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A View from Henry Jenkins

What Does the President Need With A Blog?

Given what I said in “Enter the Cybercandidates,” it can hardly be a surprise that other candidates are trying to imitate Dean’s cyber-based strategy, including taking up blogging to communicate with their supporters. But, I have to say that I…

  • October 12, 2003

Given what I said in “Enter the Cybercandidates,” it can hardly be a surprise that other candidates are trying to imitate Dean’s cyber-based strategy, including taking up blogging to communicate with their supporters. But, I have to say that I was surprised to discover that the Bush-Cheney campaign was among them.

While blogging has been adopted as a political resource by both the right and the left, most bloggers position themselves as outside the mainstream, as speaking from a marginalized position. In an earlier column, “Blog This,” I had argued for a world where blogging was a grassroots response, a counter to the concentration of Big Media. I am reminded of that immortal moment in Star Trek V, when Kirk demands to know, “What does God need with a starship?”

To paraphrase the good captain, what does the president need with a blog? Especially when the Commander in Chief can get so much free mass media coverage on demand? Isn’t there something vaguely oxymoronic about the phrase, “official blog?”

Let’s be clear on some of the ways that the Bush blog works differently from most other blogs. For starters, it is pretty clear that George W. doesn’t write his own blog – even if most posts come from GeorgeWBush.com. (He’s not a man; he’s a corporation!). Indeed, the posts here have little of the informality and personal address one associates with blogging. These are press releases for the most part or attempts to give a higher profile to media coverage sympathetic to Bush’s perspectives on the issues. This week, there’s lots of stuff about how the liberal media misreported the Kay report. They do seem to get the idea that blogs depend on rapid turnover of information and real time response to breaking events. You can see that Dick Cheney is speaking on television RIGHT NOW! Where they do try for informality, it is pretty lame-footed: “Psssst, imminent threat, pass it on.” I am reminded of the story of Richard Nixon asking a staffer, “so have you had any good fornication lately?”

Second, the Bush people don’t really seem to care what we think about their posts. Most blogs provide an opportunity to respond, seeing the medium as dialogic in nature. The Bush blog, on the other hand, only provides us with the chance to forward its messages to other people – seeing the web as viral but not conversational. This is one step up from the high tech brochures used in campaigns past – and one step down from what any major newspaper in the country provides its readers. If the interface of campaign websites mirror the interface between the candidates and the citizens, what does this say about the desire of the Bush people to hear from what used to be called “silent Americans”?

And third, while Dean provides a behind the scene glimpse into the man, his people, and their thinking, the Bush blog is top down and official, showing us nothing we don’t already know about the people behind this administration. Nice try, but there’s nothing here which would disprove my claims that establishment candidates still haven’t figured out what to do with this medium.

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