To follow up on this debacle, I have a few points to share on blogging fair (get it? like fighting fair?):
1. Don’t attack people based on hearsay evidence. Unless you can find a direct quote from — and this is key — a reputable news source, do not mount an argument against someone’s supposed position. Someone else’s interpretation of what your target said does not count. Ever.
2. There are, of course, a few common sense exceptions to the direct quote requirement, but they are indeed few. For example, if you’re dealing with an elected official who voted for or signed a bill, then it’s probably fair to quote from the bill and attribute that position to that official. But most of us are not officials, and even in this case it would be wise to see if the official in question made any comments which qualify his or her support of the bill.
3. Don’t play gotcha with old information. If you’re about to write an article revealing some shocking new information on your political opponent, make sure it’s actually shocking new information. Sen. Rand Paul made comments in Iowa last week, and among them was the statement that he personally opposes gay marriage. A scandalized, collective gasp went up from many in the libertarian community…for no good reason. Sen. Paul has repeatedly said he disagrees with gay marriage but does not want the federal government taking sides. There was no gotcha here.
4. Don’t play gotcha with really old information. If it comes out that someone you disagree with did or wrote something stupid in college 20 years ago, cut them some slack. I’m sure there’s stuff I wrote in college which I wouldn’t agree with today, and I only graduated four years ago. Unless this collegiate foolishness involved something really serious like rape or murder, give it a rest and go after your target for problems of a later vintage.
5. Stay logical, and don’t reach. It can be tempting to stretch or exaggerate your argument just a little to make it more damning, but stick to the facts and keep your contentions logical. The easiest way to discredit a political attack is to point out an ad hominem attack or a straw man argument. And just about anyone can do this — no formal logic training needed. If you allow yourself to slip into an illogical attack, you’ve just done your opponents the favor of removing all need for them to do actual research to counter you; they can rather call the fallacy and move on.
6. Finally, stay courteous. Why is Ron Paul thought of as the grandfather everyone wants while even Ayn Rand’s own supporters have been known to call her an icy…witch? Both are known for being principled to a fault, but Ayn Rand called people she disagreed with things like “a cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-metaphysical mediocrity,” while Ron Paul offers sympathy for their hilariously awful gaffes. Being principled does not mean being rude.