I recently had the chance toÂ see Professor of Linguists George Lakoff talk at a forum on the tactics of health care reform.Â During that discussion, Professor Lakoff reiterated, as he has often done in the past, that progressivesÂ still lack the extensive network of communications in this country that they need in orderÂ to effectively get their message out to the American people and that that is one of the major reasons why weÂ continue to seeÂ progressive legislation after progressive legislationÂ drowning in Congress.Â Yet, contrary to popular belief, such void exists not because there are no resources to buildÂ such a network or because it is too much of an overwhelming undertaking,Â but rather because so far thereÂ hasn’t been theÂ political will to build one.Â This is mainly because progressives have tended toÂ buy into the mistaken notion that human beings are primarily rational beings and that if you explain to themÂ “the facts”Â in a logical manner, people will somehow come over to your side in droves if only given the chance to be heard.Â Â WhileÂ no one is disputing that factsÂ 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 peopleÂ are primarily movedÂ with their emotions, rather than with their “logic”.
The recent news that wealthy progressives would start toÂ invest in developing a counterweightÂ in the airwaves toÂ the right-wing conservative messagesÂ that currently dominateÂ our media world in the U.S. recently prompted Chris Matthews of Hardball to invite Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who will beÂ heading theÂ coordination ofÂ such an effort at the new American Bridge organization, to talk to him about what is being planned:Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
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,Â 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 Bridgeâ€™s and Media Matter Action Networkâ€™s plans obtained by The New York Times.
WhileÂ startingÂ with Media Matters might be a good beginning launching point, I’d be interested to see if Media Matters will actuallyÂ direct the efforts toÂ go beyondÂ the oldÂ communications modelÂ ofÂ “fight themÂ with the facts”, which in previous experience has proven to be simply not enough.Â Â So my question is this: doesÂ Media Matters really have what it takes to do more than just fact checking andÂ go beyond that to doÂ some framing messaging?Â Because the message framingÂ 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 thatÂ otherÂ supportiveÂ tactics are launched as part ofÂ American Bridge’s new undertaking.Â Â Â Â
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 ofÂ communications ought to actually look like.Â ThisÂ misconception was repeated on aÂ later segment that Chris Matthews did:Â
In order to have a trulyÂ effective network of communications, you should have three components: 1) an integrated marketing communications strategy to assure uniformity, 2) an effective framingÂ of messages, and 3) theÂ rightÂ scope of media outlets toÂ carry out the message itself.Â So far,Â Progressives have always been outgunned (including during the 2008 Presidential campaign) by conservatives in terms of communications because the conservativeÂ think tanks and larger infrastructure of theÂ right-wing media foot soldiers all invest heavily inÂ large communications budgets.Â Frankly, it’s always been an eye-opening experience to hear first hand fromÂ George Lakoff himself talk about how he’s gotten to see the massiveÂ number of outreach right-wingers do in the media, literally being witness to the two-inch thick paper stacks of solicitationsÂ 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 equivalentÂ … andÂ the marketingÂ 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 againstÂ President Obama’s health insurance reform.Â 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.Â The fate of many progressive reforms (and, comprehensive immigration reformÂ beingÂ one of them), will depend on it.