Wednesday, January 11, 2006


"Yesterday I reported on a GOP briefing for bloggers. It was a part of a comprehensive media strategy that believes in Rovian “message discipline” by getting all supporters and spokespeople and rubber stampers and operatives in the echo chamber as well as friendly publiations all on the same page. Many voices, one message is the way it works.

What about the other side?

Last night, I joined a conference call for bloggers critical of the Alito nomination. This one was sponsored by People for the American Way, an organization first founded by Norman Lear in l980 to promote civil liberties and fight the right. It is not part of the Democratic Party.

People For has been mounting a major campaign against the nomination of Sam Alito to the Court. They have funded reports, websites and TV spots. Last night’s call was a response to Alito’s first day before the Committee. You can read their take on Alito and yesterday’s hearings at:

The discussion was generally upbeat with the sense that Alito can still be defeated if only the public is given more information about his hard right ideology and track record. Many on the call—and I am not sure who everyone was because I joined late—felt that Alito’s calm demeanor and references to having an “open mind” are ploys and ways to conceal his real attitudes and likely votes.

(Partipants were said to include Ralph G. Neas, president of PFAW, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL, Armando from DailyKos and Chris Bowers from MyDD.)

Some felt Alito is a “Freeper” in disguise—that is, an extreme conservative posing as a moderate with help from Republican members of the Judiciary Committee and that bloggers who think he is dangerous should identify him that way. I am not sure how many people know who the Freepers are or if they should be taken so seriously.

At the same time, not everyone was pleased with the performance of the Democrats with the exception of New York’s Chuck Schumer. It was felt that unlike the Republicans, they were all over the place raising as many as seven issues when they should have focused on two. There was too much deference. They were not coordinated and did not choreograph their testimony.

I asked about whether the Democrats are aware of the key role of the media in all this. That a triggered a long discussion about how better prepared the right is than the liberals and the left in this regard. There seemed to be no real strategy or awareness, and it is left to groups like People For The American Way to try to influence journalists and editorial writers which they did with briefings and waves of “rapid response” memos.

Yet even that, it was acknowledged, is not always effective because media, especially TV looks for heat, not light and sound bites like “open mind”.

Nothing new here. But what was new was the sense that the opponents of Alito and his supporters were fighting a war with two very different strategies.

The Dems were on the offensive hurling facts at Alito, disputing his decisions, and trying to in a sense to provoke or “Bork” him into fighting back on the ideological front.

Sam did not bite. He was well trained to brush off the attacks and try to present himself as a reasonable judge who will fulfill his Constitutional duty with no agenda. He was Mr. Cool, the very picture of learned judicial restraint.

Republicans usually like political food fights—these overheated arguments are all over Fox News every night. But this time they took a very different tack. Instead of engaging, they disengaged and fell back. Instead of passion, they spoke quietly and enfused the debate with references to legal precedents and decisions that no one could keep track of.

Rather than battle politically, they decided to depoliticize the hearings as much as possible. It was an adroit move, one expert conceded.

It was like a political version of Muhammad Ali’s rope a dope strategy. Alito got quiet, passive, and yes, nice and accommodating. This approach neutralized the more aggressive attack. He just sat there and was, or so it seemed to the people on the all, deliberately BORING.

Yes, it was terribly boring, but by design said some of the political analysts on the call. They want to turn the audience off and get them to tune the hearings out.

“Boring,” “Boring,” “Boring” soon became the refrain of the pundits. Tom Burns of Newsweek called it boring. Suddenly, there were suggestions that the coverage might have to be cut back. The reason: Too Boring.

The Democrats played right into this strategy to make the hearings feel like a law school graduate seminar only of interest to legal specialists. Senator Leahy said he was almost snoring, not realizing how he had been snookered. Senator Biden asked a question that went on for ELEVEN MINUTES. One Question. 11 minutes! Fox’s legal expert said that it was so long that he forgot what the question was.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Later Biden said the hearings were a waste of time. Yea, he wasted it.

The People for American Way's Ralph Neas then reflected on how the Republicans manage to make radical and extreme ideas sound moderate and pedestrian by mumbling and low keying it.
“That is what Cheney does all the time,” he suddenly realized.

And so, suddenly, it was clear that we are up against something more frightening that the tactics of the right. We are up against an approah aimed at the short attention span of the Americans who have been conditioned by years of TV watching to avoid complicated arguments and all complexity. The networks all this approah KISS--keep it simple and stupid.

In the TV environment, the worse crime is being BORING.

The GOP understands that, and in this case, has designed a strategy that is perfect to neutralize the Democrats and get over on the public.

Boring is the strategy—and its working."-from News Dissector.

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