Harvey Levin spoke at George Washington University yesterday before delivering a keynote address at the National Press Club later in the afternoon. The audience at GWU was an undergraduate social media class and smattering of others. (The School of Media and Public Affairs extended an invitation to the rest of us, so you bet a few of us graduate students jumped at the opportunity.)
Search #SMPASocial on Twitter for a record of tweets from the talk.
He left us with a lot of good soundbites - not surprising from the man behind TMZ. But he also came across as something of a visionary.
His vision makes me nervous, in some ways.
Levin tells the story of TMZ-DC, which almost made its debut some three years ago. For whatever reason it didn’t work out then, but Levin remains adamant that he wants to bring TMZ to the capital. He believes there is an audience out there who is interested in politics, but feels alienated by the style of discourse that dominates this city.
The story he tells to demonstrate his point revolves around Aaron Schock’s abs. After publicizing the man in board shorts and shirtless, TMZ drew a crowd of thousands to Schock’s constituent phone conference. Suddenly, Levin remarks, Schock had a platform to share his message.
Do the people drawn by his physique really care about House Republicans’ work on trade, national security, and so forth? I’m sure some do, but how great is the media effect and how enduring is it? The pictures were posted in 2009 - I wonder how large Schock’s phone conferences are today.
Levin talked about injecting personality into DC politics. But he blurs the line between good communication practices and character performance. Research already demonstrates Americans’ preference for dramatic story frames. And goodness knows the amount of identity management and overarching campaign dynamics have diminished the effectiveness of our government. I worry that TMZ-DC would amplify these conditions.
I won’t argue that our politicians need to communicate on a personal level with constituents. Or that they need to convey complex policies and proposals in terms that can be understood by people from diverse backgrounds.
I just don’t think that needs to be facilitated by seeing pictures of a U.S. Representative sunbathing.