Harvard: The start

Harvard: The start

: I’m at the evening forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School beginning the three-day confab on the internet and politics at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center. Kathleen Matthews is moderating with Joe Trippi of the Dean campaign and Michael Turk of the Bush campaign.

(It’s like Bloggercon 3.5 here; the room is filled with lots of online friends. Hoder is in the U.S. at last! Scott Heiferman is next to me. Jay Rosen’s over there. Dr. Weinberger is ahead. Stowe Boyd and Chris Lydon are nearby. And on and on.)

Kathleen asks people to speak in “blogspeak,” in TV sound bites. She hasn’t read Rosen!

Kathleen says we’ll ask whether the net will be able to beat Karl Rove.

After the usual obvious introductions (the internet is the most important development since the printing press…) Trippi says the real question about the campaign was whether people would get out from behind the screen and meet people. And they did. “It’s about Americans having faith in strangers again… There’s a community of trust that builds on the internet.” Yes, trust is the organizing principle of the internet; trust is the value is builds.

Joe says they started with 432 people wanted to meet up from all around the country and ended up with 192,000 people meeting up. Scott, Mr. Meetup, nods next to me. An idea that came from the Meetup was adding $.01 to the end of every contribution so they’d know it came from Meetupers.

When the campaign took on ideas from the people “they knew they’d had an impact on the campaign.” Yes, that’s another key factor in the internet: impact.

Kathleen asks, wasn’t the Dean campaign anarchy? No (I believe), that assumes there was control of everything from the people. There were contributions, but not control.

Michael says no kind of candidate is necessarily advantaged on the internet but he adds that there were fun viral things, like cartoons, that his campaign couldn’t do because it wouldn’t have been dignified for a sitting President.

Joe says transparency brought perils: They put up lists of names of undecided voters online for their supporters to write letters but the Kerry and Clark campaign quickly found those lists and downloaded them to do likewise.

Kathleen asks why the Dean organization failed in Iowa. Joe blames it on the governor dissing caucuses (that lost them 10 poll points) and telling a 79-year-old man to sit down so he could speak (there went another 5 points). Joe confesses his own mistake saying on Crossfire, when asked whether Carter will endorse, “come on down to Plains, Ga., to find out,” and he doesn’t know why he says it because he knew Carter would not endorse them. He says the “campaign made errors that just devoured our support.”

Kathleen says the man who created commercials for the Bush campaign was at Harvard and said his job will be eliminated soon, replaced by the internet. Michael argues that video will still be compelling to get campaign messages across; the delivery may simply shift.

Asked what will happen in four years, Trippi looks back at the things McCain could not do four years before (Meetup, localizers, blogs) and so you can assume that the changes four years from now can’t be guessed.

Joe says they decided to run a 24-hour campaign TV network online before they knew what would fill it and the people started supplying video. Citizens’ media: Give the people the tools and the distribution and they will use them (I smell another law of media coming on….)

Michael wonders what is going to happen to the journalism covering campaigns with blogs and RSS: “You sort of create your own media.”

Joe adds: “Email will be supplanted by RSS feeds as the choice for the average consumer or voter to take information from the campaigns…. I think the blogosphere is here to stay…. The problem is that the press keeps looking at the blogs that get huge traffic.” Amen. It’s the tail, it’s the tail. Calling Dr. Shirky.

Kathleen mentions Rathergate and asks what will happen to the credibility of blogs vs. media. Michael says, “I think you’re going to see a lot more stories like that…. The depth of experience you see represented in those blogs is just amazing.”

Kathleen asks about the danger of spreading misinformation and it not getting corrected for days. Nope, online it takes only minutes. It took bloggers 18.5 minutes to correct Rather; it took Rather 12 days to correct Rather (sort of). “The average blogger gets called on it immediately.”

I ask about the impact of all this at a local level. Joe says there are a bunch of 22 year-olds in these campaigns who will be in Congress in eight years. “The net got them involved when they woulodn’t have gotten involved otherwise.” He says he’s seeing local campaigns realizing that they can get people involved in campaigns again, “which is important for democxracy.”

“My fantasy of President Kerry [beat for laughter] is of a man who actually sent his health care paln to the people online… ‘I’m sending it to you before I send it to the Hill… I want you to talk about it… It’s up to you to stop the lobbyists….’ I think you’re doing to see this have an effect on governance and you’ll see that have an effect on the local elevel before you see it at te national level.”

Michael adds that people have been questioning the ongoing role of parties, what with campaign finance reform. “A lot of the tools that we built on the presidential site were very expensive tools and were very much out of reach… One of the things the parties can do is build an infrastructure for their candidates.” Right idea.

A student asks a question about media and Kathleen says “in any given newsroom now, people are reading blogs.” She says they have an impact on news.

Joe argues that during the war, embedded reporters gave us “one flavor” of coverage and blogs were the alternative. And he says that the beauty of the exit polls being blogged is that TV is in the eyeball business but those eyeballs were at Wonkette. He says they can’t do exit polls anymore and leak them to the campaigns. “Karl Rove will call Drudge and I’ll call Wonkette,” he says.

Trippi says “the one thing most Americans agree on is that they don’t like Washington… And the Democratic party has become identified as the Washington party.”

“We have to reform the party from the ground up… aw, I don’t want to get on my soapbox,” Joe says.

Trippi says that the Democrats “should not have some big name as the party chair.” I guess he’s not endorsing Dean. Sounds like news to me.

Michael asks Joe about Wolfson’s suggestion that the party members elect the chairman online. Trippi says he’s not sure that’s the right way but it would be better than the way it is going to be decided.

Trippi soundbite: “If you think about the internet as the information age, it’s a mistake. It’s the age of empowerment.” Trippi’s law.

He tells political loaves-and-fishes stories about expecting hundreds of people at an event and getting thousands because a few of those people told more people. A lot of them did not have internet access (an answer to the PC digital divide question).

Joe punctures the youth myth of the Dean campaign. Scott Heiferman reported that the average age of Dean Meetup people was 47.

Jay Rosen gets up to talk about the different narrative — not horseraces of winners and losers but forces of control vs. decontrol, a war in the party. He says there are all these people in parties who control message, money, news. “If the internet is really going to decontrol politics and messages, then what happens to this class?” Michael says the media story about Bush was that the campaign was all about control but he says that was not the feeling internally. He says there are people who don’t want to be part of a communal structure but want to be involved. Scott, next to me, says, “That’s so sad…. Isolation leads to distrust.”

Joe: “There’s a reason the country’s so divided. And that’s because the consulting class of both parties are so good at one thing… getting 50.1…. Both consulting classes have gotten exceptionally good at getting at that 50.1 percent number, not 80…” He says that before this era, if you wanted to go outside the party structure and control, there was nowhere to go. Now there is. He says that one party, probably the Democrats, will go the way of the Whigs.

: UPDATE: Props to Kathleen Matthews for her moderation of the event. I was particularly impressed because it was only this summer at the Aspen Institute when she said she didn’t really know blogs yet. Well, she certainly has done her reporting in the meantime and knows what all this means.