Blog­ging back: Mak­ing the In­ter­net work for the right

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Robert Stacy McCain

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 on May 17. The fol­low­ing are excerpts of the dis­cus­sion.

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 shoe­leather 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.

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

Mr. Henke:

[. . . ] 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 high­pro­file 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.

Do you guys want

Mr. Eldridge:

to be ac­tivists?

There’s a fierce in­de­pen­dence. [. . . ] I think there is

Miss Ham:

some se­ri­ous re­sis­tance to be­ing seen as ac­tivists. Mea­sur­ing suc­cess

[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.”

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.

Mr. Phillips:

Mr. Klein:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Mr. Ta­bor:

Mr. Mattingly:

Mr. Phillips:

Mr. Petersen:

Mr. Henke:

Jack Hornady / The Wash­ing­ton Times

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