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February 14, 2004

Trippi Didn't Say What Reuters Said He Said

"How Web Support Failed Dean in Crunch: Ex-Manager" by Eric Auchard ran on Reuters the day of Joe Trippi's speech to E-Tech in San Diego. What exactly did Auchard get wrong?

Let’s take a look. This is the relevant portion of a short news story:

How Web Support Failed Dean in Crunch: Ex-Manager
Mon February 9, 2004 07:52 PM ET

By Eric Auchard

Internet activism that thrust up the Howard Dean U.S. election campaign later hobbled the organization’s ability to respond to criticism in the weeks before the primaries, Dean’s former campaign manager said on Monday.

Wrong. Trippi did not say his ability to respond to critics was hobbled by “Internet activism.” Rather, he couldn’t figure out a way to get that “activism” into the game as a plus factor on his side. He was the one with the Internet troops. But he (somehow) could not command those troops to come to the campaign’s aid, and so Dean did not benefit, in a storm, from having all the extra hands— the Deaniacs and their energy.

That has nothing to do with reacting to criticism. Trippi thinks far too much of himself as a campaign manager and tactician to say something like: “we were getting hammered and I was helpless, I couldn’t respond.” No way. He responded with Realpolitik of his own. But the movement for Dean was out of alignment with the candidate’s predicament.

Joe Trippi, who resigned after defeats in Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, said the direct involvement of so many Internet supporters deprived the campaign of the traditional weapon of political surprise.

Wrong again. Trippie said he had to use the “weapon” of surprise, just as the playbook calls for. “We weren’t trying to keep the Net roots out of the loop. We were trying to keep John Kerry out of it.” That’s Trippi saying: “I did what I had to do, but the people at the blog were saying, we don’t understand, why didn’t you tell us you were going up Friday night with a new ad we haven’t even talked about yet?” Check the transcript, please. Trippi spoke of no blasts from shotgun SURPRISE that he could not make because of the Net, which is why there are no quotes to that effect.

“We were having a real problem with how to say, ‘We could be in real trouble here,”’ Trippi told a technology conference of the tactical trouble the Dean campaign had in balancing the need to keep supporters informed.

This doesn’t have errors, but “balancing the need?” You can’t balance one need. You need a least two. Reuters informs us of one need: “to keep supporters informed.” And here it keeps the second need secret.

The transparency of the anti-establishment Dean campaign made it hard to respond to political attacks from his eight other Democratic opponents and media criticism of the candidate’s missteps, he said.

No quotes in this graph. That’s because it’s wrong and Trippi didn’t say it. It wasn’t hard to respond to attacks. It was hard to explain to Net supporters a.) why Trippi was playing hardball, shifting tactics, concealing his hand, b.) what they should be doing to help Howard Dean win, since this was an emergency. The “transparency” of this “anti-establishment” campaign created problems, yes, but they were not the variety named by Reuters: losing the element of surprise, not replying to criticism, feeling hobbled.

“We couldn’t figure out how to tell people we had a problem without raising the wrong impression. Part of the problem is that the press are reading our blogs (Internet journals),” he said.

The quote seems accurate. But again, the “couldn’t figure out” part has nothing to do with a failure to respond to critics, employ stealth, bomb back in the air wars. Trippi believes he did all that. But he could not harness the power of Net supporters—600,000 of them!—to help in what the campaign most needed, on the ground, in Iowa. He was not trying to say to the assembled group: you hobbled me, got in my way, tied me down, and I couldn’t respond to those media critics. It was subtler, more like:

I tried to tell you what I needed from you. But I wasn’t clear and you weren’t thinking.

The Reuters account, (which made Instapundit, before it got knocked down at Instapundit by Matt Welch and others) is simply an incorrect paraphrase of what the man said. The problems in the dispatch are those of reading comprehension, not bias. But it confirmed a claim of Trippi’s: “”The political press could never figure out what the Dean campaign was. Now they feel qualified to comment on whether what it did worked.”

No reason at all to accept my conclusion, which is that Reuters, in this section, got it all wrong. (The interesting question is why. Misreadings have a logic of their own, sometimes.) Read the thing yourself. And the Q and A too.

Then read the Reuters report.

What do you think?

Also see, PressThink, The Tripping Point, my analysis of Trippi’s speech.

Others on the Reuters story: Techdirt thinks something is odd.

This is interesting: The Scobleizer, “A Conversation With Eric Auchard,” in which a weblogger who thinks Reuters got it wrong meets the author of said dispatch. “We had a nice conversation. He said that he had read and considered what I had to write and appreciated that. Then he explained his point of view. While discussing news judgment and other factors I found myself thinking just how unlikely this exchange would have happened five years ago.”

Mary Hodder of UC Berkeley reflects on “A Conversation With…”

Howard Rheingold: “I was hoping for critical analysis from Trippi, and thought perhaps he was resorting to a refrain that goes back at least as far as Richard Nixon, blaming the defeat on the media. Then Eric Auchard, a Reuters reporter who was in the same room with me completely reversed Trippi’s meaning and reported: ‘Internet activism that thrust up the Howard Dean U.S. election campaign later hobbled the organization…’”

Matt Welch: “If you see an article or blog-link to the effect of ‘Trippi blames Internet for Dean’s failure,’ please note that that’s pretty near the opposite of the truth.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at February 14, 2004 1:10 AM