Who Was the First White House Blogger? (Continued)

Here’s a blast from an almost four-year-old, distant past: over the past few days there has been a micro-debate about the identity of the “first White House blogger.” I found out about it because William Beutler discovered some dead links on the rexblog (now fixed) related to posts relevant to the topic I made a few years back. He was responding to a post from Micah Sifry on the techPresident weblog related to a recurring mini-dispute over who gets credit for being the first blogger to receive White House press credentials.

However, a year before that “credentialed” blogging happened — as William points out — I did some un-credentialed blogging at the White House — and not of a briefing, but of a private meeting with the President that (I learned later) was off-limits to the press. (This link will take you to a category that groups — reverse chronological — all of the posts related to that event.)

Coincidentally, when I was in Washington on Monday of this week, I ran into the former administration official who set up that White House meeting I participated in back in 2004. It was the first time I’d seen him since that day and he told me the White House press office “went nuts” when they learned (via the Washington Post) that I blogged the meeting. (On the other hand, Patrick Ruffini, who had recently joined the Bush campaign and was heading up their grassroots web strategy, was quick to view my post as something they should point. After that, Patrick and I became friends.) As I said at the time, as I was leaving, a White House press person asked me if I’d talk with a reporter and told me I could tell him anything I wanted to. I figured if I had permission to do that, I had permission to report on the meeting myself. Today, we call that “citizen journalism.” Dan Gillmor used the meeting as an example in his book We the Media (Amazon link) a few months later — which is when I learned I was a “citizen journalist.”

I wasn’t then or now a “political” blogger — and, frankly, I didn’t consider my post “political,” but rather a “geez, people, guess what I just did,” post. (Those were simpler days of blogging innocence.) At the time (remember, it was nearly two years before the last election), most political bloggers who wrote about it at the time — from the right and left — thought it was great that I blogged the meeting.

Why bring this all up again? At best, it’s a historical footnote. But, hey, it’s this weblog’s historical footnote.

Dan Froomkin speaks

Gee, while I’ve been wi-fi-free in western Massachusetts all day, my question earlier regarding something that, while perhaps not that historically significant, deserves a clarifying asterisk, was answered by the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin:

“So while Pfeiffer was indeed the first blogger to blog from the White House briefing room, Graff can still claim credit for being the first blogger granted a day pass purely on his blogging credentials. And that was the precedent that paved the way for other bloggers. Brewer, for instance, is a volunteer blogger who happens to be a scientist by profession. Just to add to the confusion, the first person to have blogged a White House event, as far as I know, is neither Pfeiffer nor Graff. It’s Rex Hammock. (See my Feb. 20, 2004 column.) He blogged a private meeting with Bush more than a year ago.”

Who is the first White House blogger?

Who was the first White House blogger? This is old news, in a couple of ways, but Robert Cox blogged something last night that, for obvious reasons, made me a little curious, myself. Bob, in reference to the publicity Garrett Graff received for his efforts to be the first blogger to get a day-pass to attend a White House press briefing, says that Garrett asked him whether or not that was a “first.”

Here’s Bob’s answer:

“Being credentialed “yes” blogging from the White House “no”. I imagine there are more than a few anoniblogs coming from folks working for the Administration and I do know that MBA Member Rex Hammock made news blogging a meeting with President Bush a year ago. For now I’d give the “first” nod to Rex….”

As the “blogging” part of being at the White House was a rather spontaneous thing, I’ve never really thought of it as being any kind of “first.” Frankly, it was not until Dan Gillmor mentioned it in his book, We the Media, that I considered it being anything of a blogging milestone (other than the historic reason this weblog will likely ever be linked to by Farked.com).

While Robert Cox, the founder of the Media Bloggers Association, is a great observer of such things and I’ll take his word, I can think of at least two others who may be able to make a ruling on who was the first White House blogger as they had a fairly close observation point during the period: The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin and Patrick Rufinni, who served as webmaster of Bush-Cheney campaign.

Ironically, Patrick agrees with little Dan has to say these days.

Back to the real world

Tomorrow, this weblog gets back off the grid. However, I thought I would spend my final few moments under the glare of blogdex to collect and share my “take-away” from the past few days. The following random thoughts may also serve as answers to some of the questions I’ve received in a volume of non-spam e-mail that is, well, a bit more voluminous than usual. Here goes:

1. It still amazes me how many people are not familiar with the terms web log or blogging, and I’m talking about very educated, well-read individuals who use the Internet and represent widely divergent political points of view.

2. I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers who have e-mailed me telling me not to take seriously the “kooks” who say bad things about me. Don’t worry. I’ve participated in and led online communities dating back to being the “sysop” of a CompuServe forum, so I know the terrain and wear an all-season flame retardant suit. I’m experienced with people calling me a dumbass. But I can’t thank enough people like Mark, Tim (in Phoenix), David, Jason, Robert, Daniel, Ben, Stacy and many others who wrote because they appreciated what I had to say.

3. The 13-year-old Simpsons expert in my household says this reminds him of the episode when Homer becomes an accidentally famous artist for 24-hours and then has to live up to the expectations of Jasper Johns and others. Frankly, I expected him to select the episode in which Lisa wins a trip to Washington and nabs a congressman in a sting operation. He’s the expert, however.

4. The response to my blogging about my visit with the President reminds me of a few books (one of which is the Jerzy Kosinki novella Being There on which was based the movie by the same name that was alluded to in a previous post). All the speculation about my motivations found on Fark and DailyKos reminds me of last year’s novel by William Gibson, Pattern Recognition, which, in effect, is a mystery novel in which the mystery being solved regards the motives and origins of the individuals responsible for fragments of a film being released online. How can marketers capture and bottle the meme-based publicity magic each fragment release generates? The “villain” ad guy must know at any cost. Another science fiction novel from a year or so ago, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by BoingBoing blogger, author and self-described Canadian snob Cory Doctorow also came to mind as in it, he describes a future currency called Whuffie that is based on the reputation one earns from others (ala, eBay feedback). I realized when I came under attack as some kind of “plant” that my previous years of non-political blogging had built me up some Whuffie. After this weekend, however, I think all my Whuffie’s been spent.

5. Several “alpha” bloggers, even those who passionately disagree with the President, “get” what I did in blogging the visit and have said nice things to me via e-mail or about it on their blogs, which I appreciate. They know the progress of whatever this is (citizen journalism?) is moved forward a notch every time something like my blogging the meeting helps raise the visibility of the activity to a broader audience.

6. I have spent my career in marketing, advertising, PR and publishing. I know a flash in the pan when I see one. I know the hook is yanking me off the stage even as I hit the “post to home page” button. I am happily journeying towards a destination called “yesterday’s news.”

7. Final word: I am a very blessed individual in many ways. However any business success I may enjoy today or in the future did not come without some significant setbacks along the way. In others words, I have failed big-time and have the appreciation for success (for that matter, for mere survival) that comes as one of the only positive benefits of such major setbacks or obstacles. While it was the fickle finger of fate that allowed me to spend time chatting with the President of the United States last Thursday, I am much more blessed everyday in non-business ways than at work; like, for example, the chance I’ve had this afternoon of spending a few hours with my son roaming the neighborhood and playing pitch. So many fateful factors provide the foundation of my enviable position of being one of the “many Rexes out there.” But I don’t mind saying in a private conversation or in what has proven to be such an unexpectedly public venue as the previously obscure rexblog, the American traditions of individual freedom and free enterprise and the limited role of government in the operation of small businesses make it possible for me to strive with hope and passion for success for me and my family. It is my personal belief, a personal belief I am well aware that I do not share with all who read this, that we have a President who deeply understands this and is committed to preserving those traditions. His stance on several social issues may not line up with yours or mine, but I’m solidly in support of him when it comes to what I believe is his commitment to standing up to those who would destroy the economic freedoms we enjoy which, by the way, under gird and enable the liberties we have to spend hours online debating whether or not I’m a dupe or why the President gave me a nickname.

8. Final, final word. If you want to read about magazine industry news or my occasional post about Nashville, bluegrass music or the Tennessee Titans, those resume on the rexblog tomorrow. I’m hoping this is it for my 15 minutes of political blogging.