Media Matters

New Media, Old Bias

Maureen Dowd came to CPAC but wasn't treated like royalty.

By 2.14.11

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Lyndsey is a twenty-something from Alabama who has worked on a handful of Republican political campaigns. Maureen Dowd is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times. The odds of these two women ever crossing paths were probably astronomical and so, when they did in fact cross paths Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the results were unpredictable.

Lyndsey was helping run the CPAC Bloggers Lounge, sponsored this year by FreedomWorks and RedState.com. When the conference shifted its venue in 2010 from the Omni Shoreham Hotel to the Wardman Park Marriott, bloggers managed to snag a prime location in the new facility. Whereas they had previously been stuck in an exhibition hall away from the main events, in the new setup, bloggers were now in a spacious room of their own connected to a balcony with an excellent view of the Marriot ballroom stage. A visit to the Bloggers Lounge almost instantly became a de rigeur ritual for VIPs at CPAC, and this year’s visitors ranged from Newt Gingrich to comedienne Victoria Jackson.

Being able to set up your laptop in the Bloggers Lounge is therefore a sought-after privilege, and organizers made it clear before CPAC that advanced registration would be required. So when the New York Times columnist nicknamed “MoDo” showed up Thursday, the unregistered arrival was denied access to the lounge by Lyndsey. According to one reported account, the Pulitzer-winner asked the young Alabamian, Do you have any idea who I am?” Via Twitter, Lyndsey denied that version of the story and indeed she did know who Dowd was, but she also knew her name wasn’t on the registration list and so it was a no-go for MoDo.

One might find a world of significance in that unlikely encounter. While Maureen Dowd was welcome to join the rest of the working press in the CPAC media center, it seems she preferred the more cutting-edge online cachet to be had amongst the bloggers. Somehow, Howard Kurtz of the I managed to make it inside with the help of a Red State contributor who shall remain anonymous, but Dowd’s press-corps prestige availed her naught against Lyndsey’s steel-magnolia resolve. And Lyndsey's path to Pulitzer-resistant power exemplifies the astonishing ways in which the Internet has helped re-arrange the media universe. Lyndsey’s connection to D.C.-based FreedomWorks involved, among other things, her friendship with a young Republican consultant named Ali Akbar (who is, believe it or not, a Southern Baptist from Texas). By spring 2010, this connection resulted in Lyndsey being tasked with organizing a blogger reception for Georgia GOP congressional candidate Ray McKinney during the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Internet impresario Andrew Breitbart was among the attendees at that event, as was Tabitha Hale, new media director for FreedomWorks.

By such means did a young Alabamian rapidly leapfrog to a position of extraordinary influence, with the assistance of a medium that many Republican leaders have struggled to understand. Whereas conservatives were quick to recognize and capitalize on the power of talk radio and cable TV, the development of the blogosphere seemed to catch many on the Right flatfooted. It was, perhaps, a matter of timing: When blogging first emerged as a popular phenomenon -- the Gold Rush year was 2002 -- the Left was disgruntled and conservatives were relatively content. George W. Bush was in the White House and the GOP controlled Congress and, it seemed, everyone with any real power in the Republican Party considered Fox News and Rush Limbaugh amply sufficient force to counter the liberal bias of the mainstream media.

Well into the second term of Bush's presidency, “blogger” was a pejorative epithet among the most powerful Republicans. Not until Democrats captured Congress in 2006 -- boosted by liberal sites like DailyKos -- did senior figures in the conservative movement grudgingly acknowledge (a) that the blogosphere mattered and (b) that the Left had gained an edge there. Playing catch-up has been difficult, but with support from groups like FreedomWorks and American For Prosperity, what might be called the “blog gap” has been significantly narrowed. Last week's news that AOL had purchased the left-wing site Huffington Post for $315 million, however, was an attention-getting reminder that the gap still remains. Last year, when Salem Communications purchased the popular conservative site HotAir.com from Michelle Malkin, the price was undisclosed, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near $315 million.

Whatever their funding disadvantage, conservative blogs nevertheless played an important role in promoting the Tea Party movement that helped drive last year’s overwhelming congressional landslide for the GOP. That may have been one reason a liberal like Maureen Dowd wanted to get into the CPAC Blogger Lounge to take a closer look at the Right’s online grassroots. As always, however, the main reason liberal journalists cover CPAC is to sneer and jeer. Dowd's Saturday column deriding former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who received the conference’s Defender of the Constitution Award, was an excellent example of that genre.

CPAC also provides the leftward media establishment with an opportunity to promote one of its perennial narratives: Conservatives are hopelessly divided, badly out of step with the American mainstream and, therefore, inevitably doomed to defeat. This familiar tale dates back at least to 1964, when LBJ's victory over Barry Goldwater reportedly drove the final nail in the conservative coffin. Liberals are convinced that if they will just keep reporting The Death of Conservatism, sooner or later it will be true.

Meanwhile, however, the obituaries appear to be premature, as this year's CPAC drew more than 11,000 attendees -- the largest crowd in the 38-year history of the conference. That fact didn't make it into Maureen Dowd’s column, just as the columnist herself didn't make it into the Blogger Lounge. Lyndsey doesn't have a Pulitzer, but surely she deserves some kind of prize for that.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.