On August 28th, 2004 I contrasted how Kerry and the Swift Vets viewed the modern demassified media enviroment. First up, a look at the ol’ Winter Soldier:
Kerry’s massively invented narrative (“swashbuckling Swift Boat lieutenant”–as Steyn describes him–turned brave defender of soldiers’ rights) was built to survive the glancing scrutiny (if you can call it that) of a 1972-era media that consisted of three TV networks with half hour evening news shows, and a few liberal big city newspapers, all of which were staffed with journalists more or less largely sympathetic to Kerry’s leftist anti-American beliefs.
But between the Swift Boat Vets and the Blogosphere, there are far too many people examining Kerry’s story, and his “reporting for duty” edifice has crumbled.
Is that fair? We’ll, we’re deciding if we want the man to have the key to the most powerful arsenal ever assembled. If he can’t survive the scrutiny of the Blogosphere, who James Lileks recently described as an “obsessive sort with lots of time on their hands”, is he someone who should be trusted with this power?
In contrast, while they were refighting the 1972-era Kerry’s battles against America, the Swift Vets had an infinitely better command of the modern media world than the Senator’s campaign team:
Ironically though, while the Swift Boat Vets have been fighting Kerry over the events of Vietnam and immediately afterwards, they’ve demonstrated that they understand how the new media works far better than his campaign does. The anonymous staffer that Charles quotes above is quite right: initially, the dino-media didn’t have the nerve to go after their man with these charges. But they’ve lost their role as information gatekeepers. And the Swift Boat Vets seem to understand that intuitively.
“The Fix”, The Washington Post’s politics blog agrees that the Kerry Camp simply didn’t understand today’s decentralized media world:
While Kerry’s foibles have been well-documented, Harris and Halperin propose that the man most responsible for the Massachusetts senator’s defeat was not the candidate but rather Matt Drudge — founder of the widely read Drudge Report.
Harris and Halperin call Drudge the “single most influential purveyor of information about American politics” and go on to add: “Drudge, with his droll Dickensian name, was not the only media or political agent whose actions led to John Kerry’s defeat. But his role placed him at the center of the game — a New Media World Order in which Drudge was the most potent player in the process and a personifications of the dynamic that did Kerry in.”
How was Drudge so influential? By serving as the online platform for carefully planned leaks of damaging information — some of it personal, some of it professional — that effectively defined Kerry negatively in the eyes of the voting public.
Example: Kerry got his haircut at a pricey Washington salon? First reported by Drudge.
One more: Negative comments by Kerry about the city of Dubuque? First reported by Drudge two days before Kerry made his first visit to Iowa as a presidential candidate.
Harris and Halperin write: “Presidential campaigns are about storytelling. A winning presidential campaign presents the candidate’s life story to voters. A losing campaign allows someone else to frame that story.”
Wise words for any candidate considering the 2008 race.
While Drudge’s role as a media hub shouldn’t be undersold, Harris and Halperin themselves don’t seem to grasp the Long Tail of the Blogosphere: between hundreds of bloggers, and the Swift Vets’ ability to use the Internet to end-run the legacy media, Kerry suffered a death by a thousand cuts, because he was severely damaged goods long before he won the nomation. As I wrote earlier in August of 2004:
This isn’t Bill Clinton’s shadowy Whitewater dealings and other murkiness from his salad days as an Arkansas governor. Then-Naval lieutenant Kerry led a remarkably well documented–and even audio and videotaped life in the early 1970s. Didn’t he think this material would surface if he chose to run for the presidency? And if so, why did he choose to run so much on his four months in Vietnam, and only spend 26 seconds(!) on his 20 years in the Senate in his acceptance speech at the DNC?
As Glenn Reynolds wrote yesterday about the swift boat vets’ ad, “Kerry played right into this with all the stuff about Vietnam and medals”.
To have been as high profile, inflamatory, and as well documented as Kerry was in the early 1970s, and not expect it to be used against you if you ran for the presidency seems like an astonishing lack of understanding of the New, New Journalism, to coin a phrase.
Update: Of course, it isn’t just presidential candidates and their aides who don’t get the Internet. Stephen Spriuell, who runs National Review Online’s Media Blog, patiently explains to befuddled journalists assigned to cover the Foley scandal how the Internet works, a subject they haven’t understood since, well, the early days of The Drudge Report. Spruiell writes:
I sympathize with reporters who have to explain complicated stories in a small amount of space or time. But seriously: How hard is it to explain the difference between an e-mail and an IM?
Ask Mary Mapes: she didn’t even know who the players were on the Internet during the 2004 presidential election, let alone the difference between emails and IMs. And as Spruiell has witnessed firsthand, she’s far from the only cyber-clueless member of the legacy media.