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A View from Henry Jenkins

Dean's Done, But Net Campaigning is Here to Stay

Howard Dean’s campaign is now history, but the repercussions of his Internet-fueled campaign will be felt for a long time. Earlier this month, at the O’Reilly Digital Democracy Teach-In in San Diego, Joe Trippi, then Dean’s campaign manager, contrasted the…

  • February 19, 2004

Howard Dean’s campaign is now history, but the repercussions of his Internet-fueled campaign will be felt for a long time. Earlier this month, at the O’Reilly Digital Democracy Teach-In in San Diego, Joe Trippi, then Dean’s campaign manager, contrasted the political culture surrounding old broadcast media and the political culture that has started to emerge around the Internet. Both a recording and a transcript of the talk are available online.

As you listen to what he had to say, a series of paradoxes emerge: Dean developed his initial following via the Internet which brought him to visibility in broadcast and mass market media. He was able to raise large sums of money via the Internet which was eaten up by the need to fund television advertising. The tactics he used to fire up supporters on the Internet were parodied or removed from context on television. In the end, ‘twas broadcast media that destroyed or ate up what the Internet created.

All of which suggests a point of transition where the political role of the Internet is expanding but the old broadcast media has not declined. Insurgent candidates are especially vulnerable as they are caught betwixt and between the two media systems.

Some highlights of the speech:

“I fervently believe that we’re at a pivotal point in our country. Broadcast politics has failed us miserably; failed the country miserably. You have no debate, real debate going into the war. There was a never real debate about the Patriot Act. That debate isn’t happening anywhere in the country except on the Net really. Not just that, but everything from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Where is that being discussed; the implications of it? Where are they being discussed? They are not being discussed in the mainstream media.”

“The political press in this country has no clue what the Internet is, or what this community is, or what we’re trying to do, and they have no way to write about it or to understand it; they put in their old context. The Internet community in a lot of ways doesn’t really understand the hard cold realities of American politics, and that’s the clash that’s happening right now.”

“Let’s take the tape, the ‘scream’ tape. That thing ran 933 times nationwide over and over and over again. By the way, it wasn’t news, it was entertainment. It was the heat-seeking missile footage hitting its target that they run over and over and over again when they want to get America all excited about that stuff. That really was damaging, not what the governor did, but the media’s portrayal of it out of context over and over and over again and now they’re all apologizing.”

“There’s a reason George Bush is vulnerable today and it’s because of the blogs. ….It’s because tools were out there that let hundreds of thousands of Americans get involved and let a debate happen in this country again that wasn’t happening. And it made the other candidates decide they had to get into that debate, they had to get where Howard Dean was; they had to get their own blog going. They had to copy as many tools as they could of ours on the Internet, some of them just pure rip-offs. You just look at the page and all they did was change the name,”

“This probably couldn’t have happened earlier. The Internet wasn’t mature enough as an entity. Things like Meetup.com, that tool wasn’t there. Look at local tools that were built around Dean, the Friendster kind of tools that DeanLink represents on the Dean site weren’t there in a real capacity back in 2000. You needed that many more Americans, yes, to buy books at Amazon.com or to participate in eBay in an auction, to get to that point where they were prepared to use their credit card [online].”

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