September 09, 2007
What Rick said about blogs

I'm going to be brief regarding this story about Rick Noriega, the netroots, and some comments about the netroots he made in a recent speech to the Texas Association of Broadcasters. Here's the contentious bit:

Noriega early last month went to Chicago to rub elbows with liberal bloggers at the Yearly Kos convention, and received the endorsement of Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas.

But then Noriega returned home and told the Texas Broadcasters Association that the blogs are as destructive a force in democracy as talk radio.

"We've seen talk radio become an organizing tool for the die-hard right, while liberals are credited with turning the blogosphere into a political weapon. Each of those media has a targeted demographic group and works them into an ideological lather," Noriega said.

"This, I believe, is damaging to the political culture in this country."

Noriega spokesman James Aldrete said Noriega was not criticizing all politically active blogs, just those that engage in the "politics of division." Aldrete said Noriega believes talk radio and some bloggers would rather keep the country divided than find solutions to problems.

I've included Noriega's full remarks as prepared beneath the fold. You'll see reactions to this elsewhere. The bottom line is that my colleagues and I who have been supporting Rick Noriega continue to do so. We've talked to him, and we know this was not a true reflection of his opinions. It was a screwup - a screwup by the campaign to include that bit in the speech in a misguided attempt at "balance", and a screwup on Rick's part by reading it as was instead of pushing back, since he knows full well that isn't what he believes. Rick is a supporter of blogs - no surprise, since the blogosphere has been a big supporter of him - and I know he has no intention of triangulating against, well, folks like me. I know he's going to address this himself directly very soon, and I know that we'll never hear him say that sort of thing again. He made a mistake, but being the standup guy that he is, he's owning it and he'll make it right.

That's more or less all there is to say about this. Full remarks are beneath the fold. Any questions, let me know.

UPDATE: Rick will be on Firedoglake tomorrow at 3 PM Central time to discuss this. Join in and ask him whatever you want.

REMARKS OF THE HONORABLE RICK NORIEGA Texas Association of Broadcasters/Society of Broadcast Engineers Convention Thursday, August 9, 2007, 8:00 a.m. Renaissance Austin Hotel, Austin, Texas

Good morning. I want to thank you for inviting me here today. I am pleased to be here at the annual convention of the Texas Association of Broadcasters and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.

I am especially happy to participate in this Community Service Awards Breakfast sponsored by the Texas National Guard. As you know, I have been a member of the National Guard for over fifteen years. My service took on a new level of sacrifice when my unit was assigned to Afghanistan during 2004 and 2005. While I and thousands of my comrades spent that year in harm's way, our families and friends waited, hoped and prayed. It was local TV and radio stations that told our stories in compelling human terms.

As you know, the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq has placed an unprecedented strain on the Texas National Guard, and on National Guard units around the country. Many units came home briefly and then were sent back without adequate time for resupply and retraining. Meeting our manpower goals became more of a challenge. The Texas Association of Broadcasters partnered with the Texas National Guard by providing airtime and, in some cases, production assistance for our recruitment efforts through the Non-Commercial Sustaining Announcement, or NCSA, program. Thanks to the program, we have met our recruiting goals for the year in only nine months! This is a concrete example of the role and power of the news media in our lives.

Over the last twenty-five years, we have seen astonishing changes in how Americans get their news, from the rise of cable news networks to the arrival of talk radio to learning to breathe in the blogosphere. Although the role of broadcast news programs, both local and national, has changed, broadcasters like you are still the primary source of news for most Americans. As we enter an election year, your role in explaining the candidates, the issues and the stakes will be more important than ever. I want to share with you some thoughts about the role of the broadcast news media, especially at the local and state level, in our public life.

Last year, the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation did a study on the future of news. As part of the study, they surveyed over 1,000 Americans aged 18 and above in May of 2006 and asked them where they got their news. The biggest single source of news for American continues to be local TV newscasts. Over 65 percent of adults said they watch local TV news programs to get information about current events. This is more than double the percentage who say they get news from local newspapers or from national TV news programs. Radio also does very well, with almost 15 percent saying they get news from that source. That's more than the Internet.

Local radio and TV newscasts have broad audiences, transcending age, ethnicity, gender and education pigeonholes. For instance, almost three-quarters of all people aged 18-24 say they watch local TV news, the highest percentage of any age bracket. Among minorities, TV news viewership was at or about 70 percent. African Americans get significant amounts of current events information from radio. This is good news for radio and TV broadcasters, and affirms how important your journalistic mission remains.

The fact that more people get their news from local TV news than any other source is amazing, considering the multiplication of media I mentioned earlier. With options like 24-hour cable news, talk radio, the Internet and dozens of blogs, people have many more choices for getting information.

A big feature of these new media sources is narrow-casting - the ability to tailor information to specific target audiences. We see narrow-casting in marketing. Cable stations that cater to women, for instance, attract advertisers who want to target that market. When Amazon and Barnes and Noble send me an email, they aren't trying to sell me books; they want to sell me a book just like the one that I bought last month.

Narrow-casting has also crept into our politics. We've seen talk radio become an organizing tool for the diehard right, while liberals are credited with turning the blogosphere into a political weapon. Each of those media has its target demographic groups, and works them into an ideological lather while ignoring or belittling others. This, I believe, is damaging the political culture of this country. Let me give some examples of how narrow-casting poisons our public life.

We see it in the dominance of wedge issues in political campaigns. Instead of public conversations about the large issues that are really important - the war on terror, the future of Social Security, education and health care for working families - we get vitriolic tirades over wedge issues designed to inflame a political base and create divisions among people. Whole political campaigns are crafted around the trifecta of "gays, guns and God." For example, when John Cornyn went to the United States Senate occupy the seat once held Lyndon Johnson and John Tower, he promptly held hearings on flag burning. That's right, flag burning. Now, I hate to see our flag burned as much as the next guy, but does anyone here think there's an epidemic of flag-burning sweeping our land?

We see it in the increasing, and frustrating, partisanship in the Congress and our legislative bodies. I was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1998. In the time that I have served, I have seen a complete transformation of how that body works. Former Speaker Pete Laney built consensus by starting in the center and reaching out across the political spectrum to get 76 votes. Now, current Speaker Tom Craddick starts on the extreme right and works toward the center until he finds the magic number. Under Laney's approach, 530,000 Texas children got health insurance through the CHIP program; under Craddick's approach, 160,000 of them lost it.

We see it in the micro-targeting of voters and constituencies. Instead of appealing to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature†- our common values and ideals as a people - modern political campaigns collect marketing data and run statistical analyses to determine whether that Field and Stream subscriber next door is likely to vote for Fred Thompson, or whether that NPR-listening woman across the street is voting for Hillary Clinton.

We do all this slicing and dicing of our issues, our politics, and our constituents, and then we wonder why voters are turned off and disillusioned by the state of our democracy. Winston Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. And while we cannot make a better form of government than our democracy, we can make our democracy better.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August of 2005, hundreds of thousands of people showed up on Houston's doorstep. I coordinated the relief efforts at the George R. Brown Convention Center, where we fed, clothed and sheltered over 7,000 people. Thousands of Houstonians, seeing the stark images of New Orleans underwater and evacuees under duress, donated their time to help out at the convention center and other sites. Thousands more donated food, blankets, clothes and cash to the relief effort.

The events of that September played a big role in my decision to explore a run for the United States Senate. I saw the generosity of my fellow Texans, once they were called to step outside of themselves and participate in their larger community. I saw their genuine enjoyment of and even eagerness for that opportunity. I have seen the effect of our narrow-cast culture on our society and I know I can make a difference. I want to call all Texans to a renewed sense of unity and purpose.

My parents raised me to believe that service to my community was not just a duty but a privilege. That is why, angered by televised images of the hostages in Tehran, I joined our armed forces over 20 years ago and continue to serve in it. That is why I ran for and was elected to the Texas House. And that is why I am exploring a candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

I believe that "broadcasting" - in the largest sense of the word - is an antidote to the divisive effects on narrow-casting. I believe that, as broadcasters, you have a unique opportunity - and responsibility - to inform, educate and even inspire our fellow citizens to participate more fully in our civic life.

You're doing some good things. Most local TV and radio stations cover state and local politics, and some devote considerable resources to doing so. Over the last decade, TAB members have sponsored almost 14,000 political debates and forums, offering Texans the opportunity to see and hear their candidates in real time, away from scripted media events and staged campaign rallies. I hope that trend will continue and even increase over the next fifteen months.

But the media is also guilty of trivializing public discourse. Complex issues like health care for children and immigration are too often reduced to "he said, she said" sound bites. Political campaigns are covered as horse races and slugfests, with little analysis of the differences among the candidates' platforms and their implications for real, live voters. And the most important political and electoral news of the day can be completely swallowed up by the latest Brangelina sighting.

Let's see more in-depth pieces about important issues. Let's see more candidate forums and debates, with opportunities to explore differing positions on the issues in depth. Let's see more coverage of the real-life impacts of political decisions on our fellow Texans.

Our democracy can only function with a curious, well-informed citizenry that feels an ownership stake in society. Throughout history, democracies have created a space where people can get together, exchange information, debate issues and make decisions for the good of the community. In ancient Greece, the Agora was the place set aside for the community. In colonial New England, many towns were laid out with a village commons, an area that belonged to no one and to everyone in the community. In our modern world, broadcast radio and TV play these important roles. I salute you on the work you already do and challenge you to do even better as we enter the next exciting year for our communities, our state and our nation.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 09, 2007 to Election 2008

Noriega himself was divisive. Speeches are practiced and revised. He knew exactly what he was saying.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on September 9, 2007 10:08 PM

Rather curious timing for R.G.'s story, I'd say.

Just days after he zinged Watts badly in the other paper that publishes his stories -- the Chronicle -- which, by the way followed up with a highly critical editorial of Watts on Friday, he magically gets hold of a quote from Noriega that might serve to undercut his support from the netroots.

Doesn't exactly approach the seriousness of bragging about buying off judges, now does it? But hey, I guess those 20 or so folks drawing a salary from the Watts campaign have to do something to justify their paychecks now don't they?

Posted by: houtopia on September 9, 2007 11:53 PM

Charles Hixon, that's so very pathetic.

Rick said ALL the words in that speech, and for all your determined "la la la, I can't hear you", the message of the speech was of unity and promoting honest public discourse.

Try reading without the hatchet. It might help...

Posted by: boadicea on September 10, 2007 1:44 AM

Noriega's comment isn't inaccurate per se, just too sweeping. The problem with talk radio isn't the medium (Edward Murrow did fine radio journalism, e.g.), but that it has been used for demagoguery. That's also true of some blogs, and it's why I personally don't traffick some of the big liberal venues. But there are millions of blogs, so no single sweeping assumption about all of them can be legitimately made.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast on September 10, 2007 5:55 AM

Charles Hixon, that's so very pathetic... Try reading without the hatchet. It might help

LOL. Well I know where your head is.

I read it and I liked it. What he's saying is that the voter is challenging the lobby culture in our democracy. Challenging it in a way that must be attacked in new ways, such as destroying net-neutrality.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on September 10, 2007 1:31 PM