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June 05, 2006

People-Powered Media Eat the Lieberman Campaign

Posted in: 2006 Election,Blogosphere,Blue America,Citizen action,Congress,Democrats,Joe Lieberman,Media,Ned Lamont

Here’s the one line description of the 1958 horror classic The Blob:  "An alien lifeform consumes everything in its path as it grows and grows."

I think Joe Lieberman knows the feeling.  His enemy, however, is not the blob, it’s the blogs:  the new, people-powered media, scaring the bejeebus out of a whole Titanic pleasure cruiser of establishment players.

Here’s how it works:  regular people – let’s call them Democrats – are frustrated with Joe Lieberman for his many glib betrayals of progressive values over the years.  They write about it online on local, Connecticut sites like Connecticut Blog, Connecticut Bob, Connecticut Local Politics, LamontBlog, Lamont Resource, My Left Nutmeg and Without a Purpose.   Their ideas gain support and propel a fast-moving conversation joined by writers at some blogs with national audiences, like BooMan Tribune, Crooks and Liars, DailyKos, DownWithTyranny, The Enigmatic Paradox, Eschaton, Firedoglake, Huffington Post, MyDD and the Swing State Project.  Then the buzz, ideas and research generated through that conversation end up in local establishment media outlets, like the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register and, once again for good measure, the Hartford Courant.  All the listed mainstream columns appeared during this past weekend, as did this bit of televised political analysis.  From there, the news goes national, as in this Reuters piece this afternoon.

Let’s take a notable Connecticut example:  in a blistering critique, the Courant’s Paul Bass details a list of Democratic grievances against Joe Lieberman that reads like its own Declaration of (Democratic) Independence, concluding:

Finally, it’s true that Joe Lieberman is a genuinely nice person, a decent man. That has nothing to do with his record, with masquerading as a Connecticut Democrat while enlisting in a Republican assault on Americans’ bedrock freedoms and norms of social justice. Good people do awful things when power tempts. In watching this senate race unfold, remembering that adage might help ward off the most dangerous effects of Connecticut’s political amnesia.

What "amnesia" is he talking about?  As Jane Hamsher wrote a while back, the blogs hold some inherent advantages over traditional media.  Hyperlinks allow for community research and participation, with an especially loooong memory.  Whereas establishment news stories take a one-layered snapshot of any given day’s events, writing on the Internet allows regular people both to "show their work" and connect multiple stories together to provide context, meaning and insightful analysis, all according to their own deadlines.  That makes informed, people-powered Internet media much harder to manipulate or deceive.  Turns out, that’s been very bad news for Joe and some of his single issue group supporters.

Caught by surprise in a bunker by the people-powered media blob, the Lieberman camp responds in the only way it knows how:  through deceptive advertisements placed in traditional media, simultaneously parading establishment endorsements that similarly deceive and fall flat.  In one example, Hillary Clinton wrote a letter in support of Lieberman’s campaign claiming he opposed the anti-middle class privatization of social-security, when in fact the opposite is true.  The people aren’t buying it:  for the first time in the modern campaign era, a race of national importance is operating completely outside the traditional media-pundit filter, all to the benefit of Connecticut’s own Ned Lamont. 

It’s not just the Lieberman camp taking notice:  it’s the national political and media establishments.  As MyDD writer Chris Bowers observes, Republican Lincoln Chafee and Democrat Daniel Akaka face more potent (so far) primary challenges, to much less pearl-clutching media scrutiny.  Why?  Bowers says (emphasis added):

If I had to postulate a reason for this, it would be, as Matt and I wrote in our paper last year, that the new progressive movement, especially the netroots, has developed independently of existing institutions of political and media power, developing new leaders, ideas and networks. By contrast, the right-wing movement rose to prominence by connecting established institutions of conservative power to the conservative grassroots. The progressive movement has truly developed outside of the existing political infrastructure in America, and as such is perceived as a true career threat to those who make a living within that infrastructure. This makes our threats to their power structure true threats. It is more dangerous to Washington D.C. for Ned Lamont to become a Senator than for either Ed Case or Stephen Laffey to become a Senator, because Ned Lamont would mean that new people and new institutions themselves would be gaining power. If either Ed case or Stephen Laffey become Senators, it would simply be the same cast of characters in charge: the same consultants, the same staffers, the same media personnel, the same everything. These primary challenges, while more serious to the incumbents in question at this time, are non-threatening to the established infrastructure of either media or politics. That is not the case with Ned Lamont’s challenge.

The pattern of insider media resistance to progressives Bowers describes is documented daily on the Internet by witers like Peter Daou and watchdog groups like Media Matters.  For a more complete treatment of the establishment media’s antipathy to people-powered politics, check out Eric Boehlert’s newly published Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush.

Day-by-day, people-powered media, colloquially known as blogs, are eating up the Lieberman campaign, even as they threaten the inherently conservative mainstream media and the national political establishment.  Like the blob, they seem to insiders an alien force consuming everything in its path as it grows and grows.  But the people aren’t aliens:  they’re simply citizens telling the truth and propelling their heartfelt values. 

Establishment players are right about one thing, though:  people-powered media continue to grow and grow.  In fact, the progressive movement is just getting started, no matter who wins the Connecticut Senate Democratic primary.  Welcome, my friends, to the new media universe.

UPDATE:  Chris Bowers and I just posted thematically related articles at the same time.  I swear we did not collaborate. 


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