Sadly, I don't think the team at BlogHer is "confused" at all, especially political veterans like Morra and Mary Katherine.
BlogHer's Election 2008 coverage was created in response to the terrific enthusiasm this community demonstrated while developing our non-partisan 2008 Voter Manifesto, twelve policy questions American women have about health care, Iraq, the economy and the environment.
Frankly, however, our political team is confused by the response of presidential candidates to BlogHer, and to some other organizations and blogs by women. For the past six months, BlogHer has invited seven leading presidential candidates -- Democratic and Republican, we're non-partisan -- to participate with BlogHer's influential, passionate community of now 7.6 million techno-savvy women, who write and read thousands of influential blogs. While our editors, Morra Aarons-Mele and Mary Katharine Ham have made in-roads with the campaigns and we do have another year until Election Day, at this point we've been told no, both in words and in actions, as have some other women's blogs and political groups.
Yes, the campaigns are sending a clear message to women bloggers, but it's not "you don't really matter." It's "get back to us when you start turning your blogs into billboards or ATM's for us." I'm pretty sure that Morra and Mary Katherine already know that right now every minute of a candidate's time is currently reserved for basically four things:
- raising money, either on the phone talking with rich people or showing up (late) at fundraisers;
- appearing (late) at made-for-tv events in an early primary state;
- meeting (late) with the local community groups you can't afford to blow off in NH, IA, and SC because the media fallout would be horrendous; and
- appearing (on time) on television news programs.
But the political campaigns do NOT view blogs as a conduit for talking with voters, despite their insistence to the contrary.
Republican campaigns look at blogs as a component of their centralized echo chamber - it really is still a lecture for many of them - while Democratic campaigns see the word "blog" and think the word "money." Frankly, there are a number of political bloggers on each side that are more than happy to play along with this, because they earn some semblance of influence when they do so.
The overwhelming majority of women bloggers (and men bloggers, for that matter) aren't interested in parroting the party line or becoming just another Act Blue portal. So the campaigns are choosing those bloggers who want to be helpful over those who want to ask questions.
Think about it - in the offline world, some campaigns expect event attendees to sign loyalty oaths and others plant questions. Campaigns expect and even prefer "real" questions from the media, and even then, most of those questions are predictable or even redundant.
Why would the campaigns want the online world to be any different? Questions from the unwashed masses on the Internet? Despite the progress of the YouTube Debates (actually, the CNN debates with a cute YouTube twist) and 10Questions (still met with a bit of resistance), campaigns aren't really interested with questions that don't neatly fit the talking points, and many dismiss the questioners as somehow not qualified to engage in THEIR discussion.
The candidates are going to learn eventually that most bloggers (and most people) want access to the candidates but don't want to feel like they're passing through a tollbooth. The blogosphere should be the greatest single assault on the "pay to play" system of American politics, but we're not there yet.
My fear is that bloggers will be turned off by the rebuff and not participate. My hope is they'll be turned off by the rebuff and get so angry they participate more. This election cycle will teach the beltway crowd a lot about the blogosphere. I'm hoping we'll learn how wrong the campaigns were. I'm hoping turnout breaks all kinds of records, and it's fueled by bloggers.