This post has two real online stimuli and a bunch of offline ones, although it is not clearly apropos of any:
- Patrick Ruffini on "information gaps."
- And Matt Stoller’s response to a separate piece by Patrick about using Facebook as a microtargeting data tool.
The broader point that I am going to try to make is that the political blogosphere is in profound flux, and the constants have more to do with the information that it processes and exposes than the people who are doing it. This is part 1 of 2. The second post will be about the changing political blogosphere.
My point is about how campaigns and interest groups inject information into the political debate. And where the people are. I took this to be the discussion that Patrick was really working on. Patrick said:
The new progressive movement started with guys like Atrios, who then got picked up by Media Matters. Dozens of lefty bloggers are employed by the new lefty infrastructure. As far as I know, Erick Erickson at Red State, and possibly my Townhall co-bloggers MKH and Matt Lewis, are the only ones employed full time by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Blog Division, who aren’t primarily journalists and as such have real freedom of action.
Now, Stoller objects:
Finally, it’s important to realize that there’s been almost no investment in the liberal blogs, which is dramatically different than what has gone on with the right side of the web, where Regnery Publishing literally bought Redstate, Republicans have been feeding Drudge tidbits since 1997, fellowships for people like the Powerline guys are the norm, and even the military is intensely cooperative. While peripheral groups like the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, and Moveon do deploy capital, actual activists have almost zero support either institutionally or financially.
I side with Patrick on this. A bunch of leading lefty bloggers have been picked up by the ideological media and interest groups. Ezra Klein to the Prospect, Kevin Drum to the Washington Monthly, Oliver Willis and Duncan Black to Media Matters, Glenn Greenwald to Salon, and Think Progress is a "project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund" (the website even says "Faiz Shakir is the Research Director at the Center for American Progress and serves as Editor of ThinkProgress.org"), etc. (interestingly, The Atlantic has tried the same, with Matt Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan, but none of their "righty" bloggers are really part of the righty blogosphere)
On the right, there has been some of this, but less. Redstate is owned by Eagle and Townhall by Salem. Robert Bluey is now at Heritage, where part of his job — I think — is to inject more Heritage information into the blogosphere. Are there any other major examples? (Ed Morrissey to Blog Talk Radio seems related but I don’t know how to parse)
So let’s be clear what has happened. Media Matters and CAP were started — to explicitly critique and shape the mainstream media — and hired a bunch of good bloggers … to blog, often with MM and CAP talking points. They are distribution mechanisms. Some of the lefty media has also hired good bloggers … to blog. The only person who I can think of who has gone from blogging to the righty media is Dean Barnett, and he no longer blogs.
On a broader level, what has happened is that a certain component of the research departments of the DNC has been outsourced to CAP, MM, and TPM and they have created distribution channels to move that information. The RNC and our campaigns have to worry about "no fingerprints" when they move negative material. The entire distribution mechanism on the left is built around this problem. These groups can also attack the the White House. Let’s be clear. The DNC the congressional Democrats don’t have to worry about fighting back against the White House. CAP, MM, and the blogs do that for them. There is no similar capacity on our side.
I want to step into history for a moment. Similar things have been done in the past on the GOP side. In 1982, the Washington Times was started to, in part, get the Reagan message out. Heritage helped give analytic firepower to a GOP congressional minority. One of the great untold stories of the Gingrich Revolution is the relationship between Heritage and the GOP congressional majority. Prior to 1994, congressional committee staff ratios were sometimes as high as 10-1 in favor of the Dems. (now they are about 2-1, in favor of the majority, with a couple of exceptions) Heritage allowed congressional Republicans to have the analytic capacity to fight back. When the GOP took over in 94, they slashed staff levels. In many cases, the Democratic committee staff fell by over 100 people. And we still had Heritage, while the Dems had no analytic capacity. But they had the administration which can crunch its own numbers and do its own credible analysis.
Two other interesting side effects of the role of Heritage. The first is that Heritage supports the Republican Study Committee and the Senate Republican Steering Committee, the two conservative caucuses. One, of several, reasons that the congressional GOP moderates lose so many fights is that they are opposed by significant analytic capacity. The second is that Hill staffers can download talking points and give them to their boss. This means that GOP Hill staffers tend to be — and can be — more politically-oriented and less policy-oriented. That is one source of GOP message discipline.
It wasn’t until the Dems lost the White House and the Congress, that they realized that they needed organizations like CAP. And CAP, unlike Heritage, focuses on the media.
Stepping back from history, into today, conseratives and Republicans have not built the message distribution mechanism. On today’s memeorandum leaderboard, ThinkProgress is #6. It is a thinktank. If you combine the results for TPM, TPM Muckraker, and the Horse’s Mouth, they are almost tied with ThinkProgress. Information is produced by those guys. Combining the two of those, only NYT and WaPo initiate more stories. And all of those are framed, very, very effectively, by bloggers who work for Media Matters.
Now, conservatives have alternative media outlets that can move our message, when we have them. Rush, Fox, etc. But those don’t drive news, they drive opinion, and you need both. Blogs are important because they drive news. Therefore, it is clear that we need a mechanism to drive the news cycle. Some of that will be informal coordination. Some of that will be a mechanism similar to CAP, MM, and TPM.
We have done this before, but only when out of power. It will develop. But it sure would be handy to have before then. It strikes me that there should be plenty of soft money willing to demonstrate that Hillary Clinton is a crook or that the corruption of congressional Democrats makes John Doolittle and Jack Abramoff blush. But the guys with the cash are sitting happy because their guys are, for now, in power.