The White House Likes Bloggers, Just Not the Ones in Pajamas [Updated with White House Comment]
BY Nancy Scola | Monday, October 12 2009
CNBC's Washington correspondent John Harwood dropped a blind quote while on NBC* this weekend that tarred criticisms of how the Obama White House has handled gay issues as a problem with the "Internet left fringe." Seeing an opening, it seems, Harwood weirdly took the moment to expand from marriage equality to all political opposition to Obama heard on the Internet. "For a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn't take this opposition," reported Harwood to Lester Holt in a segment about yesterday's National Equality March, "one advisor told me today 'those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed, and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.'" Insta-controversy, your table is ready.
How much can you really do with a blind quote from one nameless administration "advisor," a quote that absent any real context comes across as little more than a taunt? Who knows, really. This may have been some planted rhetoric intended to paint the White House as strong in the face of domineering bloggers of the left. Or it may have been the work of one aide who got burned by some bloggers in the past and spotted a reporter ready to carry his or her water.
But what is worth noting is how the White House is showing a quiet eagerness to engage with online newsies, just not necessarily the very political and advocacy-minded folks of the political blogosphere. The new news ecosystem isn't foreign to them, they just see it -- and its utility -- differently. The Obama White House would much rather, it seems, route around those hard-core political bloggers and engage with the people who have positioned themselves online as community managers, folks who can be said to bring a constituency to the table (beyond the army of commenters and diarists some blogs and bloggers have). Case in point, the White House is right now, with no great fanfare, inviting the Consumerist and the Motley Fool to pull together questions for the White House on Obama's plan for reforming the "rules of the road" that the financial world has to follow, pegged of off a web video starring White House economic advisor Austan Goolsbee.
That said, both the Obama campaign and the first nine months of the Obama Administration have suggested that the folks in the Obama universe see bloggers as more of an audience to be persuaded than as political actors to be engaged.
UPDATE: Greg Sargent gets an on-the-record quote from White House spokesperson Dan Pfeiffer. You get the sense that there's a great deal of fuzziness around how folks in this White House thing of the Internet and the people who hang out there. Here, Pfeiffer attests to the White House's great respect for "the online communities":
That sentiment does not reflect White House thinking at all, we’ve held easily a dozen calls with the progressive online community because we believe the online communities can often keep the focus on how policy will affect the American people rather than just the political back-and-forth.
*Corrected -- this originally read MSNBC.