Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Blogging the Beltway

Here’s a Washington Post article on blogging on Capitol Hill.

A Capitol Hill Presence in the Blogosphere Lawmakers Try to Balance Value of Openness With The Medium's Blunt Tone

By Brian Faler
Special to The Washington Post Tuesday, October 11, 2005; A15

"Suddenly the plane just started dropping," wrote Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

"We did this amazing zigzag in -- sort of spiral down very fast -- and my ears felt horrendous," she said, describing the final approach to the Baghdad airport. "It was like a bad Disneyland ride as we veered left, right up and down to avoid an 'incoming' . . . and I have to admit my stomach was in my throat."

Murray wrote the account later that day and e-mailed it to staffers back home, who promptly posted it on her Senate Web site. Over the course of her nine-day trip to the Middle East, earlier this year, the senator tapped out 6,000 words describing the poverty she encountered, the soldiers she met and how, during a stop in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili reminded her of former president Bill Clinton ("very charismatic and could just talk forever and make all problems seem so simple").

Murray is one of a small but growing number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have tried their hands at blogging. More than a dozen have launched blogs or blog-like pages on their official Web sites in an apparent effort to sidestep the mainstream media and, like thousands -- possibly, millions -- of other Americans, take their stories directly to the public.

Some of the congressional sites, such as Patty's Blog From the Middle East, are short-lived, beginning and ending with a trip overseas. Others are permanent. Some are updated daily. Others, once in a while. The sites, invariably, are much tamer than other, well-known blogs. There is no fire-breathing partisanship. No snarky dishing. No soul-searching confessionals. In fact, some appear to be little more than news releases strung together to look like a blog.

Only one lawmaker, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), allows readers to post comments on his site.

Freshman Rep. John J.H. "Joe" Schwarz (R-Mich.) keeps a weekly online journal of the votes in the House, the bills he has sponsored and official letters he has sent.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy's office blogs the action on the Senate floor. ("Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska is very upset regarding the attempt by Senator Warner to include the Defense Authorization bill with an unknown number of amendments," the site reported last week. "He thinks what Senator Warner is doing is a very odd procedure and against Senate rules").

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) wrote about his trip earlier this year to areas of South Asia affected by the tsunami. Like Murray, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) blogged his trip to Iraq last year, an account that turned poignant when he described leaving the war zone.

"We said our goodbyes to the troops and escorts and started toward the plane. As we reached the area where we were to board, we were informed that two coffins with soldiers would be on board . . . We would in fact be seated next to their coffins. No one objected. It would be an honor to ride with these heroes," he wrote.

"Next of kin had not been notified, so we don't know their names or how they died I have to admit it was very sobering to board a plane and see the caskets. I sat directly across from one of them," Neugebauer wrote in a nearly 5,000-word account. "There were some other soldiers on board. . . . There were two homecomings represented on that plane. . . . Two groups of families would receive their loved ones -- one in grief and one in relief . . . I know
sitting in that airplane the realities of war seemed so very real."

Some Internet experts said they are heartened by the lawmakers' efforts, saying the sites can give constituents glimpses into their representatives' personalities, opinions and day-to-day responsibilities. "Anytime they do anything that is more responsive to constituents' needs and interests, and anytime they're trying to be more transparent about their work, it's a good thing," said Nicole Folk, technology analyst at the Congressional Management Foundation.

Most lawmakers still shy away from the sites for any number of reasons: They do not have the staff to maintain them; their constituents are not demanding them; they are not comfortable with the loose, freewheeling tone associated with blogs.

But an increasing number appear to have found a sort of middle ground, focusing less on developing their own sites and, instead, taking their writings to other, more established blogs with active followings. More than a dozen lawmakers -- including Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- have written for the Huffington Post, a celebrity-studded blog run by pundit Arianna Huffington.

Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), a breast cancer survivor, has contributed to a site on cancer awareness sponsored by Yahoo and the American Cancer Society, as have Reps. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). A number of Democratic lawmakers have created "diaries" on the popular liberal blog Daily Kos, which enables them to maintain what are, essentially, their own mini-blogs on the site.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) caught some attention on the site last month, when he posted a 2,000-word response there to bloggers' complaints about Democrats who had supported John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to the Supreme Court. "How can we ask Republican senators to resist pressure from their right wing and vote against flawed appointees like John Bolton, if we engage in similar rhetoric against Democrats who dissent from our own party line?" Obama wrote. Readers posted 800 comments in response.

"It was a good opportunity to engage an activist community in a forum that is rapidly growing," Obama said in an interview. "If you take these blogs seriously, they'll take you seriously."
(Source: Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2005)

Thanks to all of my loyal Beltway readers. Feel free to send me a tip at republicanminnesota(a)gmail.com.


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