Bloggers Regurgitating Talking Points?
In the critical exchange, highlighted by TPM’s David Kurtz, Bartlett reacts angrily to a question about a “myth that there’s an underground tunnel between the Fox News studios and the White House,” claiming that Fox was of very little help. By contrast, however, bloggers like Hugh Hewitt or the gang at Power Line were considered must-reach targets because of their impact with the base.
I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.
This draws appreciative chuckles from Kevin Drum, who chortles, “the right-wing blogosphere now has a new motto: Even more credulous and slavish than Fox News. It’s a proud moment for them.”
As if Democratic politicians don’t use left-wing bloggers, including some of the very most prominent ones, in precisely the same way?
For the most part, bloggers aren’t reporters; we’re advocates. Some of us do original reporting from time to time. A handful, like Josh Marshall and Michelle Malkin, do quite a bit. But we don’t pretend to be unbiased and we tend to bite on talking points that are favorable to our candidates and run with stories that are detrimental to political adversaries.
Still, Dan Riehl‘s largely right when he says, “In my opinion, simply regurgitating what professionals give you isn’t blogging, not blogging I respect, anyway. And the best bloggers just don’t do it.”
To be sure, there are bloggers who are partisan hacks. And a handful of them have a large following. Most of us, though, are independent on an issue-by-issue basis even if we’re predisposed to give our guys the benefit of the doubt or to view information about the other side more harshly.
Ed Morrissey reminds us of several prominent examples: “I wonder if Bartlett has an explanation for the blogospheric response to Harriet Miers, Dubai ports, and most of all immigration that fits in with his ‘regurgitation’ model.”
For my part, I lambasted the administration on Harriet Miers (in opposition to Hugh Hewitt and others) and was one of a relative handful of right-of-center bloggers defending them on Dubai and immigration. In any case, though, the White House doesn’t have me on speed dial, as I haven’t been offered any exclusives to regurgitate.
I get plenty of emails from them, but they’re of the garden variety hack press release variety and have been filtered directly into my “PR Spam” file for months. Indeed, most of the contacts I’ve gotten from campaigns, congressional staffs, and advocacy groups are similarly worthless.
While Bartlett and other Republican activists might consider their blogger outreach effort successful, they’ve done a horrid job. Sure, getting talking points out to the most credulous bloggers and their readership is worthwhile. But merely stoking a dwindling base is hardly the best way to build a coalition.
They’d be far better served emulating the model the John McCain campaign has used. While his blogger outreach guy sends out a ridiculous number of emails to his list — sometimes a dozen or more on the day of a debate — and could do a better job of focusing his effort, they’ve gotten the big picture right. McCain has frequent blogger conference calls to which he invites a wide range of Republican-leaning bloggers, most of whom have aligned themselves with other candidates for the nomination. He simply asks that bloggers listen to what he has to say (usually a one or two minute statement) and then opens the floor for 40 minutes or more of unscripted questions, to which he gives candid responses. The result of this is that he gets a fair hearing and creates an actual relationship with bloggers and, in turn, their readers.
That’s a more risky model, I suppose, than calling up the usual suspects and having press releases appear as blog posts. It’s also potentially much more rewarding.
UPDATE: Screencap of the most recent 20 (of hundreds) of messages from the White House Communications Office added above.