The Dream of Direct Communication

“Like George W. Bush before him, Mr. Obama is trying to bypass the mainstream news media and take messages straight to the public.” (from the NYTimes, ‘Melding Obama’s Web to a YouTube Presidency’).

All politicians dream of direct communication with voters and fellow elites, from Ross Perot’s infomercials, Bill Clinton’s use of talkshows, George W. Bush evading the Washington-based press in favor of the local media, and now to Obama turning to online platforms and his own network to supplement press coverage.

All these dreams come true, but rarely as direct communication. They have costs and biases of their own, different from those of the news media, but costs and biases nonetheless.

In the case of Obama, the central limitation of his net+network, its power nonewithstanding, is that it is based on self-selection, and thus communications almost exclusively to his base. It is not going to do much good when it comes to persuading skeptics. I would think its main use will be to help local activists and Obama-supporters pressure reluctant Democrats in the House and elsewhere to support him.

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