Used to be a whisper campaign was the way to bury a person in politics. Truth wasn't a requirement.
These days you can do the same thing at light speed with a few blasts on the social media megaphone to get the blogging partisanistas howling.
Call it the status update heard across the state.
"There are persistent reports from reliable sources that Gov. Jan Brewer is seriously ill and may not be capable of finishing a four-year term," former Democratic Senate candidate John Dougherty - an award-winning investigative journalist, no less - posted on his campaign Facebook account a few weeks ago. "The public has a right to know about her physical fitness now, not after Nov. 2."
The blogs picked it up and, soon after, Brewer's adviser, Chuck Coughlin, suggested reporters inquire about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard's sexual orientation. Coughlin even posted a link, since removed, on his own blog to a 20-year-old transcript from the Azscam bribery sting in which someone alleges Goddard is gay.
Goddard has a wife and kid, and Brewer is still vertical - and now has a doctor's note attesting to her good health. But the digital herd was stampeding. Forget about the border, foreclosure crisis or budget cuts - these were pressing issues.
Welcome to life in the era of "truthiness" - a word comedian Stephen Colbert has famously used as a proxy for ersatz truth. It no longer matters if information is locked down and factual: It just needs to look and sound like it is. Throw it up online and see if it sticks. Who cares about the consequences?
Does David Safier of Blog for Arizona? Not only has he run with the Brewer health-scare story, but he's added to the conversation. While acknowledging he hasn't "heard or read any information substantiating" Dougherty's claim, Safier posted something he read online in Psychology Today "which suggests Brewer's 16-second gap at the beginning of her debate with Goddard could have been a symptom of prescription drug use, drunkenness, early stages of senile dementia or even a mini-stroke or seizure."
Safier describes himself as a mix between a reporter and a columnist. A retired teacher, he said he's broken numerous education stories that big media either missed or couldn't get to. He likes E.J. Montini of The Arizona Republic, Paul Krugman of The New York Times and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, who still play by traditional journalism rules. But when it comes to his political posts, Safier seems more in line with his Blog for Arizona colleague, the "Arizona Blue Meanie," whose anonymous "mission" is to "pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media - which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them," his online bio says.
The Blue Meanie promises "a good face-stomping" for the person who unmasks him.
The Blue Meanie is a local attorney, Roger White, who would not confirm the open secret of his alter identity, probably because his online nastiness could cost him clients.
As the Blue Meanie, White can name-call a now-former journalist a "talentless hack" or a politician "the wannabe tin-horn dictator of Tucson." He just can't risk having his name tagged to it.
Safier said the Blue Meanie is an influential blogger, read up and down the state. Naming the Blue Meanie would cause personal harm and be a public disservice, Safier said. Besides, anonymity is just part of the blogging game. So, too, it seems, is the personal harm the Blue Meanie causes his targets with his anonymous attacks.
"What you are missing is an understanding of the culture of a blog," Safier said. Maybe so. I don't read many of them.
Blog for Arizona, of course, is just one of many online political voices embracing truthiness. We have anonymous bloggers on the conservative Gila Courier and Sonoran Alliance. We have The Three Sonorans, which has made its mark with personal attacks. We even now have the conservative Arizona News-Telegraph pretending to be a news source.
"We are going to do our absolute level best to give it another perspective," said James Kelley, one of the site's conservative bloggers who carries a "reporter" business card.
Ted Prezelski, of the popular site Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, makes it clear he's a blogger, not a reporter.
He signs his blogs and is no fan of those who snipe anonymously. But he doesn't hold back on putting his perspective in his posts, which is OK because his readers know where he's coming from.
"I don't have an obligation to run around and get both sides," he said.
Call me old school - and hey, I'm writing for a newspaper - but even if you're just posting it online, you actually do.
Josh Brodesky can be reached at 573-4242 or firstname.lastname@example.org