The CAP kerfuffle

THE CAP KERFUFFLE…. You’ve probably heard a little bit about the blogospheric issue of the day.

If you’re just joining us, the estimable Matt Yglesias had a brief item on Friday afternoon, principally about Barack Obama convincing centrists that an ambitious, progressive agenda is a great idea. The same post criticized Third Way, a DLC-like group that emphasizes Democratic messaging and tactics in a think-tankish kind of way. Specifically, Yglesias referred to the group’s domestic policy agenda as “hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit,” adding that the group’s policy ideas “are laughable in comparison to the scale of the problems they allegedly address.”

The post was not especially shocking, and by Friday night, it had garnered a grand total of 11 comments, which is quite modest by Yglesias standards.

Sunday night, however, Jennifer Palmieri, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, had a post on Matt’s blog, reminding readers that his views are his own, his opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and CAPAF has “partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects.” The disclaimer of sorts led to a fairly significant kerfuffle (and an unusually entertaining comment thread).

There’s no shortage of opinions and angles to this. Brendan Nyhan warns that “a chilling effect on Yglesias” is inevitable. Brad DeLong argues that the incident undermines the Center for American Progress’ credibility. James Joyner noted Palmieri’s “hamhanded” post, and lamented the apparent “institutional tone deafness.” Josh Marshall said this was handled in a “clumsy” way, and argued, “Adding to the problem is that the fact that the ‘guest post’ seems pretty clearly to stem from inter-group Dem politics rather than any disagreement that some actual person has with what Matt said.”

In light of the hullabaloo, ThinkProgress has done its own item on the blog’s editorial independence, and Matt has his own piece, explaining that Palmieri’s item just reiterated what has always been the case: “I’m posting un-screened posts on an un-edited blog and covering every issue under the sun. Under the circumstances, it’s better for me, better for CAP and CAPAF, and better for everyone to understand that I’m writing as an individual not as the voice of the institution. Pointing that fact out isn’t contrary to me having an independent voice, it’s integral to having one.”

I had finally figured out what I wanted to say about all of this, but noticed that Ezra had already written what I was thinking.

Jennifer Palmieri’s actual message, oddly delivered though it was, says something quite banal: In case it wasn’t clear, CAP does not agree with Matt’s contention that Third Way, CAP’s coalition partners, are proponents of “hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit.” Or, at the least, they wouldn’t phrase it that way (however, as compared to CAP’s policy agenda, Third Way’s offerings are inarguably hyper-timid incrementalism).

CAP is not a blog publisher. They are a think tank. They are the nerve center of the Democratic governing class. Their president has led Obama’s transition effort. It’s fairly uncharted territory for a think tank of that prestige — indeed, of any prestige at all — to hire a young progressive blogger and let him retain his voice on their site. Brookings doesn’t do it, and nor does EPI, or Heritage, or the Urban Institute, or the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. But CAP is following a model in which they provide income support to promising progressives so their work isn’t lost to law school or the commercial sector. That requires giving them a fair bit of editorial freedom, which will inevitably lead to conflicts and uncomfortable moments. As Ben Smith says, there are real consequences if Third Way is seen to be disfavored by CAP. And CAP has to balance that against their desire to support bloggers.

The fact that Palmieri’s message was public is, I think, a good sign. It’s transparent. They could have called Matt into the president’s office, explained that he would never ever write anything like that ever again, and the editorial intervention would have been simultaneously invisible to readers — no one would be criticizing CAP — and much more pernicious. They did not do that.

Indeed, they didn’t come close. At this point, Matt’s original post is still online; he hasn’t backpedaled on his opinion; and he hasn’t apologized. Palmieri’s post last night turned out to be clumsy, but the message wasn’t that troubling — Matt says things, and sometimes his employer disagrees with those things. All things being equal, that’s not an unreasonable position for a think tank in CAPAF’s position to take.

My hunch is someone at Third Way called CAPAF, complained that Matt had said something mean, and asked for a public acknowledgement that CAPAF thinks nice thoughts about Third Way. If so, that’s a shame. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m not especially concerned with Matt or ThinkProgress having to blog with one arm tied behind their back. CAPAF has said their blogs will keep their editorial independence, and I’m inclined to believe it.

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