The Whitehouse.gov blog continues to improve, by which I mean it’s getting less like the glass-topped version of White House press releases. But it’s missing a big opportunity by keeping the blog posts anonymous.
The White House bloggers seem quite aware that a press release isn’t a post and are trying to create a difference between the two. For instance, the blogger begins the post on President Obama’s speech on credit card reform with a friendly paragraph about the citizen who introduced him. It’s not much and it’s still directly tied to the President’s remarks, but that paragraph doesn’t read like a press release or like a speech. And, that post ends with the blogger’s evaluation of the President’s proposal: “Long overdue.” That last phrase, expressing some personal enthusiasm, is uncalled for, and thus is refreshing, for blogging is a medium for the uncalled and the uncalled-for. (Which is why I love it.)
Still, it’s hard to see how the posts can blow past this minimal level of bloggishness…unless and until the bloggers start signing them.
The problem, I believe, is that the bloggers feel (and are made to feel) the awful weight of speaking for the White House. Their posts come straight from the offices behind the long lawn and the pillared portico. In some weird, ineffable way, they represent the building, its inhabitants, and its policies, just as press releases do. Press releases have authority because they’re not an individual expression. They have authority because they are unsigned and thus speak for the institution itself. Blog posts come from the same building, and, if they’re unsigned, maybe they’re supposed to have similar authority, except written in a slangier style. So, we don’t yet know exactly what to make of these unsigned posts. And neither do the bloggers, I think. It’s too new and it’s too weird.
But, if the bloggers signed their posts, it would instantly become clear that bloggers are not speaking for the institution of the White House the way press releases do. We would have something — the bloggers — that stands between the posts and the awesomeness of the White House. That would create just enough room for the bloggers to express something other than the Official View. They would be freed to make the White House blog far more interesting, relevant, human, and central to the Administration’s mission than even the most neatly typed press releases ever could be.
Already most of the bloggiest posts at Whitehouse.gov come from guest bloggers who are named and identified by their position. They feel free-er to speak for themselves and as themselves, in their own voice. Now, I don’t expect the official White House bloggers to speak for themselves exactly. They are partisans and employees; they work for the White House because they love President Obama. But, if they signed their names, they could speak more as themselves.
This might let them do more of what the White House blog needs to do, in my opinion. For example, I’d like to read a White House blogger explaining the President’s decision to try some Guantanamo prisoners using the military tribunals President Bush created. White House communications officials probably consider it bad politics to acknowledge the controversy by issuing a defense. But bloggers write about what’s interesting, and hearing a spirited, partisan justification would be helpful, and encouraging. I personally think that Pres. Obama probably has good reasons for his decision in this matter, but the “good politics” of official communications are too timid. I want to hear a blogger on the topic. And I would love to learn to go to the White House blog first on questions such as this. And isn’t that where the White House would like me first to go?
Bloggers with names are the best way to interrupt the direct circuit from politics to official public expression. That would put people in the middle…which is exactly where we want them.