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The Podcaster and Viral Political Scandals

Anthony Marco was asked to run for the provincial NDP in a recent election in Ontario, Canada. The prospective political candidate apparently warned the party that he had a podcast available to anyone on the web – wait, make that a lot of podcasts. They said not to worry, come on down... you're the next candidate in an impossible-to-win riding. 

He signed on the dotted line.

Just a bit into the campaign, some folks from the Liberal party also contesting this election decided to listen to some of Mr. Marco's podcasts. (Maybe they were genuinely interested, but I doubt it.) What they found they merrily pulled out of context and released to the press.  The media followed up and nearly a whole week was spent on the foibles of one podcaster-turned-political candidate. 

Politicians can and should be hoisted on their own past statements. Mr. Marco chose to run for public office knowing that he might have said things online that could be misinterpreted. But more and more, we are all living our lives online. The new generation of individuals who will be politicians are currently writing blogs, Facebooking and tweeting like mad.  What will that mean for future political candidates?

I expect that we will eventually need to institute new standards. With the wonder that is search engines and the never-ending supply of political interns, most of us in the new generation of digital citizens are going to be in exactly the same position as Mr. Marco. And surely entire election campaigns can't revolve around what all of our political candidates said in some form of online social media before they ever contemplated public office.

I believe that what matters more is what the candidates are saying during the campaign. That's what we should be listening to and considering when deciding how to vote.

We bring ourselves to public life. We want individuals with thoughts and opinions to run for public office.  It was always possible to “dig up dirt” on a candidate and make political hay.  Everyone has a past.  But with the documented world of the web, where does it stop? What is actually relevant? And smearing a candidate with a whiff of scandal that can be Googled by potential voters – possibly the sweetest stench of all in the digital age.  It's viral scandal. 

In the realm of podcasting, much is off-the-cuff and of the moment. There is a reason why a politician tries to stay on message during live interviews – because they can say things they may later regret. And if modern democratic politics is truly an evolution of the monarchy, then our media plays the court jester. Reporters like mockingbirds repeat and transmit snippets of nonsensical information that often lacks sufficient context. They dutifully sang a tale of Mr. Marco and his diabolical podcasts – but did many of them actually listen to his podcasts? Did they try to form their own opinion rather than simply repeating what the Liberal press release stated?   

Perhaps Mr. Marco was just ahead of his time. But he will be followed by others and we will have to work together as a civil society to determine a fair way to evaluate past statements by those seeking public office. Those of the new generation who are spending hours online sharing their ideas through mediums such as podcasting will be the true guinea pigs. Best of luck to the next podcaster who seeks public office.

Allyson McGrane is a Vancouver-based writer. This article is entered into The Propagandist's 2nd Annual Essay Contest

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