Bloggers 1, Mike McCurry 0.


Love affairs between the press corps and flacks are highly unusual,
but they do happen. And, for years, Mike McCurry has been deeply
involved in one. In January 1995, when Bill Clinton appointed the
former State Department spokesman to press secretary, one of the
White House's most high-profile (and high-pressure) positions, The
Washington Post celebrated the arrival of "a jolly fellow" who had
won "high marks from ... the media." The New York Times looked
forward to the "equanimity and wit" that McCurry would bring to the
White House briefing room. Even the Lewinsky scandal--"a press
secretary's worst nightmare," in the words of one
reporter--couldn't ruin his relationship with the press. "His easy
humor and generally warm relations with the press," the Times
wrote, "appear to be getting him through." During his four years
explaining away Clintonite indiscretions large and small, McCurry
inspired Howard Kurtz to give him an endearing nickname--"spin
master"--and McCurry's beloved press sent him off to retirement
with a round of heartfelt applause. "You leave with your honor
intact," Sam Donaldson declared from an aisle seat in a briefing
room crowded with well-wishers.But, while McCurry's suavity with the press was legendary during the
1990s, it hasn't fared as well recently. In the last three weeks,
he has been called, among other things, a "shill," a "joke," and a
"wanker." His attempts to defend himself have fallen flat--a
remarkable failure for a man who once turned a comparison to the
Confederate army into a winning compliment. "Mike McCurry is in one
of those tailspins of dishonesty and contradiction that is so wildly
out of control, you just have to sit back, grab some popcorn, and
watch with laughter," one critic recently quipped.

This hostile reception is not coming from the reporters who once
cooed at McCurry during briefings and shared beer with him after
hours. It's coming from the new breed of media that can't be winked
and bantered into friendly coverage or charmed into passivity with
a 21-ounce porterhouse at The Palm. While McCurry was busy
reincarnating himself as a techno-communications whiz, the media
universe went through a transformation of its own, birthing scads
of unruly liberal bloggers that he seemed only dimly aware of. And
McCurry seems to have understood their culture about as well as
Karen Hughes did the Middle East's. Confident in his once glorious
old-media taming skills, Washington's former ringmaster made the
tragic mistake of confusing the blogosphere with the quaint world
of the White House briefing room.

McCurry's troubles started on April 21, when an op-ed he co-authored
appeared in The Washington Times, a go-to place for industry shills,
opposing "net neutrality," or government regulation of the
Internet. Since leaving the White House, McCurry had signed on as a
partner at Public Strategies Washington, a consulting firm that
specializes in telecommunications and international trade, among
other fields. He regularly opines on telecom questions--usually in
defense of the free-market, pro-business status quo--and his
Washington Times piece was no exception:

[R]egulation is offered in the name of consumers but really is
anti-consumer, because it will discourage ... innovators and
ultimately limit consumer choice.

Matt Stoller of the revered liberal blog MyDD--for "Direct
Democracy"-- disagrees. Just hours earlier, under the heading "mike
mccurry and astroturfing net neutrality," Stoller had scolded
McCurry for serving as co-chair of an advocacy group called Hands
Off the Internet and trading his political credibility for "the
short-term interests of the telecommunications industry."
(Bloggers, whose own Web presence would be threatened if unregulated
telecom companies decided to charge to prioritize websites, largely
want legislated oversight of the Internet.) Stoller confessed to
having become "particularly saddened at what's become of Mike
McCurry," especially in light of his idealistic past. "McCurry was
in the eye of the storm as press secretary," he reminisced, "and
handled a hostile press corps and a strange media environment with
grace and kindness." The final blow was a harsh one: "[T]he world
needs for him to turn into something other than a former
Clintonista Do Nothing." Stoller's rhetoric was fiery, but the
reaction was fairly restrained--a trickle of comments--because, as
he noted, "telecom issues don't usually spark popular pressure."

There was one notable response, though: Two days later, McCurry
showed up in MyDD's comment section. Posting as "HandsOff
CoChair1," he tried out some of his famous friendly spin. He noted
that an unregulated Internet was "absolutely consistent with the
Clinton Administration's policies." He promised Stoller that
"writing Internet regulations is not the best way to promote online
diversity." And he ended on a lighthearted note--"Look," he
admitted, "I have to make a buck sure." ("Candor apparently doesn't
get you very many points on the Internet," McCurry later told me.)
Stoller, slightly less charmed by McCurry than, say, Andrea
Mitchell, retaliated with another, more piquant post. "He's not
principled," Stoller wrote. "He's just a paid shill in this fight."

That slap was enough to keep McCurry away from MyDD, but he couldn't
let the insult drop. A week later, he resurfaced on The Huffington
Post, the celebrity blogging site run by Arianna Huffington, in a
decidedly less jovial mood. "You can see in blog commentary lots of
great huffing and puffing," McCurry grumbled in a post partly
devoted to the debased discourse of blogs. But even this didn't get
it out of his system. Two days later, he reappeared, shooting off a
misspelled, raging post: Bloggers are ruining journalism because
they make reporters "feel intimindated [sic] and [that] they lack
public support."

The bloggers smelled blood: Within hours, they unleashed a torrent
of snarky attacks on McCurry. (The blog search engine site
Technorati tallies over 1,800 posts about McCurry.) Stoller accused
him of "frothing and well-paid incoherence." David Sirota seethed
that McCurry was "pathological, infantile and dishonest." Josh
Marshall at Talking Points Memo puzzled over McCurry's blogging and
concluded, "I really have no idea what he's talking about." Atrios
took him to task for "treating [his] audience as idiots while making
dishonest arguments." On May 3, McCurry posted one last desperate
entry on The Huffington Post--"whither internet 2.0?" "Do we want
the web to be a place where you only get attention if you call
people names first?" he plaintively asked.

Stoller isn't done, though. Since McCurry last wrote on The
Huffington Post, the MyDD blogger has added three more
McCurry-related entries: "even more bad faith from mike mccurry,"
"mike mccurry: more on us being internet rabble," and, finally,
"clinton wh alumni: wtf?" (or "what the fuck?" in bloggerese).
"Traditional media tactics," Stoller says, by way of explaining
McCurry's faux pas, "can cause problems" in the blogosphere.
McCurry, for his part, has finally realized that blogging is less
like a witty exchange with Sam Donaldson and more, as he now puts
it, like "a primal scream in the darkness." He checks out Daily Kos
and other blogs "occasionally," and he admits he should, maybe,
have known better. "I knew when I went into the blogosphere and took
the argument on that I'd be asking for trouble," McCurry says. "I
just didn't know how much trouble."

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