February 7, 2004
Voices at the Crash Site Say the Frontrunner Was Never Ahead
The Howard Dean crash site has been visited a lot already. Writers on the Net are starting to struggle over their interpretations, including the role of the Net in Dean's crash. But the press suffered a crash too. Where do we locate that site?
“Even though we looked like an 800-pound gorilla, we were still growing up,” a senior campaign aide said. “We were like the big lanky teenager that looked like a grown man.” —Jody Wilgoren and Jim Rutenberg, “Missteps Pulled a Surging Dean Back to Earth,” New York Times, Feb. 1, 2004.
For his efforts to puzzle through what went wrong in the Dean movement, a gold star to my colleague at NYU, Clay Shirky. His latest analysis, “Exiting Deanspace,” is the most fluid and convincing I have seen. Shirky writes about software and how people use it. Like others, he is interested in the Net effect, and why it did not develop into votes. So his piece is not only “what went wrong for Dean and his supporters?” but also “how was it concealed from view?”
He freely admits he was fooled by appearances, along with many others impressed by Dean and the political discoveries of his people. (I include myself.) And for two weeks after the crash, the world of appearances was still fooling Shirky. It led him to a question that misled: “how could such a successful campaign suddenly do so badly?” This assumes a reversal of fortune— from high flyer to dead in the water.
But maybe Dean never flew, and there was no crash. This is Shirky’s idea. “Dean’s campaign was never actually successful,” he writes, laying out the “mirage” thesis.
It did many of the things successful campaigns do, of course — got press and raised money and excited people and even got potential voters to aver to campaign workers and pollsters that they would vote for him when the time came. When the time came, however, they didn’t. The campaign never succeeded at making Howard Dean the first choice of any group of voters he faced, and it seems unlikely to do so today.
Supporters of Dean lived in a bubble of expectations. And Shirky believes that “the way the campaign was organized helped inflate and sustain that bubble of belief, right up to the moment that the voters arrived.” Dean was never ahead, except in the heads of people misreading the election and misinterpreting progress in technology.
“So how did this collective delusion of Dean’s front-runner-hood happen?” Shirky asks, being himself a participant. “And what if anything did the use of the Internet contribute to it?” A lot rides on that question. David Weinberger, a Dean supporter, writer and occasional consultant: “That the Internet helped fuel the delusional belief seems undeniable to me. How it fueled it Clay lays out beautifully. How much it fueled it is much harder to figure out, and is deeply important because if we get it wrong, we will set false assumptions about what the Net is good for in political campaigns.”
Their point, I believe, is that political writers, Net thinkers, insiders, journalists, and campaign participants should sift carefully through the Dean crash (if it was that) because the lessons of this episode will figure in the next. I expect a lot of that will go on at the O’Reilly Digital Democracy Teach-In coming up (Feb. 9) in San Diego, where Joe Trippi will keynote. (Speakers include the founders MoveOn.org, Joi Ito, Mitch Ratcliffe, Doc Searls, Halley Suitt, Ed Cone, Dave Weinberger, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen.)
Shirky thinks Dean “accidentally created a movement instead of a campaign.” The movement seemed huge because Net advances had dramatically lowered the “coordination costs” for like-minded people to come together. (Just as locating small donors had become easier if you knew how to do it.) The passionate believers in Dean could now find each other way more efficiently, and this gave the movement its social momentum.
But it was a misleading sign. “Fervor isn’t votes,” Shirky writes, aware that he is stating the obvious. Momentum and effort and activity aren’t votes, either. Money isn’t votes. And given the potency of the new organizing tools, a successful movement, with lots of activity, may actually obscure a campaign that is failing with voters:
The easy thing to explain is why Dean lost – the voters didn’t like him. The hard thing to explain is why we (and why Dean himself) thought he’d win, and easily at that. The bubble of belief, which collapsed so quickly and so completely, was inflated by tools that made formerly hard things easy, tricking us into thinking that getting votes had become easy as well… It was also inflated by our desire to see someone get it right, a fact that made us misunderstand the facts on the ground.
It can be difficult to admit your desire got in the way of a cooler analysis, which turned out to be right. But then activating people’s desire for a smarter and better politics was one of the things Dean did well. “My theory about Dean’s demise,” writes Stephen Johnson, author of Emergence. “He got fewer votes than the other guys.” He explains:
The Dean campaign’s use of the internet has forever changed the way that candidates 1) organize their supporters, and 2) raise their money. But I would argue that it has had almost no effect—and probably will continue to have little to no effect—on the way ordinary voters ultimately decide who to vote for. That decision is still largely made via face-to-face inspection, where possible, and then via television, where you get an approximation, however filtered, of that face-to-face encounter.
One way to be right about what the Internet can do is to lower your expectations. Weblogger Jeff Jarvis, also a journalist and Internet division head for the Newhouse empire, was quoted in Salon on this theme. “We all learned lessons in Iowa,” he said. “Howard Dean learned the biggest one — stop being an asshole. We learned about the insular nature of this medium. We learned not to blow up the bubble, not to put too much emphasis on what this thing can do. It can do miraculous, wonderful things, but it can’t win an election. It can change the world, but it can’t win an election.”
Scott Rosenberg of Salon, a journalist who has written on the politics of technology, said the Dean campaign did change the world in one big way:
Internet enthusiasts had long theorized that the Net could help route around the broadcast media’s headlock on both the electoral process and the broader definition of the acceptable boundaries of political discourse; Dean and his supporters made it happen. Whether Dean’s campaign somehow manages a comeback or, more likely, fades in coming weeks is utterly irrelevant to this accomplishment.
Former political reporter for the New York Times, former host of The Connection on Boston public radio, former mayoral candidate, and current audio blogger Chris Lydon develops the same point: Dean was a challenge to major institutions in the news media, even though he was not competing for their position:
His first contribution was simply to sound an anti-war alarm that institutional media had muffled. Millions of people knew intuitively that his warning was wise; millions more know it now. He began with a bold exercise in definition—a job of critical journalism that our big media don’t perform these days. In large dimensions and small (like his chippy defiance of Tim Russert), Dean’s campaign was a critique of the somnolent self-satisfaction that runs through our housecat press. And people loved him for it.”
Here is where I pick up the thread. The self-satisfaction begins in the press’s claim to have mastered presidential campaigns, in the sense of knowing how the system works, “what it takes” to get elected. Journalists see themselves as political realists who don’t have a horse in the race. They tend to identify with those who have a disciplined, professional interest in campaigning— and lots of inside knowledge to share. Psychologically, this puts them closer to the professionals they write about than the public, whose bombardment by message the professionals are busy planning.
That’s how political consultants became media stars. When you look at elections and see a horse race, you also see a consultant, handler, manager, or pollster as rich in the sort of knowledge you need to understand what’s going in this election cycle. But it is only professionals who live elections as “cycles.”
Common experience isn’t like that. By absorbing, broadcasting and recycling the political insider’s take on things, journalists have taught themselves to look at the public as a semi-predictable mass of potentially swayable voters, who will respond to the right message. Drip by drip, drop by drop, this acidic way of understanding people begins to influence the journalism you give them.
Strange information loops result. The public is told how the candidates plan to position themselves (“He’s running as…”) News stories appear about candidates trying to influence news stories about candidates because newsy expectations in Iowa are themselves making news in Iowa. Things like that.
Insiders can explain this (sometimes absurd) world best because they make their living from trying to win in it. Journalists, who are making a living at this too, have to report the race. The two groups understand each other, need each other, and see each other on the campaign trail. They know how to work together to glamorize inside knowledge without conspiring to do so. Maybe it’s simpler. They have drinks together, and talk politics. It has an effect.
The national press has claimed mastery of the presidential campaign, not because it knows all, but because it knows—and it quotes—the people who really do know politics, from the inside. These are the pros. The rest of its knowledge comes from trooping to New Hampshire and Iowa and other places the candidates are found to see them live and watch them interact. Inside Baseball and Boys on the Bus: the self-satisfaction Lydon writes about is partly a complacency about these two knowledge streams.
“In other words, just about everything you heard and read about the Iowa caucuses in November and December was wrong.” Howard Kurtz, a brand name journalist, wrote that in the Washington Post. It’s a stark statement of failure from inside the citadel of the press. If almost everything done by journalists in Iowa was wrong, then it must have something to do with their knowledge—the instruments for grasping reality in journalism—and not just the facts.
William Powers, press critic for the National Journal and another Washington journalist, adds to Kurtz’s charge:
The media appear clueless and insecure, unable to decide what matters most, or should matter, about any given candidate. His policy positions? His legislative achievements? His polls? How much money he raises and from whom? His childhood? His temperament? His marriage? His Botox rumors? The odd sounds he makes at pep rallies?
Powers thinks this cluelessness (a theme I also developed) has causes: the two knowledge streams the press favors. One is traditional: trailing the candidates around. “Watch Candidate X as he bounds into the requisite greasy spoon, shakes the requisite hands, and makes the requisite small talk about the requisite big issues,” he writes.
At the other, postmodern extreme is a different kind of journalism entirely: the dark inside knowledge that all top-flight political reporters possess about how presidential campaigns really work. Based largely on the media’s running conversation with pollsters, consultants, campaign managers, and other hardened political pros, this macro-level strategic coverage has effectively opened up the smoke-filled rooms of old and let the rest of us see what goes on in there.
Both methods—going out with the candidates, tuning into the mechanics—have their virtues, he says. At times they go well together and increase our understanding. But neither approaches the mystery point in politics, the alchemy between people and pol in “that very public space where candidates go to connect with the mass of voters.” (Note that if the real election story happens here, it is not an “inside” story.)
Although it has other stages, this “very public space” is largely the space of the media. “There’s no Nielsen system for tracking the day-to-day media performance of candidates, no reliable way of knowing how each of them is registering at any given moment in the brains and emotions of the voting 100 million, ” Powers writes. “The closest approximation is the polls, and we know how reliable those are.”
Yes, we do. The national press lives in a bubble of expectations too, and it did in Iowa. It has its own aging “software”—the horse race, inside baseball, the boys and girls on the bus, spin alley, polls upon tracking polls, the money race, the endorsement derby, the Russert primary, the expectations game, the gotcha question, “he’s running as…”—all designed to take the mystery out of campaign politics, to smooth it out, make it more predictable and thus reportable with existing tools. And with ideas carried over from previous campaigns going back at least to 1976 and Jimmy Carter’s surprise in Iowa.
But the journalist’s software (I also call it press think) sent all the wrong signals, and this led to system failure. The master narrative flunked its Iowa test. Everything you heard and read from us was wrong, said Howard Kurtz on January 19. (“The Pundits Blow It.”) Shirky wrote of the Deaniacs: “The way the campaign was organized helped inflate and sustain that bubble of belief, right up to the moment that the voters arrived.” And the way campaign coverage was organized helped inflate and sustain a news bubble that lasted the same length of time. Clearly, the two bubbles influenced each other.
The press bubble was blown around the figure, “front runner in Iowa and New Hampshire,” a narrative device activated by Dean’s poll numbers and bank account. The idea of always having a frontrunner is software— a kind of weekly planner for the press. But frontrunner also organizes the story overall. The other candidates fall in place behind Mr. Front, and their roles can then be cast.
If the frontrunner is big news for a while, then frontrunner stumbles becomes an irresistable storyline. For that’s bigger news. Not only do we get this every four years; we get the savvy predictions that we’ll get it, as if the turn in the story (the frontrunner’s fall) already existed and was merely awaiting the contingent facts.
This is the inflate-to-deflate cycle that is now apparent to all as a perversity of campaign coverage. Candidates talk ruefully about “being labled the frontunner” because they know how deadly the construction can be. Powers is right to call this a post-modern moment. But it’s also one of those times in politics when words are deeds, and it is journalists doing them.
And that’s how we got a front runner who was never ahead.
Other Voices at the Crash Site
Dave Winer, “Howard Dean is not a Soap Bar:”
He did raise a lot of money on the Internet, and that’s interesting, for sure, and he taught us so much, and if he had gone all the way, I believe he would have survived the onslaught of CNN, ABC and NBC, who were his real competitors, not the other candidates for the Democratic nomination…The Dean campaign taught us that you can’t use the Internet to launch into a successful television campaign to win primaries. By raising money to run ads you play into the gatekeepers, who for obvious financial reasons, have a lot at stake in the money continuing to flow through their bank accounts. At some point he wouldn’t need them. If Dean didn’t get it, they did. So they proved that in 2004 at least, they still get a veto on who runs for President. To Blitzer, Sawyer and Russert, to Viacom, GE, Time-Warner and Disney, Kerry seems safe, but Dean is dangerous, he routes around them, he goes direct.
In “The Counter-Revolution Has Been Televised” John Perry Barlow writes:
It may be that, once again, we have met the enemy and he is us. By pre-announcing the possibility that this might be The Internet Election, we issued fair warning both to the traditional media and the big money politicos that a threat was at hand.
If Dean could actually raise enough money online to match in aggregate the much larger and fewer donations Bush has bought from the plutocrats with his tax cuts, it would shake the system to its rotten core. Worse, if information from the Web and the Blogosphere were to start defining enough personal realities to contest the great mass of tube-zombies at the polls, the gazillions presently spent on television campaign ads would start to wither. An enormous amount of power and money might be at stake.
MoveOn.org had them worried too.
Doc Searls uses a conversation with a friend to observe as follows:
There is an enormous resolve out there to recall George W. Bush… neither the voters nor the democratic machine cares as much about who started the recall as they do about the recall itself — just like we saw here in California, where the recall started by Ron Unz was finished by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This indeed makes the primaries a referendum on electability. These voters are realists. Some of them use the Net, but all of them watch TV. If the TV wants to put Kerry in the ring, then Kerry’s the man, for better or worse.
If the counter-revolution will be televised, these voters say, then the revolution will be televised too. The job now is to get Kerry in condition.
Anyway, I kinda nodded along with all of this. It made sense to me. But the Net is still there, connecting voters in more ways than ever. And connecting governance as well.
The Net is the people’s medium. It’s where understanding is produced as well as consumed. In the long run the Net, and the people who use it best, will win.
I just hope I live to see it.
CalPundit: “this time I think the internet enthusiasts are being too hard on themselves.”
Look at what the internet accomplished for Howard Dean: it raised a ton of money and generated loads of activist enthusiasm, which in turn bought a huge ground staff, encouraged endorsements from two of the biggest unions around, allowed the campaign to saturate the airwaves with advertising, boosted him to #1 in the polls, and helped fund a 50-state organization that was the envy of every other candidate.
In other words, the internet was instrumental in helping build all the traditional mechanisms that elect a candidate. The fact that it still didn’t work just means that the candidate wasn’t good enough. After all, Phil Gramm raised a boatload of money in 1996 and then disappeared without a trace. It happens.
Mitch Ratcliffe: “Dean grossly underestimated the role voters want to play in this campaign and we hear it each time he urges people to “join me” or “join us” to create institutional change. Voters want to lead this change, not follow. The “I have a scream speech” showed that he was willing to ignore most of America; it is the fact that he didn’t turn his attention to the national audience when he had it—when he could speak to ordinary Americans—that betrays a failure of imagination.”
Joseph Menn, “Dean Backers Debate Internet ‘Echo Chamber.’” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7.
Ed Cone: “From where I’m sitting, the Internet aspects were the things Dean’s campaign got right. Figuring out how to translate that organizational and financial strength into success in the field was the problem.”
Michael Cudahy and Jock Gill at Greater Democracy: “Mesmerized by their own Internet magic , the Dean organization, on the other hand, appeared to forget that politics is about listening — in diners and church basements — to the concerns and ambitions of real people. Excited by the virtual conversations on their Internet blog, the Dean campaign failed to appreciate the critical role of effective, local organizing.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at February 7, 2004 1:33 AM
Tom Mangan's sarcasm is almost as silly as the rant about the POC or whatever we call the conventional wisdom of the mediacrity.
Dean's cataclysmic fall in Iowa can be documented in six main areas, and many smaller ones.
First and foremost, an onslaught of attacks that he was too negative, too weird, too unstable, gaffe prone, undisciplined. These RNC talking points were echoed over and over by the media and his rivals, and preconditioned Iowa voters to judge him harshly.
Second, the widely reported rebroadcast of Dean's Canadian criticism of the Iowa caucus system, which some have credited with a quick 10 point drop in the polls in Iowa.
Third, the negative campaigns by Gephardt and Dean backfired and hurt both candidates badly.
Fourth, the campaign failed on the conventional campaign level, organizationally, in its television ads, in its overkill on the phone and with out of state volunteers.
Fifth, Kerry and Edwards coopted Dean's message, and sold the message better through conventional media.
Six, voters looked very very carefully at the candidates as reflected in the media with a strategic understanding of who would project best through television, and therefore be most electable.
With a scant 18% of the vote in Iowa, after monumental work, Dean was finished.
Attempting to discuss this without looking at the role of the broadcast and print media is nonsensical. Why was Dean gaffe-prone instead of straight-talking ? Why was he angry, outraged, even outrageous, rather than someone articulating the feelings of Democratic voters to the point that his competitors imitated him?
For Deaniacs, the good news is that Howard sacrificed himself so that the party can win in November. Rove and his minions shot their wad and won't recover. Liberal and independent voters distrust the media completely, and Kerry is not going to be Gored the way Dean was.
Hello All: If you want the truth - Please read on... I will attempt to refrain from saying AH HA!
"Mr Dean made statements last year about wanting to break up media
The latest news (last article below) confirms what happens if you are running for President of the United States and say something like that...
URL: ( http://www.newsdissector.org/weblog/ )
MediaChannel is a media issues supersite, featuring criticism, breaking
news, and investigative reporting from hundreds of organizations worldwide.
As the media watch the world, we watch the media.
575 8th Avenue
New York, NY l0018
IS THIS TOO CONSPIRATORIAL?
And now for the Dean campaign. David Podvin offers this speculation:
by David Podvin, 2/1/04
On December 1, 2003, Howard Dean was ahead by twenty points in the polls
when he appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews and said, "We're going to
break up the giant media enterprises." This pronouncement went far beyond
the governor's previous public musings about possibly re-regulating the
communications industry, and amounted to a declaration of war on the
corporations that administer the flow of information in the United States.
It was an extraordinarily noble and dangerous thing to do: when he
advocated a truly free press, Dr. Dean was provoking the corrupt media
conglomerates that control what most Americans see and hear and read, and
thereby control what most Americans think.
The media giants quickly responded by crushing his high-flying campaign
with the greatest of ease. This time, they didn't even have to invent a
scandal in order to achieve the desired result; merely by chanting the word
"unelectable" at maximum volume, the mainstream media maneuvered Democratic
voters into switching their support to someone who poses no threat to the
John Kerry is a member in good standing of the feeble
Daschle/Biden/Feinstein wing of the Democratic Party, a group of politicians
whose disagreements with the mercantile elite tend to be merely rhetorical.
Any doubts about Kerry's level of commitment to his stated progressive
beliefs were conclusively answered in 1994 when he proclaimed himself
"delighted" with the Republican takeover of Congress. The media oligarchy
knows that a general election race between Kerry and George W. Bush will
insure a continuation of its monopoly, regardless of who wins.
The news cartel had always been hostile to Dean; independent surveys
revealed that he had received the most negative coverage of any candidate
except Dennis Kucinich (the only other contender who strongly favors
mandatory media divestment). But after his statement on Hardball, reporting
about Dean abruptly came to an end and was replaced by supposition. The
existing conjecture in political circles about his ability to win was
transformed into a thunderous media mantra that drowned out all other issues
By mid-December, the news divisions of the four major television networks
were reporting as fact that Dean was unelectable. The print media echoed the
theme; on December 17, the Washington Post printed a front-page story that
posited Dean could not win the presidency. The Post quickly followed up with
an onslaught of articles and editorials reasserting that claim. Before the
month was over, Dean's lack of electability had been highlighted in The New
York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune,
the Los Angeles Times, and every other major paper in the United States.
As 2004 began, Time and Newsweek simultaneously ran cover stories
emphasizing that Dean was unelectable. In the weeks before the Iowa caucus,
the ongoing topic of discussion on the political panel shows was that Dean
was unelectable. National talk radio shows repeatedly stressed that Dean was
unelectable. The corporate Internet declared that Dean was unelectable. And
the mainstream media continued with the storyline that Dean was unelectable
right up until Iowans attended their caucuses. Iowa Democrats could not
watch a television or listen to a radio or read a newspaper or go online
without learning that Howard Dean was unelectable.
It was the classic Big Lie. Through the power of repetition, the corporate
media - which has been wrong about who would win the popular vote in two of
the last three presidential elections - inculcated the public with the
message that Dean could not win. Pollster John Zogby wrote, "Howard Dean was
the man of the year, but that was 2003. In 2004, electability has become the
issue and John Kerry has benefited."
The unexamined factor is how electability became "the issue". It had never
before been the dominant consideration in Democratic primaries, because
voters had focused on policy rather than crystal ball gazing. Electability
was this campaign's version of "Al Gore claimed to have invented the
Internet": it was a media contrivance that was used to manipulate voters.
On January 19, Democratic caucus goers in Iowa - who were the initial
intended audience for this propaganda disguised as reportage -
overwhelmingly repudiated Dean, telling pollsters they believed he was
unelectable. Later that evening, Dean yelled encouragement to his supporters
at a pep rally, an incident that provided the pretext for the coup de grâce.
During the week leading up to the New Hampshire primary, the media
obsessed about Dean's "bizarre" rally incident, adding "un-presidential" and
"emotionally unstable" to its descriptions of the governor. The unified
message was that Dean had self-destructed. When he finished a distant second
in New Hampshire, journalists and pundits hailed the defeat as confirmation
of their premise that Dean had always been unelectable.
Yet there had been no tangible basis for that assertion. At the beginning
of 2004, a poll conducted by Time magazine showed that Dean trailed Bush by
only six points. That was a smaller deficit than Gore faced shortly before
the general election in 2000, and he wound up getting the most popular
votes. Undaunted by this evidence to the contrary, reporters adhered to the
motif that Dean had absolutely no chance.
Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times is one of the many deceitful corporate
scribes who obediently supplemented the "Dean is unelectable" message with
its companion lie, "Dean is emotionally unstable", although she was a little
slow on the uptake. In a report she authored the night of the pep rally,
Gold wrote, "We will not give up!" (Dean) declared, his gravelly voice
barely audible over the din of applause inside the '70s-style disco hall.
"We will not quit, now or ever! We want our country back!"
But twenty-four hours later, when it had become clear that the official
corporate media version of events was to be Dean had gone berserk, Gold
omitted all reference to the noise over which the Democrat had been
shouting: "Dean leapt onto the stage, tore off his suit jacket and rolled up
his sleeves. His face beet-red, he punched his fists in the air and spoke in
a near-guttoral (sic) roar. The frenetic response to his poor showing struck
many as inappropriate."
Gold's colleague at the Times, Ronald Brownstein, joined the chorus of
supposedly objective journalists who expressed relief after witnessing Dean'
s apparent demise. Brownstein has written that it is "reassuring" to see
Democrats abandon Dean. And to whom is it reassuring? It is reassuring to
Brownstein's employers at the Tribune Company, which recently reported
record earnings as a result of media deregulation implemented by Bush.
Howard Fineman, the author of the Newsweek attack on Dean, has now written
an analysis of why Dean fell so far, so fast. One of the reasons Fineman
cites is that Dean has been too "defiant". And whom has the former governor
of Vermont been defying? When Dean advocated breaking up the media giants,
he was defying Fineman's employers at the Washington Post Company, which
recently reported record earnings as a result of media deregulation
implemented by Bush.
Those Democrats who have been hoodwinked into believing Dean
self-destructed by yelling at a pep rally should recall how the major media
handled Bush's drunk-driving arrest that a small Maine newspaper revealed
right before the 2000 election. It was an incident that on the surface
seemed as though it should have been politically fatal - the candidate who
had based his campaign on the vow that "I will restore honor and dignity to
the Oval Office" was proven to have lied about drunkenly driving off a road.
Demonstrably, it is never what a politician does that creates a scandal;
it is always whether the television networks and major metropolitan
newspapers respond to the incident with saturation coverage. When a
presidential candidate who was committed to deregulating the corporate media
got caught lying about breaking the law, the importance of the event was
minimized. When a presidential candidate who was committed to breaking up
the corporate media got caught shouting at a pep rally, the importance of
the event was maximized.
The scream that had the greatest impact on the Democratic presidential
campaign was not Dean's gonzo yell in Iowa, but the deafening roar of deceit
that emanated from Corporate America's media subsidiaries. The downfall of
the Democratic frontrunner was not self-induced; it was self-defense. Dean
had threatened to mess with General Electric, Viacom, Disney, the New York
Times Company, the Washington Post Company, et al., so they messed with him
Such corporate vigilance is inconsistent with the principles of American
democracy, but welcome to the real world. In a dictatorship, the tiny
minority of well-armed people maintains absolute power by intimidating the
vast majority of unarmed people. In a democracy that is populated by
citizens who get their information from a few greedy companies, the tiny
minority of well-informed people maintains absolute power by manipulating
the vast majority of misinformed people. When you control what people think,
there is no need to point a gun at them.
In recent years, corporations have dramatically increased their power at
the expense of the average citizen (and with the apathetic complicity of the
average citizen). Big Business has evolved from merely being a vital part of
society into being master of both the political system and the means of
communication. As a result, the boundaries of the national debate are now
defined by the interests of the Fortune 500, and the malefactors of great
wealth have become increasingly brazen. Americans used to laugh at banana
republics, where the ruling elites are so shamelessly debauched that judges
go on duck hunting trips with the politicians whose cases they are scheduled
to review, but it doesn't seem quite so funny anymore.
After the last presidential election, the corporate functionaries on the
Supreme Court overrode the will of the people by empowering the man who had
lost. It was an awkward procedure, so the process has been refined. In 2004,
the mainstream media is rapidly disqualifying all the candidates who fail to
honor the business agenda, thus eliminating the need for another
controversial judicial intervention.
Howard Dean's campaign now lies in ruins because he chose to confront the
multinational conglomerates that run this country. If Dean is so resilient
that he fights his way back into contention, the Fourth Estate will be ready
to batter him again. In the United States of America, people who pose a
threat to the reigning corporate establishment are destroyed. Or, as the
Soviets used to put it, emotionally unstable individuals who deviate from
the party line are guilty of engaging in "self-destruction".
CONTRAST THE COVERAGE: KERRY V DEAN
The Guardian's Owen Gibson is reporting today that
major domos in Medialand are among John Kerry's donors:
URL: ( http://media.guardian.co.uk/city/story/0,7497,1144464,00.html )
Media chiefs back Kerry campaign
by Owen Gibson, Tuesday February 10, 2004, 8.30am
Kerry: Media chiefs have pledged to raise between $50,000 and $100,000
Fresh from his latest win in Maine, the favourite to challenge George
Bush for the US presidency has secured the financial support of some of the
most powerful media moguls in the world.
As John Kerry's campaign to secure the Democrat nomination - and with
it a crack at the White House - continues to gather pace, it has emerged
that it is being bankrolled by key executives from News Corporation,
MTV-owner Viacom and Sony.
The victory in Maine, Mr Kerry's 10th out of the 12 primaries in the
opening weeks of the Democrat selection campaign, confirmed his position as
overwhelming favourite to take on President Bush in November's presidential
Unsurprisingly, the donation from News Corp's boardroom came not from
chairman Rupert Murdoch, a committed Republican, but from the company's
chief operating officer, Peter Chernin.
Mr Chernin, one of Mr Murdoch's most trusted lieutenants, is among
several media chiefs who have pledged to raise between $50,000 and $100,000
to support the Vietnam war veteran's campaign for the White House.
Others who have pledged to raise more than $50,000 include the Viacom
chief executive, Sumner Redstone, and Sony chairman Howard Stringer, whose
name has recently been linked with the vacant chairmanships at ITV and the
Most of the money raised from these contributors will have to be
raised through business associates, relatives and friends as individuals can
only give a total of $4,000 each to presidential candidates - $2,000 during
the primaries and another $2,000 during a general election.
US political commentators have speculated that Mr Kerry has enjoyed
the support of the media community in an effort to head off the challenge of
Howard Dean, who has fallen back in the race despite being the frontrunner
before the primaries began. Mr Dean made statements last year about wanting
to break up media conglomerates.
New figures compiled by the Federal Election Commission, correct up to
the end of December 2003, show that Mr Chernin and the president of the
Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, both gave the maximum
$2,000 to Mr Kerry's campaign.
Mr Redstone gave $1,000 to Mr Kerry, $3,000 to the re-election bid of
the senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, and $5,000 to the Democratic
senatorial campaign committee. Mel Karmazin, the chief operating officer at
Viacom, also gave $4,000 to Mr Daschle.
Mr Murdoch, meanwhile, contributed $2,000 to the re-election as
senator of Republican John McCain, who is chairman of the influential senate
commerce committee, which regulates the media.
Contributors to president George W Bush's re-election campaign
included the Time Warner chief executive, Richard Parsons, who handed over
$2,000, and the Clear Channel chief executive, Lowry Mays.
Other noteworthy media executives who contributed to party funds
include the cable mogul and Liberty Media chief executive, John Malone, who
gave $2,000 to the Republican National Committee last year, and Disney's
under-fire chief executive Michael Eisner, who gave $5,000 to the National
Republican Congressional Committee.
To contact the MediaGuardian newsdesk email
or phone 020 7239 9857
If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly
MediaGuardian.co.uk © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
I am an enthusiastic (but not delusional) Dean supporter, first for his stand on the war, and second for the thousand flowers he allowed to bloom in his differently-structured campaign. Why was such a massive grassroots campaign so ineffective? The candidate and the campaign managers are of course in large part responsible, but I'm wondering about the structural shortcomings.
First, it's clear that one big problem was the candidate's lack of star power. Unfortunately, passion, practicality and thoughtfulness don't win without a winning smile. Conversely, I don't buy blame-the-media. Media pile-ons are a feature of the system. A successful politician withstands and then sheds a media stir-fry. Remeber the Teflon President?
Still, why were all those networked, netroots people unable to persuade?
As a Likely Democratic Voter in Wisconsin, I have been the target this week. I got three letters and three phone calls for Dean. I think the net effect on the electorate of letters and calls like the ones I got is at best zero.
The effect was zero because it was too easy, and the recipient knew it was too easy. Technologially easy, sure, but more importantly, socially easy. The grassroots letter-writer, pouring her heart out to newfound penpals in important districts, has no relationship capital with the recipient, and she is not putting her reputation at stake.
Weigh these two conversations that an Undecided Wisconsin Voter had last week.
Cafeteria at work
So, what'cha think about those candidates then
his union rep:
Well, Jim Grosbeak (Rootabaga County's Democratic Party chair) is for this Edwards guy.
Phone call at home
Hi, I'm Shawn, and I'm a college student in Atlanta. I'd like to encourage you to support Howard Dean
Now, it turns out that Jim Grosbeak doesn't do much of anything as local Democratic chair, but he did walk the Glomco picket with Undecided a few years ago, and anyway,he's been around for 16, 17 years. Shawn's been in politics 5 weeks.
The net persuaded 600,000 people to join up. Victory was as easy as drinking water. Now we see, in a world where local influence is rooted in school board meetings and Rotary fundraisers, the effortless campaign was as light as a feather.
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...