You know the story: frog carries scorpion across river. Frog tells scorpion, “Don’t sting me or we both drown.” Scorpion stings frog. Frog asks scorpion why. Scorpion says, “It’s my nature.”
Senator Marco Rubio sits down with Ben Smith of BuzzFeed Politics Tuesday evening for an exclusive video interview streaming live online. Rubio draws viewers–much more than “watch BuzzFeed reporters talk to each other” would, at least. BuzzFeed offers beer. Rubio talks; BuzzFeed stings Rubio.
No, really. This was the primary takeaway from the interview, the big featured headline at the top of their Politics page:
Another headline: “Marco Rubio: LGBT Protections Should Not Be ‘Central Issue’ In Immigration Reform.”
Which begs the question: why did BuzzFeed approaching Rubio, a rising Senator who owes his seat to the Tea Party and a likely 2016 presidential candidate, not set off any alarm bells among his staff? This is the same BuzzFeed which promoted a reporter who called Mitt Romney stupid when he thought no one was listening. This is the same BuzzFeed that personally attacked a former Romney staffer–the same BuzzFeed that had to correct the basic premise of a hit piece on Paul Ryan. This is the same BuzzFeed that accused Romney’s campaign of leveraging a “race war” narrative for the GOP’s benefit, then thought it worth mentioning that Romney’s motorcade once drove past a Confederate flag.
This is the same BuzzFeed Rubio and his staff somehow thought would be genuinely buddy-buddy with him.
Whatever the reason, Rubio fell for it, and he went into circumstances where his ideological enemies had total control over the post-interview spin–and however articulate he was in the live talk, those snippets hammering him on wedge social issues would become the canonical impression of that interview.
When I checked in on the #buzzfeedbrews live show, there were less than 250 viewers as Smith asked his final question. Currently, the climate change headline is on the BuzzFeed home page–viewed by many, many more than that broadcast–with this oh-so-flattering picture:
This isn’t to whine that BuzzFeed’s biased or not fair; of course they were going to do this. Like the scorpion, it’s their nature. This is about Republicans’ total lack of media savvy.
You’d think that after his brush with GQ a few months back, Rubio would at least be as smart as the frog and set up this scenario so the partisans at BuzzFeed had some incentive not to sting him. He didn’t.
And yet, after Ben Smith was so cordial to his face, only to stab him in the back within hours, Rubio will likely keep going back, completely ignorant of their intentional damage to his brand.
To be clear, now is most certainly the time for Republicans to make more appearances on hostile media and get their message out to independents, but they should insist on formats where the live, unedited broadcast is as widely viewed as the condensed followup. If the GOP continues to rely on voluntary goodwill from left-wing editors to craft its image, it will forever play catchup and never gain ground as a national party.
UPDATE: An editor from BuzzFeed emails to point out that the site added a far more favorable image and blurb as its home page lead story Wednesday morning: