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Blogs and the Political Elite

In the post below David D. Perlmutter, a professor in the KU School of Journalism & Mass Communications, and author of Blogwars, looks at how blogs are being used by the political elite. Read other blog posts by Perlmutter here.

The 2008 election cycle is the period of experimentation in just how interactive online media (such as blogs, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) will fit into and can be used by traditional political campaigns. One definite purpose to which blogs are being put by people in campaigns (including the candidates, although often by extension) and by political journalists is as informant or scout. Many blog posts are of the “check this out” variety. The reader is tipped off to rumor or facts that they may not have heard about elsewhere.

The value of such posts should not be underestimated, as I document in Blogwars. For many reporters and media elites, blogs are the wisebot scouts 9780195305579.jpgsearching for newsworthy (or titillation-worthy) items on the Web. There may even be another interlocutor in this process for the higher status political elite: Younger staffers at media and political organizations are blog friendly, and they pass on blogged material to their superiors. Ari Rabin-Havt, director of online communications for Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and the Democratic Caucus, explained to one of my students in an interview, “The Senator isn’t [a] computer programmer or graphic designer. . . . Sometimes I give him stuff to read from blogs; sometimes I know he’s reading blogs himself because he’ll print something out or e-mail me and say ‘Take a look at this.’”

Relevant is an interchange from an interview by Matthew Sheffield on the conservative political website Newsbusters. Bush political adviser Karl Rove lists the kind of sources of political information he himself seeks out:

NB: Let’s get some more media questions. So what’s your media diet like nowadays?
ROVE: You mean on an ordinary day?
NB: Yeah.
ROVE: I get Mike Allen’s overnight summary from Politico, I cruise RealClearPolitics.com, I get Taranto from the Wall Street Journal, I visit the Corner. I check Drudge, I check Fox News, I have a list of favorites that I sort of thumb through if I’ve got the time. I obviously read papers, the New York Times; the Wall Street Journal; when in Washington, the Washington Post if not, I get it online. I check out, most days, Instapundit, Power Line, Hugh Hewitt. Occasionally I’ll dip into Just One Minute or visit the Captain’s Quarters, I check out Michael Barone‘s blog, and I look forward to getting Opinion Journal, and I get the NCPA summary. And I also get a news summary, a news clip early in the morning of all the clips.

Note the mixing of “old” or traditional news media and new. Blogs and the Washington Post! Rove’s list is, in fact, quite common among conservatives; a Democratic political operative would read the Post and leftblogs. Note further how it demonstrates that the distinction between kinds of media is rapidly becoming blurred. Powerline(blog) is run by two well-known political conservatives (one a banker, one a lawyer) and so constitutes a true indie blog—not run by traditional political workers or journalists. But Michael Barone is a “big media” journalist and commentator.

We can thus go beyond saying that blogs are common sources of information for political elites: They are increasingly a vehicle for those elites to distribute information themselves. And, of course, bloggers are now considered players in the club, a revolution from just a few election cycles ago.

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