December 5, 2007

Dan Bartlett Burns A Bridge

Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director, won't keep many friends in the blogosphere after this interview in Texas Monthly. When asked about the relationship between the Bush White House and conservative bloggers, Bartlett responded that, in the words of Forrest Gump, the two were just like peas and carrots. Bartlett bragged that bloggers allowed the message to get through unfiltered -- very unfiltered (via TPM):

What about the blogs?

We had to set up a whole new apparatus to deal with the challenges they pose. Are they real journalists? The Washington Post, for example, has journalists who are now bloggers. Do you treat them as bloggers? Do they get credentials?

Let’s think of it as a practical matter. If one of those journalists-turned-bloggers, Chris Cillizza, e-mails you to say he needs an interview, and at the same time one of the Post’s print reporters—say, Dan Balz—e-mails you and says he needs an interview, and you can do only one . . .


Because the print edition of the Post has more of an impact?

Because Balz is on multiple platforms. He’s booked more easily on television. He’s read by more people. He influences people a bit more. Now, the question might not be as much Chris versus Dan as maybe, “Is it Dan Balz or one of the guys at [the conservative blog] Power Line?”

Yeah, or what if [conservative blogger] Hugh Hewitt called?

That’s when you start going, “Hmm . . .” Because they do reach people who are influential.

Well, they reach the president’s base.

That’s what I mean by influential. I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.

First off, Texas Monthly doesn't know much if they think Hugh Hewitt is just a conservative blogger. He's a syndicated talk show host on Salem Radio with an audience of millions -- which is why the White House engages Hugh, not because of his blog. If Bartlett doesn't know that much (he doesn't correct TM), then it begins to explain why the Bush administration has failed so miserably at getting their message out to anyone, let alone the blogosphere.

As far as regurgitation and efficiencies of communication, we all wish Bartlett would have succeeded as well as he apparently thinks he did. Most of us have begged for more interaction at the White House, and have received little more than e-mails with speech transcripts. On one occasion, when the White House wanted to make its case on executive privilege, they held a blogger conference call, which I live-blogged here. There may have been one more, but at the moment I don't recall it.

The only other contacts that I've ever received from the White House communication team have come when they disagreed with me. For a while, they would submit on-the-record responses to posts I had written to rebut some criticism. On a few occasions, their staffer would comment on a post, and on two occasions I posted their rebuttals to the main page and then rebutted the rebuttals. That's hardly regurgitation.

Perhaps Bartlett had that kind of relationship with other bloggers. However, the record pretty clearly shows the conservative blogosphere as a whole complaining for the last several years about the lousy job Bartlett and the White House did on communications overall, including but not especially focusing on the blogosphere. I suspect that if Dan Bartlett decides to give us anything more to regurgitate, he'll get a different kind of gastrointestinal response from conservative bloggers.

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge has more thoughts on communications strategies.

UPDATE II: Fixed the link to Stephen's site; thanks to CapQ commenter Chaking for the alert. Also, I wonder if Bartlett has an explanation for the blogospheric response to Harriet Miers, Dubai ports, and most of all immigration that fits in with his "regurgitation" model.

UPDATE III: Danny Glover has a nice roundup at Beltway Blogroll. Jules Crittenden delivers all the derision he can muster, and with good reason.


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