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Scripted Republicans and Bloggers Don’t Mix

I’ve been to plenty of Capitol Hill events over the past four years, and today’s quasi-presser for bloggers—staged by the Senate Republican Conference—was by far the most bizarre.

As I attempted to live blog the event—I gave up on after the first senator spoke—it struck me that Senate Republicans (with the exception of Majority Leader Bill Frist and Sen. John Cornyn) really have no idea about blogging.

It doesn’t have to be that way. But in the case of today’s event, there are some lessons I can offer GOP staffers (and probably some snooping Democrats):

  1. Never use a script. It was embarrassing when today’s event began and Santorum was nowhere to be found. Sen. Kit Bond (R.-Mo.) looked befuddled, saying, “Someone ask a question.” Bond quickly recovered when a staffer handed him a script that had been prepared for the event. It may have been a savior for Bond, but it was an instant turnoff for me.
  2. Staged questions are bad. Upon receiving the script, Bond said the first question would go to the Rev. Luis Cortés Jr., president and chief executive of Esperanza USA. Cortés read the question, which happened to be about immigration reform, and Cornyn answered it. This continued until all five questioners asked their respective questions, all of which, coincidentally, fit perfectly into the GOP’s 2006 agenda.

  3. Bloggers like interaction. As I accurately predicted at the start of the event, the five bloggers in attendance were given no opportunity to ask their own questions once the staged questions were asked and answered. As Santorum was leaving, Tim Chapman of Townhall.com’s Capitol Report suggested to him that next time bloggers should have more of a role; Santorum said to talk to his staff.

So I guess that’s what I’m doing now: talking to the legions of Hill staffers who seem to want to engage bloggers, but are grappling with ways to do it.

As I wrote about in my recap of the House GOP blog workshop on March 3, I find it absolutely alarming that members of Congress fear bloggers, and as a result, are reluctant to either a) blog themselves or b) interact with bloggers.

The latter appeared evident today. By staging a scripted event with pre-selected questions, and then preventing bloggers from asking questions, I was left wondering why I was even there. I had already read about Santorum’s agenda Thursday morning in the Washington Times. Dumping a bunch of talking points on me only makes me angry. I’m not a flack for the GOP.

Besides, I came prepared with my own questions:

  • Sen. Cornyn: Why isn’t it more important to secure the border first before implementing a guest-worker program?

  • Sen. Coleman: Do you regret your characterization of the White House staff as having a “tin ear”?

  • Sen. Santorum: Why do you believe it’s not feasible for the Senate to cut spending this year?

I walked away unsatisfied and annoyed enough to write this advice column.

With that being said, I’m sorry if the SRC staff perceives this as unfair badgering, but I hope my criticism is viewed constructively, not as a cheap shot toward their boss, Santorum. I also hope they don’t exclude me from future events. (The SRC hosted a blog row during Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearings, and I had only praise to offer at the time.)

What’s the best lesson Hill staffers can learn from today’s event? Involve bloggers in the planning of your events. Unlike the herd of Capitol Hill reporters who travel in packs, bloggers don’t think the same way. Engaging them—as Rep. Jack Kingston’s staff did for the March 3 blog workshop—will make everyone happier, and probably result in better coverage for your congressman or senator.

UPDATE — 8:10 p.m.: While I was busy criticizing today’s event, Pat Cleary and David Kriliak of the National Association of Manufactures were covering it. They have a complete blow-by-blow report of Sen. John Cornyn on immigration, Sen. Norm Coleman on job creation, Sen. John Thune on energy costs, Sen. Rick Santorum on health care, and finally, Santorum’s concluding remarks.

On the topic of Santorum’s concluding comments, Tim Chapman of Townhall.com pulls one quote that I found strange:

“This is a party that has an agenda. This is a party that has a plan for the future. These are not ideological pieces of legislation that come from think tanks.”

If I’m not mistaken, the ideas that came from the Heritage Foundation made up many planks of the Contract With America. And it’s Heritage’s ideas today that are driving the House Republican Study Committee. (Hat tip to Tim.)

Providing another recap of the event is Richard Morrison of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Open Market blog. Of all the bloggers in attendance, I was the lone attack dog.

Sen. Lamar Alexander holds down the fort while other senators cast votes.

Written By

Mr. Bluey, a contributing editor to Human Events, is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He maintains a blog at RobertBluey.com.

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