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Daily Download: How Obama Is Reusing Digital Info Gathered During Campaign

November 28, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Jeffrey Brown talks to Daily Download's Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn, who explain how the White House is using the massive amounts of digital information gathered by the Obama re-election campaign to promote the president's fiscal agenda.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally tonight, we continue our regular look at the intersection of politics and social media.

Now, we’re joined by two journalists from the website Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is “Newsweek”‘s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

And welcome back.

HOWARD KURTZ, “Newsweek”/CNN: Thank you.

LAUREN ASHBURN, Daily-Download.com: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, after the election, it’s all fiscal cliff, right? Talk a little — let’s talk a little bit about how the White House is using social media and — and online efforts on that issue, Lauren.

LAUREN ASHBURN: It’s as if this massive social media machine that propelled Barack Obama into office never stopped moving.

And you found that at the White House today, where he gave a speech talking about the fiscal cliff, introducing the hashtag, which is a way of grouping something, My2K, which is sort of a playoff of Y2K from the year 2000. And there are a lot of jokes going on about that. But it means…

JEFFREY BROWN: In this case…

LAUREN ASHBURN: Yes, right.

But in this case, it means that he’s saying, if you don’t do something, you are going to have to pay as middle-class taxpayers $2,000, allegedly.

HOWARD KURTZ: If Congress doesn’t stop the automatic tax hikes.

JEFFREY BROWN: But this was in the context of a whole week where he’s making his play, right? But he’s doing it online.

HOWARD KURTZ: It’s fascinating, Lauren.

Here, we have the president of the United States mounting a major push for his economic proposals, and he builds it around a Twitter campaign, what we have come to take for granted.

But here’s the thing. I did a little search for this My2K on Twitter. Barack Obama comes up second. Call your members of Congress. Write them an e-mail. Tweet it using the hashtag.

You know what comes up first? The conservative Heritage Foundation, which bought a promoted tweet, which means theirs goes to the top of the list, and the Heritage tweet says four reasons why Warren Buffett, the zillionaire ally of the White House on this, is wrong on tax hikes.

LAUREN ASHBURN: But the interesting something is that now any time anyone types up on Twitter My2K, which was a White House-created hashtag, you get the Heritage Foundation.

HOWARD KURTZ: Among others.

JEFFREY BROWN: Among others.

LAUREN ASHBURN: You would think, though, that the Obama — at the top. You would think that the Obama administration would have bought their own tweet.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what are — Howie, what are — what is the administration asking its supporters to do through this hashtag? I mean, is it just to get the word out, or is there something more explicit?

HOWARD KURTZ: Well, it’s all about mobilizing public opinion, which is easier to do, Jeff, in a campaign when you have a clear choice, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

HOWARD KURTZ: Obviously, with the Romney campaign now having evaporated, the Democrats have an advantage on this.

And so the — Obama for America, the digital group that was created to help get President Obama elected to a second term, has sent out an e-mail with graphics to its supporters on — millions of people on e-mail lists, urging them to get involved on the president’s proposals and to share some of this information with their friends.

JEFFREY BROWN: We’re taking a look at that now.

So that’s, Lauren, part of this. This is sort of what you were talking about, the permanent campaign.

LAUREN ASHBURN: It just never stops.

And what they’re saying is, share this with your friends. Make a YouTube video. Post it on your Facebook and your e-mail. The question really comes down to, will this be as effective as these push letters were during the campaign? During the campaign, it’s vote. Very simple, you have to go and vote.

Here, it’s, OK, now you have to get involved in this really complicated issue called the fiscal cliff or the austerity movement.

JEFFREY BROWN: A little harder to explain than just vote yes or no.

HOWARD KURTZ: Harder to explain. And when you get into the back-and-forth of negotiating with Congress, and there are going to be different proposals, how many Americans would have their tax cuts extended, who’s considered wealthy, $250,000 or above, it’s a harder sell to make.

And, also, can you really maintain the passion that people have around the dramatic narrative of a presidential election vs. the inevitable slog of negotiating with members of Congress?

LAUREN ASHBURN: And everybody’s really tired of it. As I was saying, even with the tweets, where we were talking about My2K tweets, somebody actually said, “Got to stock up on bottled water, flashlight batteries and ramen noodles.”

People are just playing with Twitter, and they’re tired of all of the substance.

JEFFREY BROWN: And I saw, I think it was just this week, Howie, the Obama campaign manager, of course former — former now, right, Jim Messina.

But he was talking about this very issue, about keeping supporters, those millions that they got, engaged. But do they know how to do that? Or is this like everybody else sort of trying to figure out how to keep it going?

HOWARD KURTZ: This is the second opportunity, because after the election of 2008, when President Obama had built this digital machine, given the technology at the time, it kind of atrophied. And they were not able to keep it up.

And I think, here, there’s a real concerted effort. We have got the Obama for America. We used it in the campaign successfully.

Let’s continue to recruit and activate this volunteer army through digital means, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, as you were saying. But I don’t know if they can maintain the level of enthusiasm once the election has passed.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about, Lauren, the other side, the Republicans? You mentioned the Heritage Foundation coming in on something like this. That’s a think tank. But the Republican Party has a bigger problem right now, right?

LAUREN ASHBURN: It has a very big problem, and it’s bigger than social media, frankly.

But you do have Speaker John Boehner, who is very active on Twitter. And he today was saying the House GOP voted to stop My2K tax rate hikes and defend small business jobs.

But that’s one person, and you have lots of different people in the Congress sort of getting in on this bandwagon. But there isn’t that overall effort, because the Romney campaign lost.

JEFFREY BROWN: Last word.

HOWARD KURTZ: But you do have Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, who has been very active on Twitter, told me today that he considers it a great organizing tool.

He’s been on about 50 television shows in the past week, but it’s not the same as having a presidential candidate who has a big megaphone.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, permanent social media campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: Just what we need.

The Daily Download — Howard Kurtz, Lauren Ashburn, thanks so much.

HOWARD KURTZ: Thanks, Jeff.