The White House and the Awesome Power of Several Bloggers

NationalJournal-ObamaNational Journal reporter James Oliphant (5/9/14) has discovered that the Obama White House has a very powerful weapon it can deploy against its critics: bloggers.

As he writes:

When critics attack, the White House can count on a posse of progressive writers to ride to its rescue. Pick an issue, from the Affordable Care Act to Ukraine to the economy to controversies involving the Internal Revenue Service and Benghazi, and you’ll find the same voices again and again, on the Web and on Twitter, giving the president cover while savaging the opposition. And typically doing it with sharper tongues and tighter arguments than the White House itself.

Credit him for the scoop, I guess: Who knew that liberal bloggers would tend to support a Democratic administration?

The problem is that Oliphant thinks there’s really something important here. His first example: Some liberal outlets think Republican politicians and conservative pundits have gone crazy over Benghazi. But one doesn’t need to think much of the Obama White House to think that the Benghazi “scandal” isn’t one. Nor does a cogent critique of the conservative conspiracy theory about Benghazi mean that outlets much more prominent than any blogger will stop featuring the conservative line on their front pages (FAIR Blog, 5/1/14)

What’s more, Oliphant sees this Obama defense squad as being completely unusual:

While the bond between presidential administrations and friendly opinion-shapers goes back as far as the nation itself, no White House has ever enjoyed the luxury that this one has, in which its arguments and talking points can be advanced on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis. No longer must it await the evening news or the morning op-ed page to witness the fruits of its messaging efforts.

This is nonsense. The previous administration had a 24-hour cable news outlet and a slew of right-wing talk radio hosts that it could count on to support its agenda and (quite literally) demonize its opponents. Oliphant notes that some liberal-leaning bloggers visit the Obama White House, but this is not unusual–Bush hosted high-profile right-wing talkers, too (New York Times, 10/17/06).

The previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, saw the rise of Fox News Channel during his second term; Fox‘s evening news show Special Report was conceived as a nightly update on the Lewinsky impeachment saga. Indeed, the conservative media machine built around opposing the Clinton agenda was considerable; anyone who didn’t live through the era might be surprised at the level of vitriol. Lists of murders that were supposedly linked to Clinton were a hit on right-wing talk radio, and televangelist Jerry Falwell peddled a video that made similar allegations (L.A. Times, 5/14/94).

Now that is real power–and makes Obama’s bloggers’ brigade seem pretty feeble. Oliphant sees something disturbing about the Obama-friendly “Web-based royalty,” because it aims to affect how traditional media cover the news: “The hope, from the White House’s perspective, is that progressive media elites sway the mainstream press.”

Ironically, Oliphant’s lead example–Benghazi–demonstrates the weakness of his argument. All the liberal blogging in the world can’t stop corporate media from giving that supposed scandal serious, sustained coverage–certainly to the delight of the right-wing Republicans who have decided to make it news.

It’s an awesome amount of power: The mainstream media’s amplification of Republican talking points matched with the powerful conservative media machine. Any politician in the country would take that over a few Web writers.


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.