- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Leading political observers declared that 2006 was the year in which bloggers first had a major impact on an election. And there is a broad consensus that liberal bloggers have far more influence in the Democratic Party — and have been more politically effective — than conservative bloggers have been for Republicans.

To explore this issue and to consider the role of blogs in the 2008 election cycle, editors and reporters for The Washington Times met with a group of bloggers, writers and activists for a round-table discussion Thursday. The following are excerpts of the discussion. More extensive excerpts are online at washingtontimes.com.

Among the discussion participants was Jon Henke, “new media” adviser to Senate Republicans. A former blogger, Mr. Henke gained prominence when he was hired during the final months of the 2006 re-election campaign of Sen. George Allen of Virginia. Mr. Allen was defeated by Democrat James H. Webb Jr., an outcome influenced by an incident that was captured on video and distributed online in which Mr. Allen used the word “macaca” in referring to a Webb volunteer.

David Eldridge, managing editor, WashingtonTimes.com: Jon, you worked for George Allen. Could you tell you us just a little about what Allen did well or did not do well in that campaign? …

Mr. Henke: Simply put, Allen didn’t pay any attention to the Internet, and Republicans, in general, didn’t pay a lot of attention to the Internet. It was a niche area. They didn’t really have the expertise in it. …

Meanwhile, the [Webb campaign] … did hire netroots guys to exploit the Internet. At the top, they had DailyKos, Atrios, ThinkProgress — the big Web sites reporting news on the national level. They coordinated the local state blogs, [working] very closely with those to feed information back and forth, to break stories on a national level, draw attention to the race and also to assure the national Democrats that Webb was a Democrat.

So I think they used Virginia blogs essentially as opposition research outlets. … Those blogs broke news.

Every day of the cycle there was something new [at those blogs so that] reporters wanting to find out news as soon as it happens are going to be pushing “refresh.” And that’s what they did, every morning, they’d push “refresh” on NotLarrySabato or RaisingKaine. And those became the go-to sites. …

So [Democratic blogs] were very effective at grabbing the eyeballs of the influentials and focusing them on their long-term story. They built the whole racism story [about Mr. Allen] months and months before “macaca” ever happened. … They were very effective … at framing the story. …

Pew Research indicated that a majority of journalists read blogs, and of those journalists, a majority of those read blogs to find information to improve their stories and to find out which stories they should be covering. … Reporters told me during the race that the blogs were the new shoe-leather beat for journalists. …

Terry Mattingly, GetReligion.org: I think the idea that conservatives haven’t been active or as successful at blogging really begs the question — that fact that conservatives created the alternative sources of media that over the past five years have had just a massive impact. …

So I think to some degree, the conservative blogs have chosen to fire at different topics. From the get-go, they chose to fire at the mainstream media, instead of being so highly involved in partisan politics, which gets us to the other point that you hear people talk about behind the scenes. That is, that if liberals have struggled with radio because they already had pre-existing loyalties to mainstream media [and National Public Radio], has the right struggled with blogging because of pre-existing loyalties to talk radio? …

Brian Phillips, aide to Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican: That sort of goes toward the question: What is your metric of success for conservative blogging? … We’re very good at getting people convinced of our ideas around election time, and we’ve seen how the left has co-opted some of the tactics of the past 25 years by the right. … My question is: Why don’t we use some of the tactics that we know how to use and that have worked for the past 25 years and simply apply these tactics to the new vehicle of the blog? …

Mr. Mattingly: I think … a lot of the conservative blogs are more interested in the culture, media and American life than they are partisan politics. …

Blog history

Paul Mirengoff, Powerline. com: In historical context … blogs in general rose in 2002, 2003. That was a time when Republicans were having good success. … I think conservative bloggers [said], “We’ll leave politics to [Republican political advisers] Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman. They’re doing a really good job. All we’ll try to do is to make sure that the mainstream media doesn’t come in and trump our success.” … So they had a different model. …

Mr. Henke: I think that is the dominant factor here. Republicans were in power, so Republicans were more concerned about infighting, sniping. … While Democrats were out of power … that was their one mission: They organized against Republicans. … Democrats did something very smart: They created what they call progressive infrastructure. They bought up a lot of the bloggers [and helped create] Media Matters, the Center for American Progress — there are a variety of magazines. They pay those people, and sometimes they continue blogging. … That makes those people much more directable — not in a puppet master sort of way, but if they’re being paid to write, you can encourage them to write certain things. …

Nathan Tabor, TheConservativeVoice.com: To take your point and build on it, from what I’ve seen, on the left, the blogs are very willing to work with each other. …

Philip Klein, the American Spectator: The Democrat bloggers are more oriented toward pushing an agenda. …

Mary Katharine Ham, Townhall.com: You have a lot of high-profile right bloggers who aren’t necessarily conservative in a sort of conservative movement definition … but at the time the right blogosphere grew up, they were very [supportive of] the Bush stance on the war on terror. So that’s why you’ve got high-profile bloggers who don’t necessarily have agreement on any of these other issues, like small government or social issues. You’ve got widely diverging opinions. …

Steve Petersen, the Bivings Group: I think that one thing we’ve been hearing over and over … is how the left uses bloggers as opposed to how the right does. My impression is that the left treats its bloggers as activists. … Whereas on the right, I’m not sure that there’s that kind of interaction, and I don’t know if bloggers really feel that valued or as involved. …

Mr. Eldridge: Do you guys want to be activists? …

Miss Ham: There’s a fierce independence. … I think there is some serious resistance to being seen … as activists.

Measuring success

Mr. Phillips: [Liberal bloggers] have a metric of success, which is to get their politicians elected, or to move the current politicians and leadership in a particular direction. It’s very clear what their agenda is. What I’m hearing here, and from others, is that … conservative bloggers, not only are they not activists, but they don’t want to be activists. … So, in comparing those two things — “How can we be successful like the left?” — well, “We don’t even want to be.” …

Mr. Klein: What I think the problem is, the Republican Party has drifted so far from its core principles that a lot of people … as a result are trying to return the party to its principles, as opposed to just rallying around the Republican Party. …

David Weigel, Reason magazine: There’s really, at some level, there’s pretty much unanimity among [liberal bloggers about] the need to elect more Democrats. And still … six months after an election loss, [bloggers are] still debating on the right. There’s no issue that’s uniting them. …

Mr. Tabor: I think one of the things you see, too, is the use of technology. The Democrats are doing this in a very rapid manner of reaching out. Right now, you can take voter files and match them to e-mail addresses in databases. … They’ve done a very good job of putting e-mails together. But down in North Carolina where I’m from, there’s very few e-mail addresses in the voter vault for the [Republican National Committee]. And it’s a very cheap, very quick and very effective way to communicate with voters. The Democrats have already done it — they’ve got over 24 million [e-mail addresses]. … They can break it down by county, congressional district, statewide, regions. …

Mr. Mattingly: A good day at my blog is when we force the New York Times to issue a correction. A good day at my blog is when we’re quoted in the London Times. … Ours is not a partisan blog or a political blog at all. We’re very open about our loyalties on social issues. But that gets me back to what I was saying awhile ago. The reason so many culturally conservative bloggers don’t want to be identified as Republicans is that they’re not Republicans, period. They’re Catholics. Or, they’re not Republicans, they’re charismatic Christians. They have higher loyalties. …

Mr. Phillips: Can you imagine DailyKos sitting there saying, “A great day for us is getting quoted by the New York Times?” I mean, their metrics are actual success. …

Mr. Petersen: For most people, the blogosphere really took off in 2003, 2004. And we’re still a very tiny, small subset of the population who pay attention to the blogosphere. … The medium has really evolved over the last six years. …

Mr. Henke: I am not a blog triumphalist. Blogs, by themselves, don’t swing anything. Blogs … what they were responsible for in [the 2006 Virginia Senate election] was shaping the media coverage.

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