Progressives to Start Building Communications Networks?

To download Thinking Points, a progressive guide to messaging (PDF), click on the image above.

I recently had the chance to see Professor of Linguists George Lakoff talk at a forum on the tactics of health care reform.  During that discussion, Professor Lakoff reiterated, as he has often done in the past, that progressives still lack the extensive network of communications in this country that they need in order to effectively get their message out to the American people and that that is one of the major reasons why we continue to see progressive legislation after progressive legislation drowning in Congress.  Yet, contrary to popular belief, such void exists not because there are no resources to build such a network or because it is too much of an overwhelming undertaking, but rather because so far there hasn’t been the political will to build one.  This is mainly because progressives have tended to buy into the mistaken notion that human beings are primarily rational beings and that if you explain to them “the facts” in a logical manner, people will somehow come over to your side in droves if only given the chance to be heard.  While no one is disputing that facts do need to be out there to counter minsinformation, in terms of first impressions when you communicate, the notion that “policy wonk” talk is all it takes to convince people is completely disconnected from reality, as people are primarily moved with their emotions, rather than with their “logic”.

The recent news that wealthy progressives would start to invest in developing a counterweight in the airwaves to the right-wing conservative messages that currently dominate our media world in the U.S. recently prompted Chris Matthews of Hardball to invite Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who will be heading the coordination of such an effort at the new American Bridge organization, to talk to him about what is being planned:       

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According to the New York Times, some liberal operatives led by David Brock were moved to work on this due to the recent lopsided influence the Chamber of Commerce had in the last midterm elections (which was reportedly funneling undisclosed foreign money to fund ad campaigns favoring Republican candidates, which, among other right-wing positions, were oftentimes staunchily against reforms that might lead to paths to legalization for immigrant workers):

Mr. Brock said in an interview that he planned to formally file papers with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday to set up American Bridge as what is known as an independent-expenditure-only political action committee, meaning it will be able to take in contributions of unlimited size from individuals and corporations but must regularly disclose its donors.

Certain to set off debate, however, is that Mr. Brock appears to be positioning his new organization so that fund-raising consultants can raise money for Democratic-oriented media efforts not just through American Bridge but also via one of the nonprofit organizations Mr. Brock currently runs, Media Matters Action Network, which does not disclose its donors.

The action network, which tracks conservative politicians and advocacy organizations, is organized as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group and is set to take on an expanded role in the 2012 elections, including potentially running television ads, according to an internal draft concept paper about American Bridge’s and Media Matter Action Network’s plans obtained by The New York Times.

While starting with Media Matters might be a good beginning launching point, I’d be interested to see if Media Matters will actually direct the efforts to go beyond the old communications model of “fight them with the facts”, which in previous experience has proven to be simply not enough.  So my question is this: does Media Matters really have what it takes to do more than just fact checking and go beyond that to do some framing messaging?  Because the message framing itself is just as important as the network of communications that gets the message out onto the public, if Media Matters does not do the framing, I sincerely hope that other supportive tactics are launched as part of American Bridge’s new undertaking.     

Another mistaken notion that I’ve been seeing get repeated in the media wires in light of the news of this new American Bridge undertaking is that “progressives used to have a version of such a network prior to the Obama campaign”, which in my opinion is a misconception of what an effective network of communications ought to actually look like.  This misconception was repeated on a later segment that Chris Matthews did: 

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In order to have a truly effective network of communications, you should have three components: 1) an integrated marketing communications strategy to assure uniformity, 2) an effective framing of messages, and 3) the right scope of media outlets to carry out the message itself.  So far, Progressives have always been outgunned (including during the 2008 Presidential campaign) by conservatives in terms of communications because the conservative think tanks and larger infrastructure of the right-wing media foot soldiers all invest heavily in large communications budgets.  Frankly, it’s always been an eye-opening experience to hear first hand from George Lakoff himself talk about how he’s gotten to see the massive number of outreach right-wingers do in the media, literally being witness to the two-inch thick paper stacks of solicitations that conservative media spokespeople submit on any given day to any one particular media outlet for interviews or to offer comments on ongoing issues and seeing no progressive equivalent … and the marketing doesn’t stop there: for example, senior citizens are constantly getting bombarded by mailings after mailings like these of effectively framed messages to mobilize them against President Obama’s health insurance reform.  If progressive funders are really serious about countering the massive advantage in communications that conservatives enjoy, I really hope they look into framing messaging tactics.  The fate of many progressive reforms (and, comprehensive immigration reform being one of them), will depend on it.