Friday, February 06, 2004
Thinking Back; Looking Ahead
(Manchester, NH 1-26-04)
It’s been nearly two years now since many of us started to formulate our opinions about Howard Dean and set our individual plans into action. Even the best soothsayers amongst us could not have predicted just how very successful we have been in turning that action into results.
My individual plan concentrated on the media. I felt that an insurgent candidate from a small state would either be ignored or tamed by the mainstream media. My thought in making a documentary about Dean was that I could also use the footage gathered to help promote his message. Of course, I’ve been doing just that at DeanTV.org and here at our information artery, Dean Nation, ever since. Ultimately, I thought if Dean could win the nomination, a documentary ala “Journey’s With George” would be helpful to the cause if it were released prior to the general election.
Sure, in the beginning there were hopes of an inside HQ documentary mirroring D.A. Pennebaker’s, The War Room, based on Clinton’s operation. Needless to say, Dean’s success came much quicker than anticipated and, fortunately for all of us, professionals from Hollywood started moving in with more experience, money and resources than I could ever offer. I can’t wait to see the many documentaries that I think are floating out there about Dean. Hopefully, one will be aired before Wisconsin to show this kind, self-actualizing soul who has been fighting so hard for us while being co-opted in so many ways.
As my strengths and abilities to bring something to our community table became more defined over time, part of my goal was (when Dean got the nomination) to turn the cameras more on the loyal opposition: Santorum, DeLay, Rove, Coulter, O’Reilly, Hannity…
I started this phase in Iowa. I’m not paparazzi, but having Hannity beating up on Trippi to get him on his show called for action. After all, they cozied up next to me at the bar I'd been sitting at first in Des Moines. I may have crossed a line since it was "after campaign hours," but when Hannity started to rant and rave and yell at me to turn the camera off, I did so knowing my goal had been achieved in this test. When he calmed down, Hannity seemed much more polite to our old friend Trippi. In fact, when I ran into Hannity in New Hampshire again, he was downright hospitable to me as he wondered if I might not use the footage. “Are you Trippi’s boy?” he asked. “Nope, I’m independent for Dean.” The next day, Primary day, I went to visit Hannity again when Dean did his radio show. He did a double take on me as I leveled my video camera on him (the only one in the room), and wouldn’t you know it? It was one of the more pleasant interviews I’ve ever seen Hannity give to an “ultra-liberal” like Dean. Mind you, the polls didn’t look good that day for Dean so perhaps Hannity was giving him a break. Never the less, the experiment went pretty well, I thought.
Now, to the point: Since I wasn’t going to be the inside War Room guy, the documentary in the past year evolved into more of a check, or study, on the role of the media in choosing our leaders. Some of you may have seen some of the clips of the interviews I’ve gathered with the journalists/pundits on the road (as well as with the people, and cooperative campaign staff). After the so-called Scream in Iowa, the 6 networks were handed the sound/picture bite they had been craving for so long to stop Dean. I’ll spare you the conspiracy theories since we all know what they are. I will say this, however; individually, the pundits don’t pick the pictures, or how many times they are going to be run on their shows, or looped on the network feed. Such decisions are made by the entertainment editors on the inside. God knows how their decisions are influenced from the food chain above them. I’m sure at FOX, for instance, Roger Ailes has a heavy hand in making such decisions--as he did in calling the election for Bush prematurely/combatively in 2000.
I asked the same question to the individuals in Iowa and New Hampshire: Would any of these other candidates be talking about the things they are talking about if it wasn’t for Howard Dean standing up in the first place? Carlson, Begala, Novak, Carville, Alter, Fineman, Matthews, Greenfield, Oliphant, Crowley, Schneider, Scarborough, Williams, Klein, Hannity, Cameron, Crawford etc. all told me, unequivocally, “No.” In New Hampshire, I actually heard the regret about what happened with the scream since it came at such a crucial time. Heads hung low. Craig Crawford actually got into the “hazing factor of Howard Dean.”
And so, as we now see articles, and extra exposes and time allotted to Howard Dean—the nostalgia, or guilt being slipped in between the lines (they’ll all back themselves up with the idea that Howard Dean brought it upon himself in Iowa, though), my small hope is that somehow our campaign leaders have a plan to capitalize on this sentiment leading up to Wisconsin on the 17th. I’m hoping our money and time will go to a strategy that goes beyond ads and aggressively tugs at the individuals in the media to sing a new storyline tune for Howard Dean leading into Wisconsin. I’m not a professional strategist but my two cents is that Dean could get one last fair assessment before the establishment completely buries the candidate that fostered enough guts in the other candidates to co-opt his message. Alas, it may be too late.
Personally, I hope some creative thinking is used between now and Wisconsin to pique the voters and the media moguls' interest again. I don’t pretend to know the answer to that when we’re trying to look “presidential.” I do know that Wellstone’s ads in his first election catapulted him over the establishment candidate in Minnesota. Wisconsin is made up of the same kind of people. But that’s just an example. Maybe you could jot down your ideas here too? Maybe we really are being heard now that we're back to the basics again.
I just know that I’ll keep giving to the bat in the hope that, this time, we have a plan that plays into the media’s hands as well as the voters of Wisconsin.
The cameras will be watching.
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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.