Tell anyone who reads MediaTakeout.com that the site was invited to the White House as part of its effort to "broaden online engagement" with the black community and it will be at least 5 minutes before you can continue the conversation due to the laughter that will ensue.
Media sites have been buzzing about the fact that a few of the members of the African American blogger community who were invited to participate broke the ground rules (the first half of the President's brief was to be for background only and no quote attribution, the second half was completely off the record). The White House responded by posting a quick after-the-fact blog about the "Summit" including the complete list of list of invitees.
The list is embarrassing and perplexing to say the least.
Beyond Media Take Out among the list were representatives from the urban music gossip blog Concrete Loop, the gossip sites Young Black and Fabulous and Global Grind, politics blog sites like Jack & Jill Politics , as well as news sites like The Washington Post's The Root , and NBC's The Grio. Even online dating sites got a seat at the table via Black People Meet 's inclusion in the Summit.
This is such a jumbled mess of an attendee list I'm hard pressed to know where to begin my critique. Many of the sites and site-representatives who gained access to this Summit are notorious for publishing questionable content. The Root's Cord Jefferson was roundly criticized for his historically inaccurate comparison of the Black Panthers and the Tea Party and Global Grind has admitted to routine content-scraping of other sites.
Media Take Out and Young Black and Fabulous are known to print highly speculative and, in many cases, clearly false information about people in the public eye. Much of the content on Media Take Out's web site is graphic and certainly not safe for work. Why would they be rewarded with a seat at the table to talk about the President's healthcare, education, and civil rights policies?
I have to wonder what kind of research, if any, went into making these picks. They range from the not-very-important-or-relevant to the wildly inappropriate. If the White House was trying to show they're serious about connecting with African Americans and discussing their issues this wasn't the way to do it.
All it takes it one click on the homepage of Global Grind or Media Take Out to see that those are not sites that should represent black people politically in any way, nor are they sites that black people visit to engage in serious political debate. Even BET, which does some news reporting wouldn't be a top pick for most black people when deciding who should represent the community in meetings at the highest levels of government.
As a black woman and confirmed policy wonk, I can tell you, I don't look to music and gossip blogs for thought leadership. It's almost as if the White House decided that any blog or web site that is owned or read by black people would be sufficient. I think black people DESERVED better representation at the White House than what was provided via this summit. And if the administration was serious about connecting with bloggers whose audiences they want to engage they all but completely missed the mark.
I have to wonder whether when the White House holds an "integrated" online engagement summit if comparable white, Latino, and Asian sites will be invited. For example, will Harvey Levin be invited to represent TMZ? What about Perez Hilton? Eharmony? Cosmopolitan.com? Something tells me, the types of sites extended an invitation to talk real policy won't be of the gossip and fashion magazine ilk.
The biggest controversy that has surrounded this summit so far has been the discussion of the breaking of ground rules. Certainly a few of the bloggers broke those ground rules and Natasha Eubanks of Young Black and Fabulous and Kelli Goff of Loop 21 seemed shamefully unapologetic about doing so. Obviously, the bloggers acted in poor and inadvisable taste, but the bigger issue here is the question of seriousness.
Why weren't more credible bloggers included? Is flawed research to blame or something more sinister such as a desire to avoid serious dialogue with the black community? Whatever the case, the President has now elevated the importance and legitimized the existence of sites that add very little to the debate and, in some cases, destroy it altogether.
I can't decide if the White House doesn't take the online community seriously or if they believe that the list of invitees is a genuinely accurate representation of black political engagement on the web. Either way, this Summit proves there is a gaping hole in between the President and the black community online and off.