The Narrative Is Now The Narrative

Crossposted at The Dem IM

We are now less than five months from Election 2006. The Democrats are still leading the generic congressional ballot in the House and great numbers are coming in from Senate races across the country. Things are looking good.

Despite the good news, all the talk in the traditonal media is about the "Democrats in Disarray" and the inevitable failure that will befall them in November. The topic being covered is not what's best for the US in Iraq, the recovery effort in the Gulf Coast, or the rampant corruption in DC. The media narrative is about the media narrative.

This self-reflexivity is nothing new in journalism and mass media. However, the way that it is mobilized against Democrats is particularly ubiquitous.

For example, take these two articles published in the Washington Post Sunday edition. In "Always the Party of What-Went-Wrong", Dan Balz describes how "The Democrats have become too good at losing" and how "envy of Republican campaign techniques is a staple of Democratic soul-searching." In "How to Take Back Congress: Advice for the Democrats," a number of commentators put in their two cents for how to save the party.  The advice can generally be broken down into the categories of targeting specific demographic groups, emphasizing certain issues, hammering the Republicans on Iraq and playing to the base.

There is value in all of these suggestions, to be sure. However, what happens when the narrative becomes about strategy (as supposed to the strategy pushing the story)?

Do As I Blog, Not As I Say
Our counter-attack for the media's obsession with Democratic destruction was supposed to be simply not playing into their hands. At least, that's what I thought. I have read story after story on DailyKos complaining about Democratic politicians and surrogates lamenting the state of the Party in public. Diary after diary claimed (and I believe rightfully so) that discussing the failures of the Party in the press only served to re-affirm the idea Democrats as failure's in coventional wisdom.

However, at this year's, admittedly successful, YearlyKos, all I heard from convention attendees (and Kos, himself) was about liberal bloggers "crashing the gates" and challenging the inept Democratic Party. What happened to don't air our dirty laundry in public? And at this point, what is public? Certainly, the traditional media (newspapers, TV, magazines, etc.) would be public. My site, though accessible to anyone with Internet access is not nearly widely circulated enough for me to feel like I should worry about its electoral influence.

In the end, what matters is the effect on the larger media narrative and thus conventional wisdom.  Have widely-circulated political blogs become mainstream enough that we should stop with the process talk and solely publicize the news and opinions we want to break into conventional wisdom? Even if we could enforce such message discipline on the blogosphere - a near-impossible task - in a situation where the media narrative is about the media narrative, will any attempts to change the subject fall on deaf ears?

The Answer?
Any successful media narrative must be simple and singular. I believe that coordinating a narrative that works best for Democrats, then, must come from a top-down strategy. It is unfeasible that a singular storyline can be perpetuated by the blogosphere for several reasons:

  1. Short Attention Span
  2. Multiple Viewpoints
  3. Too Contrarian
  4. Any Coordination of the Message Would Have To Be Done Publicly; Media Narrative Once Again Becomes About Media Narrative
Only a top-down structure could coordinate the message and the plan to disseminate it effectively. The plan should, of course, take into account current conventional wisdom, trends in new and traditional media, and the events on the ground. Bloggers would also play a role in reinforcing that message and helping refine it.

So where does that leave The Dem IM? I have just argued that this site can never be effective and can only serve to pile on the "Democrats in Disarray" theme.

I am continuing with my site and its mission as a thought experiment.  I have raised many questions in this post for which I simply do not yet have an answer.  I think working through these challenges is helpful, despite the fact that any solutions we find may go no farther than this community. So let's remember always that we must fight the tough fights but leave a little time for imagining the "what if's" that keep us going. It feels good to be back.

Tags: Blogosphere, Framing, Media Narrative, meta, strategy (all tags)

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