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Making the Web work for the right
Question of the Day
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. …
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