[Guest Post by Lee Stranahan. Crossposted at LeeStranahan.com]
If you want to preserve the political status quo, feel free to ignore this post.
Ken Vogel has a piece over at Politico that conservatives, libertarians and independent political activists would do well to listen to. It has a somewhat misleading title — Right Seeks Edge in Opposition Wars — but the main thrust of the piece is that liberal organizations like Media Matters for America, Center for American Progress and Talking Points Memo are outflanking their political opponents and that currently there is simply no equivalent on the other side. The article mentions right-wing watchdog groups like Media Research Center, Accuracy in Media and Judicial Watch but sums them all up with this money quote….
“They’re not terribly effective. At all,” said a conservative activist who has worked with research groups.
Reading Ken Vogel’s piece gave me an affirmation of something I’ve noticed ever since I began to cautiously step out from the liberal world a few months ago – there are a few significant structural flaws on the right that allow the left to run roughshod with the truth. The reason I called Ken Vogel’s title somewhat misleading is that I don’t see the issue as being so much about "digging up dirt" on the opposition as it is about efficient objection handling.
There are two parts to the Democratic new-media machinery; information gathering and reporting from groups like Media Matters followed with rapid action from groups like MoveOn.org. And it should be noted both parts of this machine are in eternal fundraising mode, without apology.
It starts with the reporting. What’s significant about organizations like Media Matters for America and the news site Talking Points Memo is that they are effectively able to render what I’ve described in the past as "the optics of objectivity." In other words, without close examination they appear to be making factual arguments and a solid rational case against policy positions. They provide the grist for the mill that goes out to DailyKos diarists, left-wing bloggers and ultimately the mainstream media.
This is quickly followed up by some sort of action – the petition, boycott, letter writing campaign, protest, houseparty, meet-up, caller banks or other method of getting people involved. The purpose of this section is twofold. First, there’s the practical benefit of a congressman getting 1000 emails in his inbox, for instance. But beyond that, this sort of involvement has a psychological effect of making the participant feel like they’re involved in something bigger which in turn makes it easier to get other actions from them in the future, such as voting.
When I began talking to and working with people on the right, I was really surprised to find out that there was no equivalent of these groups group like MoveOn.org, for example. Forget ideology for a second and just look at the structure of what MoveOn does.. MoveOn.org is very good at organizing people, getting messaging out that penetrates the mainstream media, and doing the sort of fundraising that is necessary to keep its operation going. Additionally, a group like MoveOn.org is a very modern organization that doesn’t have significant overhead or an overly complex org chart. I produced and directed a number of videos for MoveOn and I can tell you firsthand that they are thrifty. For example, none of videos I worked on them with used (more expensive) union voice over talent.
Here’s a quick example of why this matters. The absence of a "nonliberal MoveOn.org" came up as a practical issue with me while working on the Pigford “black farmers’ story. While working on my documentary, I shot interviews with farmers who met with Georgia Democratic Congressman Sanford Bishop and told him about corruption in the Pigford settlement, only to have him respond that they should keep quiet about the corruption because if Pigford were investigated "they’ll shut this thing down." Bishop has admitted to this conversation on the record and said that is not his job to monitor corruption.
If we had this sort of solid evidence of a Republican congressman knowingly allowing fraud to continue and it had broken in someplace like Talking Points Memo, it would have quickly turned into an action item by group like MoveOn then made national headlines and that politician likely would’ve been run out of town on a rail.
As it was we broke this information and released videos. We are able to get some press in Georgia and to get any number of people who read the story on the right to grumble about what a crook Sanford Bishop was – but with no real organizational machinery to get the story out and most importantly to get people to take action, the significant story withered on the vine.
How many stories get lost this way?
It’s not enough to complain all day that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. Okay, they do. But guess what? All you’re doing there is defining the problem. That’s an important first step but it’s not enough.
What you’re missing is a solution.
– Lee Stranahan
UPDATE BY PATTERICO: Thanks to Instapundit for the link. Prof. Reynolds may be the closest thing we have to organizational machinery — and he’s (allegedly) just one man.