Exclusive Interview with Sen. Mitch McConnell: Rush, Drudge, Breitbart 'Pioneers'
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), is the Senate Minority Leader. Breitbart News had the opportunity to discuss Sen. McConnell’s view of the new media and how it has impacted the culture of DC last week. Here is the transcript:
Q: Sen. McConnell, you've been taken to task by certain bloggers who say that you don't take the concerns of the new media sufficiently seriously. What do you think the importance or impact has been of the new media on the political debate? And what should their role be?
A: Well, I think we’re most effective when we’re directing our energies at debunking liberal arguments and exposing media bias, but I also think we sharpen our arguments when we’re challenged by our friends and allies. In fact, this may be the most important contribution of new media on Washington.
On the second part of your question, if you’re looking for proof of the power and impact of new media today, look no farther than the outpouring of grief over Andrew Breitbart’s tragic passing. It was a fitting tribute to a real innovator who proved to a lot of young conservatives that they too had the power to break through the left-wing media filter. I put Rush and Matt Drudge in that category of early pioneers, but Andrew was obviously one of a kind too. He’s deeply missed, but he left an incredible legacy.
A few years ago I think there was a feeling among some on the Right that we were losing the battle for new media dominance. Those days are over. We’ve got an incredibly smart, creative, and savvy army of bloggers out there from coast to coast. They’ve totally changed the debate. It’s a great organic development, and it only makes me more convinced about my own long-held belief in the inviolability of the First Amendment.
Just to expand on that point a little, before I was elected Republican Leader, I was probably best known for a long and lonely battle I waged and that I continue to wage in defense of the First Amendment. In some ways, I think that fight was a precursor to the broader constitutional debates we’re having today. Michael Barone says I’m “hawkish” on free speech, and I think that’s really the best way to put it. I’ve got a lot of respect for President Bush, but I’ve told him that I think he made a huge mistake signing McCain-Feingold into law. Some of your readers might recall that I was the lead plaintiff against McCain-Feingold before the Supreme Court. I’m still fighting it, and I think we’ll win in the end. In all my years in the Senate, it’s one of the fights I’m proudest of.
Q: The blogosphere has found itself under attack from the mainstream media as an illegitimate source of news. Are bloggers newspeople? And what protections should they be given under the First Amendment?
A: One of the things I’ve always insisted on when it comes to the First Amendment is that free speech applies to everybody, not just somebody with a press badge or a printing press or a recording studio. Otherwise, left-wing newspapers and network news shows get preferential treatment under the law and can crowd out other voices. The growth of talk radio and the Internet has made this point all the more crucial. This is why I’ve pushed back hard whenever Democrats start talking about reviving the Fairness Doctrine. We’ve been pretty vigilant in pushing back against liberal efforts to shut up the conservative media, but it’s a fight I’ve always taken very seriously and continue to take very seriously.
Q: New media has broken some of the biggest stories of the last decade, and has certainly advanced the ball for conservatism. Some members of the new media have also been highly critical of your leadership. Please give us your thoughts on how you think the new media has impacted the conservative movement -- and how you deal with criticisms from those in the new media.
A: Yeah, just looking back on the last few years, conservative bloggers have done a great job of framing this President’s policies as threats to the Constitution, and in getting our best arguments out there clearly and persuasively. We’ve always known we had the best arguments. The challenge was getting them out there. New media has been a phenomenal platform for that. So the proliferation of conservative sites is only for the good. In general, my attitude about new media and social networking sites is let a thousand flowers bloom. We’ve got the best arguments. We’ve got all these new tools and a lot of creativity and energy within the movement. The more people who are out there doing this stuff, the better off we’ll be. The more people using Twitter, the more people setting up blogs and doing videos, the better.
On the second part of your question, the way I see it, conservative bloggers help my efforts in the Senate every day of the week by exposing the weakness of the arguments on the other side, holding Democrats accountable for past statements, tracking what they say to liberal constituent groups across the country, and, just as importantly, by showing that they have fun in the process. I think it’s important that we not only expose the misstatements and wrongheadedness of liberals, but also that we show that we’re a vibrant community happily engaged in a cause worth fighting for. Constitutional conservatism is extraordinarily compelling; even more so when it’s presented in the right way. Andrew was enormously helpful in that respect too, since he showed that conservatism isn’t just for buttoned-up Ivy-league types. It’s got much broader appeal than that. That’s really been a game-changing development within the conservative movement, I think.
As for personal criticism, I don’t expect every blogger and/or pundit to agree with what I’m doing from day to day. I view my role as Minority Leader as testing the limits of what’s possible given the diversity of views and personalities in the Senate at any given time, along with the obvious constraints of being in the minority, then getting the most conservative outcome possible. Another way to look at it is as an application of William F. Buckley’s old line about candidates for political office. Buckley said we should support the most conservative candidate who can win. As Senate Republican Leader, I try to get the most conservative result that’s possible. We can disagree on tactics or what our various roles are, but disagreements and criticism can be helpful. It sharpens our arguments and broadens our reach.
When the opportunity presents itself, I’ve always found it helpful to have conversations with conservative voices in new media. Over the past few years, I've sat down for interviews with conservative bloggers at CPAC and other events. I recently spoke with Townhall.com and another group of bloggers during CPAC. A few weeks ago I sat down for a long discussion with Peter Robinson, who blogs for National Review and Ricochet. The Robinson interview was sort of like an out of body experience. To play on the name of his show, doing an extended interview like that with an actual conservative is not at all common in Washington. We had a great talk. I always enjoy talking with Hugh Hewitt too, who was an early booster of new media. On the question of how I deal with critics, I think the wall in my office says it best. It’s covered from top to bottom with political cartoons attacking me over the years, all of them from the Left.
Q: What are some of your favorite blogs and news sites?
A: I got an iPad about a year ago and love it. Most of my apps are related to sports and politics, and two that I follow pretty closely are Jim Carroll’s Kentucky politics blog on the Courier Journal site, and Adam Kilgore’s Washington Nationals blog. I’ve also got Hot Air on there and The Corner, which is always timely and relevant. I’ve always had a keen interest in the Supreme Court, so I also value the blogs that have popped up over the years on issues relating to the law and the courts. I think Ed Whelan does great work over at Bench Memos, for instance. The folks at Power Line do a great job of keeping liberals honest. There are a lot of other great sites and blogs.
Matt Drudge is in a league of his own, of course. In general, though, I like to read the stuff that arms me for the battle and keeps me confident that we’re winning. My staff keeps me up to speed on a lot of the best stuff on the conservative blogs. I used to say that if I want to feel good in the morning, I read The Wall Street Journal editorial page. Thanks to the blogs, I’ve got a lot more options now.