Colin Delany August 1, 2007

Adam Nagourney’s Joe Trippi/John Edwards Puff Piece

Beating up on Times political reporter Adam Nagourney is a hobby gleefully enjoyed in many corners of the Interweb, but now that he’s ventured onto OUR turf, it’s time for a quick barrage of jabs, hooks and vicious undercuts, e.politics-style. Why? Writing today about Joe Trippi and the John Edwards web team, Nagourney shows exactly how well he can channel a campaign’s spin uncritically and without context.

Now, Joe Trippi is a damn smart guy and the Edwards folks may well be using the ‘net in interesting ways, but the only way you’d know it from THIS article is because they tell us they are, not because Nagourney shows any actual evidence. This key paragraph lets us know what we’re in for:

At the vanguard of the change is Mr. Trippi, something of a celebrity in the Democratic Internet world after managing Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. Mr. Trippi — who left Mr. Dean’s collapsing campaign in a storm of recriminations — has returned for an unexpected Round 2 at the urging of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, breaking a vow Mr. Trippi says he made to himself not to return to presidential politics.

Ah, a celebrity puff piece! Now I have a framework for understanding an article about online politics that says almost nothing about online politics. Instead, we’re treated to discussions about how much Joe Trippi knows, how John Edwards and his wife “get it,” and how they’re putting some “edge” behind their populist message at the urging of their Internet gurus. The only evidence of actual online campaigning? A video that went over poorly at the YouTube debate, an impreach-Alberto Gonzales petition (hello, MoveOn!, and Mrs. Edwards’s commenting on blogs and online forums, which she’s been doing for years before Trippi showed up.

What you won’t see: any discussion of social networking outreach, which the Edwards campaign embraced early on, or on the relative effectivess of Edwards’s videos compared with the Clinton Sopranos spoof and Bill Richardson’s job interview clips. Nor will you read much about online fundraising, a pastime in which I hear the campaigns are somewhat interested. I.e., you won’t see any actual analysis or context, and neither will you see any discussion of the campaign’s one unmistakeable success, their SMS fundraising effort. Nagourney does try to reach an Edwards pollster who was against the idea of using the haircut video at the YouTube debate, but the guy didn’t return his call — and apparently there was no one else in the entire world available to offer some perspective and perhaps a critique of the campaign’s strategy.

By contrast, let’s look at a nice bit of journalism recently committed by Shira Toeplitz at The Hotline: looking at campaign finance records, she broke out the campaigns’ online spending AND put together a list of who’s working for whom. Guess what? Edwards spent slightly less online in the last quarter than Obama and about a third of what Hillary Clinton did. As a percentage, he spent about as much as her campaign did, considering his lower overall fundraising, but Edwards hasn’t gotten nearly as much buzz online as either Obama or Clinton as a result. Nagourney could have used numbers like these to draw some conclusions, but didn’t. Shira adds to her piece with some speculation about the eventual merging of web and traditional communications shops, which is a useful trend to think about. And, her numbers served as the basis of Patrick Ruffini’s lament about Republican staffing habits.

Appetite whetted for substance? Besides a world of citizen journalists at places like techPresident and on our own sites, try reading Amy Schatz at the Murdoch Street Journal, Danny Glover and the gang at National Journal’s Technology Daily, Steve Johnson at the Chicago Tribune, Frank Davies at the San Jose Mercury News and of course Jose Antonio Vargas at the Post. All of these folks have written insightful articles about aspects of the online political world over the past few months. Nagourney could have, but instead turned out just another celebrity interview. Can’t the Paper Of Record do better than that?



  1. Jonathan Trenn

    First of all, howya doin’ Colin?

    Great points. I see this for two reasons. Many political reporters are too caught up in the celebrity who’s up/who’s down mentality. And that they all too often don’t really get digital strategies enough to examine it closely.

  2. Erik Ose

    Colin, right on. This piece was sloppy. Coincidentally, an op-ed appeared in The Hill today (John Edwards Needs a Netroots Reboot) which similarly deflates the hype that Edwards is still the e-candidate to beat, using hard numbers to back up the story. A longer version, also discussing what Obama’s doing right with his online strategy, is posted at The Latest Outrage.

  3. Pingback: » Once again, political celebrity over political strategy Via Marketing Conversation - New Marketing and Social Media by Abraham Harrison LLC

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