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April 17, 2014

Obama's Deliberately Trolling the GOP

Already mentioned by @theh2 (Andy) in the morning comments, and boy, I sure wish he'd mentioned it for the podcast -- great piece at Slate by John Dickerson, linked from Hot Air.

We've talked about the Buzzfeedification of politics but this would seem to mean that's now an actual strategy.

Obama Trolls the GOP

The refined cynicism of the president.

By John Dickerson


How do I get you to pay attention to this story? I could type out a balanced tale about an incremental change in White House spin and message control, relying on your discernment, patience, and kindness toward all the creatures of the Earth. Or, I could say that Barack Obama is a cynical and manipulative liar. The first approach would get a modest number of thoughtful readers, but they probably wouldn't stay on the page very long. The second would excite the emotions. Conservatives would approve. Liberals would denounce it and point out the exaggerations. My editor would smile because the controversy would attract more readers.

This is trolling. I've decided against it, but the White House has not. CBS's Major Garrett writes in National Journal about a new version of the “stray voltage” theory of communication in which the president purposefully overstates his case knowing that it will create controversy. Garrett describes it this way: “Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness.”


...

Under this approach, a president wants the fact-checkers to call him out (again and again) because that hubbub keeps the issue in the news, which is good for promoting the issue to the public. It is the political equivalent of “there is no such thing as bad publicity” or the quote attributed to Mae West (and others): “I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.” The tactic represents one more step in the embrace of cynicism that has characterized President Obama's journey in office.

...

Facts, schmacts. As long as people are talking about an issue where my party has an advantage with voters, it’s good.

Major Garrett writes of this "stray voltage" tactic here.

The questioning of Obama's use of a Census Bureau statistic that the median wages of working women in America are 77 percent of median wages earned by men lasted almost all week. The story revved into mini-overdrive when the White House defensively swatted away criticism that salaries on Obama's watch—for which the American Enterprise Institute used the same median wages metric applied by the Census Bureau—showed that women in the president's employ earned 88 cents for every dollar earned by men.

All to the delight of a White House desperate to inject the issue into the political bloodstream and amplify otherwise doomed Senate Democratic efforts to make it easier for women to sue and win damages for workplace pay differences. The controversy that played out on front pages, social media, TV, and radio did just that.

This is the White House theory of "Stray Voltage." It is the brainchild of former White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, whose methods loom large long after his departure. The theory goes like this: Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness....

A top White House adviser told me last week's pay gap dust up was a "perfect" example of stray voltage. This time it was premeditated.

Like the typical sort of blog-trolling, Obama is basically writing grabby, preposterous, eye-catching, false headlines. And as with the various outfits which practice trolling all day long, he doesn't expect to catch flack for his mangling of the facts for viral hits, because no one expects a Salon headline to be honest in the first place, and, increasingly, few expect honesty from a President, either.

So, in order to maximize viral shares, you just lie. You lie small, you lie big. You like outrageously, you lie entertainingly. This makes liberals link you in approval -- you're finally "getting tough" with the GOP -- and it makes conservatives link you to argue against you.

Whatever the reason, you're getting linked. Your claims, no matter how false, unfair, or ridiculous, are now the day's number one linked story.

Obama came into office as the world's first truly literary president, a rara avis (according to super-fan Christopher Buckley), and he goes out of office as a Gawker blog editor with a keen eye for search engine optimization and listicles.


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posted by Ace at 11:38 AM

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