Friday, January 30, 2004

Full Court Press

I wrote this comment the other day on David Weinberger's excellent new column Loose Democracy at Corante as we were all talking about how the Dean Campaign's internet strategy helped or harmed him of late:

David = I think this is not about vague, sprawling "Internet Strategy" notions the Dean campaign was based upon, but specifically about the way Dean and Trippi embraced blogs and bloggers (who are nearly detested by most traditional journalists).

Underneath all the political noise and commotion of this election, there is a veritable Civil War going on between bloggers and journalists. Whatever wonderful things bloggers can do FOR a candidate, journalists (especially TV reporters) can work wonders AGAINST a candidate's image and just about destroy him. Despite the missteps Dean himself might have made, the press was out to crucify him IMHO.

I had a pleasant chat with a woman reporter from a very well-known newspaper at Dean NH HQ, all nicey-nice until I happened to mention I was a blogger and then she looked at me like I was a LEPER. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but I think this is a big part of what was happening in the Dean campaign coverage.

And read this from Dan Gillmor -- I really like what he says:
If this is how things work, why did one candidate in 2000 not get this scrutiny? Why did George W. Bush get to announce that he'd been a bad boy before the age of 40, but that was ancient history and we should all forget about it -- and that's pretty much what happened. The press gave Bush a pass on things -- his failure to show up for some National Guard duty; questionable if not corrupt business dealings; the substance abuse; etc. -- that still smell to high heaven and would have been the topic of nonstop coverage had a Clinton or Gore or Dean been the one who'd done them.

There's a non-conspiratorial explanation for some of this. Bush, the candidate, coddled and flattered reporters. He cultivated an image of being shallow, if not stupid (he may be the former, but definitely not the latter), so that journalists would just laugh off his latest gaffe. In 2000 Gore was standoffish and didn't suffer fools. This time, Dean was the smart-guy front-runner who didn't have time for games with journalists. Who got treated better by the reporters? Guess.

Reporters are human. We are insecure by nature and susceptible to flattery, more than we should be. One of the most telling journalism images of this campaign was a news story (I can't find it offhand) in which one reporter complains that Dean didn't ask any personal questions about him, the reporter -- setting a new high (or low, depending on how you see it) in journalistic self-involvement and insecurity. Add Dean's thinking out loud and pandering, and he was bound to get pounded.

Anyway, Dean's still in this race. But I have to wonder if Bush would be in the White House at all had he been subjected to the same treatment. Somehow I doubt it.