campaign for Prince William County’s seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

A recent target of denunciations for his “gay lifestyle” by conservative bloggers, the openly gay Democrat said he was told by higher-ups in the state party that he declined to name (but which may have included current Gov. Timothy Kaine and former Gov. Mark Warner) that he should step aside for the good of the party -- that another, undetermined candidate would have a better chance of winning.

Dion denies that the blog attacks were the reason he was asked to drop out of the race, yet he’s quoted as saying that the statements on the blogs “made a lot of other Democrats really nervous, and it undercut my support and made it really difficult for me to continue.”

The blog Black Velvet Bruce Li, for example, had a posting implying Dion’s marriage broke up because he was living with another man at the time, which Dion denies. Another blog, Not Larry Sabato (whose name refers to the oft-quoted University of Virginia political scientist), linked to a profile posted by Dion on a gay networking and dating site.

Later, some blogs reported Dion had been asked to drop out of the race, though Dion said at that time no one had in fact asked him that.

Perhaps this kind of unfiltered reporting of dirty laundry – whether truth or false rumor – is a preview of what might happen or is already starting to happen with larger political campaigns in ’08. Blogs, as the story notes, provide an immediate conduit for gossip and innuendo that in past years had to pass through the filter of “established” media to reach a mass audience.

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