Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Republican Talking Points Network

(You mean Fox News? Well, sure, but besides that.)

It’s no secret that both parties have their talking points, and any news junkies will quickly note recurring phrases, such as New Orleans “dodging a bullet” or hear several pundits make the same ridiculous assertion that Bill Bennett was really decrying abortion when he made his recent thoughtless remarks. Divining the talking points can make for a fun game (of course, it works better with Republicans, as Democrats aren’t as keen on the whole lockstep, keep on message thing).

Still, I’ve been a bit surprised that the Republican’s D.C. Talkers network has not gotten more press, since it suggests a higher level of coordination than might be suspected. On 9/26/05, U.S. News & World Report’s Washington Whispers column reported:

Another Win for 'Friends & Allies'
When John G. Roberts is approved as chief justice of the United States, as expected, he can thank President Bush 's "Friends & Allies" program, which went to work on him immediately after he was nominated. The project, started by the Republican National Committee in the 2004 re-election campaign, is simple and effective: Give opinion makers, media friends, and even cocktail party hosts insider info on the topic of the day. How? Through E-mailed talking points, called D.C. Talkers, and conference calls. For Roberts, it worked this way: A daily conference call to about 80 pundits, GOP-leaning radio and TV hosts, and newsmakers was made around 9 a.m. On the other end were the main Roberts gunslingers like Steve Schmidt at the White House and Ken Mehlman and Brian Jones at the RNC. D.C. Talkers would then be distributed to an even larger list filled with positive info about Roberts and lines of attack on his critics. "The idea," said one of those involved, "is to feed them information and have them invested in us." It has even created addicts, he added. "Now they come to us before going on TV."

Some of those 80 must be ideologues eager for ammunition, but some must also be journalists (or faux journalists) eager for content, motivated by laziness more than ideology. After all, the beast must be fed every day.

Ever since I read about D.C. Talkers, I wanted to see a copy of one of their missives — wouldn’t it be fun to compare it the subsequent conservative chatter? Credit The Raw Story with getting a hold of what certainly looks to be an authentic copy of the D.C. Talkers sheet on Joe Wilson and Plamegate.

Anyone who’s followed Plamegate will recognize many of these lines. What I find particularly interesting is that the actual talking points are not only misleading in places, but inaccurate. Wilson never claimed that Cheney sent him to Niger. He did make a fumbling statement that could be quoted out of context to suggest that, but he quickly clarified that Cheney requested more information from the CIA, and the CIA’s response was to send Wilson.

I find it fascinating that whoever puts the D.C. Talkers together either does not respect their readers enough to tell the truth, or that they just don’t give a damn. I’m sure having a pundit argue a falsehood while certain it’s true makes for more convincing television than telling that same pundit, “this is a lie, but it’ll play well.” Of course, I’m sure many wouldn’t need much convincing... virtually everything Rush Limbaugh says is based on how it will play, not whether it’s true.

And who exactly puts together the Talkers? The report mentions Ken Mehlman, and Raw Story also provides a copy of Mehlman's very similar Plamegate talking points. Still, it would be surprising if Rove was not somehow involved. If so, then the Plamegate sheet would one more attempt to smear Wilson and cover his own ass.

It’s also fun to see how, after one tactic fails, a new set of talking points emerges. Crooks and Liars posts a great video clip showing what appears to be the new Republican talking points on Plamegate. The post also quotes Larry Johnson’s analysis of the talking points. My personal favorite? That Fitzgerald really shouldn’t be hounding poor Rove because, after all, everyone leaks. Yeah. Just too bad in this case of leaking for political retribution it’s both illegal and treason. (Just imagine how bad it would be if this administration hadn’t promised to restore honor and integrity to the White House!)

UPDATE: Currently, with the Miers nomination, it’s been fascinating to watch the Republicans stray from the public groupthink. I personally feel it’s fantastic. If only it were always the case. If you watch the video here, you’ll see Bill Kristol gently scolded for breaking from the herd. Tell me Brit Hume isn’t receiving D.C. Talkers... Kristol all but accuses him of parroting White House talking points, and Hume backpedals.

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