Politico has a story up today about Liberty.com, the new conservative answer to MoveOn. The gist of the story is… they’d like to be the right’s answer to MoveOn.
I’ve written about the relative lack of conservative online infrastructure in the past, in a conference paper titled “Don’t Think of an Online Elephant” (available here). Short version: about once a year, every year since 2003, some conservative activist has tried this. They get a round of media stories similar to this one in Politico. Then eight months go by and they get another round of media stories, about how they failed to produce anything. Reporters are Charlie Brown, conservative elites are Lucy, and these organizations are the football. Every time conservative elites announce “hey look, we’re gonna have our very own MoveOn,” a few journalists take the bait. Then they write about how the whole thing ended up falling into the dirt, take a few months to forget the whole episode, and then again hear “conservative MoveOn,” lace up their shoes, and start rushing. There’s never a reference to how or why the last attempt failed.
Liberty.com claims to have a list of 70,000, and given that it’s being organized by Eric Odom, a prominent tea party leader, that’s easy to believe. But MoveOn has 5,000,000. Suffice it to say, 70,000 ain’t 5,000,000. And Liberty.com openly admits that it hasn’t done anything yet. They plan on launching September 1. Right now it’s a splash page with a cheaply-produced embedded video and a sign-up list. When you sign up, they send you an immediate fundraising request. (“Oh Charlie Brow-own…”)
There’s an interesting tidbit at the end of the article, where Liberty.com spokesman Yates Walker indicates that “January’s Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which struck down the law banning corporate spending in elections, paved the way for the new group’s formation.” Um, what? Citizens United affects corporate spending on elections. That’s not MoveOn-like at all. Nothing in the decision impacts the ability of “patriots” to build an internet-mediated political association. Either Walker doesn’t really know what he’s talking about or else Liberty.com is aiming pretty explicitly at being a funnel for large corporate donors, with a shop window that looks grassroots-y. Having never heard of Walker before, I can’t evaluate which is more likely. But if a journalist wants to do some actual investigation, that would be the spot to do so.
Either way, here’s my suggestion for journalists when covering “right-wing moveon(s).” Wait until they do something, anything that merits reporting. At least make sure that there’s a “football.” Eric Odom hasn’t done anything yet. He’s created a webpage, announced an aspirational goal, and sent out a press release. At this point, he’s just looking for free publicity, presumably so he can convert it into cash. How is that the least bit newsworthy?
And by the way, I’d be happy to talk at length with reporters about the development process of these types of organization. It would be great to see serious reporting on how the Left and Right netroots organizations differ, or on why digital activism isn’t as simple as throwing a webpage up or launching a facebook group. But it’s much more likely that we’ll see 4 more stories like the Politico piece in the next week or so, followed by eight months of silence and then a story about how Liberty.com didn’t really work out in, say, March or April 2011. Lucy. Football. Dirt. Works every time.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0810/41262.html#ixzz0x5HgTWpl
UPDATE: Politico published a follow-up story today. The title (MoveOn unfazed by new group) is unsurprising, but the body of the piece actually gets into the trouble that conservative organizations have had in duplicating the organization’s success. Credit where credit is due, that’s some decent reporting.