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Memo To Team Romney: Managing The New News

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On Yesterday’s program I interviewed two writers for the Washington Post –one was Dan Balz, the Post’s senior political correspondent and the other Jennifer Rubin, the Post’s center-right blogger who has an enormous and growing following. The transcripts of both interviews are here. Both deserve to be read closely by the folks managing the media interaction of any campaign.

Balz of course is old school –informed, aware of every fact, but not predictive about the course of events.

Rubin, who had participated with a conference call with conservative bloggers and Ed Gillispie, one of Team Romney’s most senior advisors and media spokespeople, is much more of an opinion journalist. She relays facts and observations, but she is also willing to opine on motives not fully in evidence and predict paths events will follow assuming various contingencies.

Both are journalists, and the distinction that is emerging among them and among all manner of journalists is not a good one for conservatives generally and Romney specifically.

Yesterday the Romney campaign reached out to so-called conservative bloggers, a group that included Rubin and other widely read “influencers.” The call didn’t include so-called “regular reporters” or “left wing bloggers.” This was a mistake and I made my case with Rubin on the air and make it again here.

All of the media is now tightly bound up in one massive set of connections that are spiriting information and analysis along a million different pathways. If I read and tweet about Article VI Blog’s assessment of the approach of deeply divisive issues and it gets read by Jen Rubin who posts on David French’s review of Obama’s impact on evangelical support for Romney which then is read by the New York Times’ Michael Shear and then impacts a post in the blog he contributes to, The Caucus, which catches my eye in time for an afternoon interview with Shear, where is that “story” coming from –traditional journalism, opinion journalism, “new media”– and does it matter? What matters is the impact it makes on voters or the influence it projects on decision-makers.

Over at Pinterest I have assembled five “boards” relevant to this post –one of the “Influencers” who have a direct impact on the way I do my job as a journalist, one of the “real reporters” about whom I am in the dark on their political opinions, and one of the “Best of the Left,” those journalists who work from the left side of the political aisle but whose work I read as often as I can anyway. In addition to these collections of usual suspects, I have a board of “Key Voices Under 40,” whom I believe to be the folks with the longest shelf life ahead of them -40 years or more if retirement ages keep moving backward. Everyone in politics has an incentive to get to know these younger opinion-makers in the same way a band cherishes a young listener or a television program a viewer in the 18 to 25 year old demographic. And finally I have the radio people –the key players with massive national audiences made up of influencers and donors, CEOs and average voters.

The key is that all these people on all five “boards” all do the same thing, as do a thousand others. These are the ones I find valuable because they are talented, industrious, and generally trustworthy even if their conclusions are wrong. None of them lie even though all of them process information through their own unique prisms.

My suggestion for Team Romney is simple. If you are going to launch a story into the media, convene a relatively small call exactly as you did yesterday, but include representatives from four or five of the groups, two or three from each in fact. If you want coverage across the media waterfront, then launch boats all along the shore, not just from one wharf, and that one somewhat arbitrarily designated.

The key is to blow up the remaining crumbling distinctions that suggest Dan Balz and Jennifer Rubin are somehow different. They aren’t. They are doing exactly the same thing –pushing text out to readers.

This simple recognition turns the current model of news management on its head. The old model more often than not tries to launch a story through one or more television networks, as though the hoary old network Sunday shows still set the tone for the week ahead instead of the alarm clocks for the sleepiest old school media types on the planet.

The president will never engage in the new model –his record is too disastrous, and his halting, increasingly incoherent filibusters will not impress or persuade. He will stick to very structured, one-on-ones where intimidated MSMers stay on script and don’t probe even the most obvious questions, such as: “Do you think the 61% of North Carolina voters who voted to amend their Constitution to protect traditional marriage need to ‘evolve’ Mr. President? Are they bigots?”

But Mitt Romney and his team can carry this off. Run an experiment: Pick two representatives from each of my five boards. Yes, those ten an interesting dinner party, but much more, you’d have a heck of a conference call with Ed Gillespie, Andrea Saul or Eric Fehrnstrom, and if Romney gets on such a call, it will be news across the entire online world in a nano-second.

The rules have changed, and the means to impacting the news cycle has been revolutionized. If Team Romney gets that key point –and it appears that it does– it will dominate the news cycle even more effectively then they have dominated the past two weeks.


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