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Image-building in the blogging age
Thursday, May 22, 2008
TRYING TO SOUND AS INSIGHTFUL as Sherlock Holmes solving the curious case of the dog that did not bark in the night, media bloviators have naturally seized on what Barack Obama pointedly and carefully did not do this week: declare victory.
He and his spokespeople might just as well have done, though.
Throughout the media universe Obama is now as obviously the Democrats’ presumptive candidate as John McCain is the Republicans’. (Above left, Oregon primary coverage in the Register-Guard of Eugene, Or.) Much retroactive analysis is already kicking in – premature or not – about how Obama pulled off his success.
One inescapable factor has been his fancy footwork in the newer information technologies, from the fresh kinds of internet-derived momentum (oh please, let’s never forget the “Obama Girl” video and its attendant viral industry) to the phenomenal online fundraising that has successfuly placed the front-runner in a position to now gallantly offer (kind-of) to pay off Hillary Clinton’s humiliating debt.
And Obama keeps ahead in this No-Longer-New Media game. This week he sat for a 10-minute video interview with BlogHer, a politically non-partisan online community of some 14,500 blogging women who claim a readership of 9 million unique visitors a month. To their great credit this female cohort had declined an earlier offer from the campaign team to have Michelle Obama to interview in place of her husband (as the women also did with Mitt Romey’s wife Ann). The face-to-face with candidate Obama himself was a valuable exercise in so-called "citizen journalism" … helped by the fact that much professionalism was involved as well (give or take some sloppy lighting, all too common on the web).
Interviewer Erin Kotecki-Vest is an experienced live broadcaster as both anchor and correspondent - for WDBO in Central Florida and KFWB in Los Angeles, among others - and she did a brisk job pitching twelve basic questions, ranging from Iraq, through the economy and health care, to the environment. These had been refined by Blogher’s team of editors out of thousands of postings originating in this distinctive stratum of the blogosphere.
The editors want them to be a simple, down-to-earth template for judging any candidate. Let’s hope McCain responds to their invitation, and Clinton too, for that matter -- for the record and for any role she ends up playing after November.
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THE MAN WE MIGHT HAVE PERHAPS CALLED “THE BLOGGER-IN-CHIEF” doesn’t have such a strong grip on the ways of the web. George W Bush got off to an intriguing start in January this year, blogging during his groundbreaking visit (breaking ground at least for him, and maybe only him) to the Middle East. (Screen-capture of the presidential "Trip Notes" above center, containing the claim that it was “a long trip and a successful trip”.)
But like a preponderance of eager newbies, Bush failed to maintain the habit of web-posts to record his observations - or in all likelihood those of his more digitally dexterous staff. I was not really surprised to see that for the new Middle East presidential trip that took place last week there was no repeat of the earlier E-venture.
In echo of the style, if not the candidness of the January blogging, I offer some notional journaling that the President might have posted this week:
“After three days in Israel, for a great time celebrating the country’s 60th anniversary, I thought it was real neat to then meet the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Egypt, instead of his home turf, in Ramallah. He seemed kinda weird about that – and about me not pushing the Israelis hard about ending their settlement activity on the West Bank.
“I didn’t think this time it was wise to holler too loud about getting a Mid-East agreement before the end of my term in office – looks like we’ll be leaving that to the next guy. Funny, though, that as soon as I leave, Israel's suddenly talking with that terrorist state Syria, even though we told 'em not to."
“Had a great time (again!) in Saudi Arabia. But can’t figure why they won’t push their oil output way up for us. Better send Dick Cheney one more time.”
MAYBE I WAS UNFAIR TO McCAIN IN SUGGESTING HE'S BEHIND the curve in use of the web. He has in fact just taken part in an on-the-record dialogue with bloggers, albeit through the old-style medium of a conference call.
And among old-style media men (and it's usually men) he remains personally popular, almost whatever the politics of the journalists. So much so that one book at least has now taken on this curious phenomenon, under the title "Free Ride: John McCain and the Media" by David Brock and Paul Waldman (from Anchor publishers); it quotes Brit Hume of Fox News saying “John McCain is clearly the Washington media's favorite Republican”. Oh, and Joe Scarborough too, of MSNBC, saying about reporters that "every last one of them would move to Massachusetts and marry John McCain if they could.” Hmmm.
I’ve been criticized for tarring McCain, as I did two weeks ago, with Nixonian campaign methods because he had hired former Nixon staff. Well, I don’t apologize - since the choice of image-building team-members is always a strong reflection on the team-captain. And as the liberal Move On campaign has been eager to point out (and has claimed credit for engaging The Washington Post, NBC's Nightly News, and a “wildfire” spread on YouTube in following up the point) that McCain has without doubt chosen one particular doozy of a top adviser.
The doozy being Charlie Black (pictured above right with McCain, aboard the "Straight Talk Express"), who was previously a lobbyist for murderous tyrants and renegades from the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos to Zaire's Mobuto Sese Seko to Angola’s Jonas Savimbi.
And Black retains his position as a right-hand McCain man, even while lesser fry among lobbyists on the team, including Eric Burgeson, Doug Davenport and Doug Goodyear, have had to quit because of conflicts (or just perceived conflicts) of interest – the latter two for having taken on the repellent job of polishing the reputation of Myanmar/Burma’s despotic generals.