Thursday, September 09, 2010

Ari Melber: "DNC Slams Journalist and Trippi Over Midterms Article"

Ari Melber (The Nation):
Campaigns often heat up after Labor Day, and a fighting spirit has clearly taken hold at the DNC, which launched an unusual defense of its mid-terms strategy on Thursday evening.

Organizing for America (OFA), the field arm of the Obama campaign that was rolled into the DNC, released a lacing rebuttal to a new Time article reporting that OFA had become a shrunken "ghost of its former self." The article depicted OFA as an operation abandoned by voters and donors alike, while airing anonymous suggestions that campaign guru David Plouffe was sereptitiously using national funds to "rebuild an army for 2012 under the cover of boosting turnout in 2010." (Plouffe "strongly" denied the charge within the article.) Time added geographic fuel to the fire, too, reporting, "OFA is putting staff into such states as Virginia, North Carolina and Arizona, which have few close statewide races this fall but which are all prime targets in an Obama re-election campaign."

At 5pm Thursday, OFA posted an official response [1] on the DNC website and circulated the text to reporters. Like the White House, OFA rarely publicizes written rebuttals to specific articles -- that would be a full-time job when the subject is the President -- and the reply was also striking for its heated tone. Blasting Time's Jay Newton-Small as "a misinformed journalist" who did "poor reporting" with a "total aversion to the facts," OFA spokesman Lynda Tran hammered Newton-Small for relying on clueless or anonymous sources, and "falsely claiming that OFA is exclusively focused on turning out 'surge' voters."
All told, the 850-word rebuttal was more than double the length of the original article.

Time obviously struck a nerve. But the strong response is strategically odd -- a short piece in the print edition of the magazine is unlikely to rock Washington, while the DNC reaction gives it legs. Before, most of the (few) links to the piece were by conservative bloggers, not a very vital or persuadable constitutency for OFA. Then DNC officials began sounding off, and the item got picked up in Politico (and The Nation). Ben Smith, a widely read Politico blogger, headlined a Thursday afternoon post [2] on the dust-up, "DNC goes nuclear on Time, Cook for Ofa critique." Smith's tweet on the kerfuffle was even crisper:

"OfA incredibly defensive."

Chuck Todd, the NBC News White House correspondent who regularly deals with top Obama aides, tweeted [3] in response to this Nation piece that DNC officials are "super-sensitive on proving OFA was a good idea." I also asked Time for its response to the response, and spokesman Daniel Kile emailed that the magazine “stands by the story and Jay Newton-Small’s reporting.”

Finally, on a personal note, I spent plenty of time on OFA while researching and writing a 74-page report [4] about the organization's first year. The touchy and sometimes combative stance towards independent reporting on display here is familiar -- for a new school organization, OFA is pretty old school when it comes to transparency and dealing with hard questions from reporters and constituents. (I discuss its work and potential reforms at length in the report, so I won't rehash those points here.)

Beyond the press, though, the core argument of the Time article seems off. The height of the 2008 campaign is not a logical or fair baseline for assessing participation in the off-season, and OFA has undoubtedly engaged supporters around the country with social, political and service activities, both online and off. (See the broad data above, or more granular indicators in my report.) While politicos gush about how a President can benefit from a mediocre midterm showing, the article offered no reason how such cyclical electoral politics relate to organizing, where relationships and long-term momentum are key. So I don't see any tension between a strong turnout in the midterms and a strong turnout in 2012 -- this is an area where the Plouffe/Stewart/Bird agenda for Obama activists is naturally in line with the Barack/Rahm ambition for a second term. MORE...
Howie P.S.: Rahm? But I thought he was headed back to Chicago.

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