The Fundamental Futility of Speaking to Spokespersons

We just came from the DNC's daily "blogger briefing," not to be confused with the Real Press briefing. There were 20 or so bloggers, various Democratic media reps and invited speakers.

Media relations people and spokespersons from political parties do have a legitimate role and value, in articulating the policies of the party and helping spread knowledge about what your government is doing. But there is a fundamental uselessness to them here at the convention, where they spend most of their time answering the (often unasked) question: Hey, what did you think of that convention?

"We think our convention has been a whiz bang success," said DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse. And that was ON THE RECORD, folks. Woodhouse spoke at some length on what he called the "stark contrast on enthusiasm and message delivery" between the DNC and the Tampa RNC, which he called "lackluster—not a lot of energy and enthusiasm for their speakers." He also noted, "every speaker (here) has been a character reference for this president... in a way that I don't believe occurred in Tampa for Mitt Romney."

A few things:

  • 1. There was plenty of god damn enthusiasm in Tampa, like it or not.
  • 2. There were also plenty of speakers who were character reference for Mitt Romney in Tampa.
  • 3. Why in the world do I write down what a DNC spokesperson "thinks" about what happened in Tampa?
  • The problem is that getting such quotes is a basic feature of political reporting even though everybody—speaker, reporter, and audience—knows that there is no chance that the spokesperson will do anything but recite the party line, whether or not it bears any resemblance to reality, and even getting them to say something stupid is just a gotcha quote with little further value. I asked Woodhouse if he wanted viewers to take away anything more substantive from this convention than that Democrats perhaps clapped harder for the speeches, and he replied that, yes, he wants people to "wake up on Friday morning and say, 'You know what? I understand the rationale for why this man is running for a second term.'"

    Alrighty.

    What I am trying to get at here, imprecisely, is that it is fundamentally impossible, due to the nature of the position, for anything of value to come out of a political spokesperson's statement on a political event such as this convention, yet such statements are also a fundamental feature of the news coming out of these events. And it's not just the official spokespeople. Also at the briefing was Jason Crow, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and who delivered enthusiastic comments in favor of Obama's work on veteran's issues and on gays in the military. What do you think of how Obama has actually prosecuted the wars? I asked Crow. He said Obama has used the Army "in a very thoughtful way," and "the president understands" the tribulations of soldiers now on their eighth and ninth tours of duty.

    Though not an official DNC spokesman, Jason Crow has (reasonably) decided to become involve in political issues by allying himself with the Democratic party, which is all well and good—but once doing so, he loses much of his value as an interview subject, because rather than speak his mind, he confines his comments to statements of support for the administration. So what all the political people end up doing is thinking up new and more creative and more superficially nuanced ways to compliment Obama, and the press ends up thinking up new and more creative and more superficially nuanced ways to turn these statements of support into news stories. What is lacking in this whole process is honesty, unpredictability, and the possibility of actual news breaking out.

    "We spent millions of dollars putting this fancy show on this week," Brad Woodhouse told us. This is undeniably true.

    [Photo: AP]