Kurtz Chats About HotSoup.com

On Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” Howie Kurtz sat down with Joe Lockhart and Mark McKinnon to discuss HotSoup.com. Transcript when you click below….

LOCKHART: Well, we are business partners. We are working together. I mean, the partisan back-and-forth has a place in politics, but I think Mark and I both agree that it’s gotten out of control.

The public is now completely disconnected from the process. The 30 second ads, people aren’t watching them; they’ve tuned out. What we hope to do here is something much broader here with Hotsoup.com as far as allowing people to network and share ideas about politics, business, a lot of other things.

But one of the side effects of that, if it works, it might get politicians to start acting differently if the public has a way of showing them they care about other things.

KURTZ: Do you agree that politics has gotten out of control?

LOCKHART: I think that there’s a huge audience out there, Howie, that a network of people outside of Washington that are having conversations, that don’t feel like they’re a part of the conversation in Washington.

And so we’re providing a platform for people to engage in a conversation that they’re already having out there. We’re not trying to replace anything that’s happening right now. We’re just trying to add that dialogue to the dialogue that’s going on in Washington.

KURTZ: But I can see people at saying, “Now, wait a minute.” If the political culture has gotten polarized, and if it’s gotten too nasty and negative, and if it’s out of control, as you put it, who’s to blame for that? Both of you have been involved in a lot of campaigns.

LOCKHART: I think everyone involved takes a share of the blame, the consultants, the candidates, the media, the public, in some way, for not engaging and not demanding more.

Again, the political system has a way of fixing itself. That’s not necessarily what we’re trying to do with this Hotsoup.com idea. What we’re trying to do, really, is take what we’ve seen as the power in other areas in social networking and allow people who are having conversations but are very limited because — we’ve gotten to be a very small world, very small country.

The Internet now allows people from one coast to the other coast to talk to each other based on their ideas and their interest.
KURTZ: You’re not giving up your day job. You’re still going to be very much involved in the political game.

MCKINNON: Absolutely.

KURTZ: And yet, at the same time, you’re creating this Web site that you’re saying should elevate the dialogue, that no…

MCKINNON: It’s creating another dialogue, because it’s evolutionary.

LOCKHART: Our jobs over time have been to monitor and try and understand the public mood and the public market, and the public wants a different dialogue. And so we’re going to try and provide that.

KURTZ: Now, there are a lot of Web sites out there from “National Review” and “Powerline” on the right to “Daily Kos” and “Huffington Post” on the left. And one of the things that people like about those sites is they attract partisans who fervently believe in the view expressed by the Bloggers. So how do you get people to come to a bipartisan site?

MCKINNON: Well, there’s 90 percent of people out there that don’t feel comfortable either on that far left or far right. And they say, “Where’s my conversation? Where can I go?”

KURTZ: So people feel shut out…

MCKINNON: Yes, I think they do.

KURTZ: … by the state of political discussion in this country today.

MCKINNON: I think there’s lots of people with partisan points of view that have an outlet. People who are not so partisan don’t have an outlet.

LOCKHART: And it’s not just ideology.

MCKINNON: It’s not just politics, either.

LOCKHART: Yes. Bloggers will have an important role to play. We’re not challenging them. There’s people who have very well formed opinions, and they like to argue, and they like to express that. There are people who, you know, are making up their mind, and they want to talk about it. And it’s not necessarily the right forum.

But it’s also the subjects we pick to discuss. We’re very narrow here in Washington in, sort of, the blogging elite and the media elite.

MCKINNON: People inside the Beltway.

LOCKHART: Yes, people inside the Beltway. People outside the Beltway have a whole different areas of concern. There are issues they want to discuss. And, you know, I think, first and foremost, they want to discuss those things. Secondly, I think they want to be heard. And I think if this is done right, they’ll be able to do both of those things.

KURTZ: But if you put your opinions on the side, and you have some essay on the side, and then people responded. There’s commenting back and forth and interactivity and all of that. How do you prevent Hot Soup from getting hotter than you want? In other words, people out there who do have passionate feelings…

MCKINNON: We hope it’s hot. We want it to be interesting. By the way, it’s going to be about a lot more than politics. It’s going to be about culture and religion and entertainment.

So it’s going to be a very broad-based discussion. But we’re going to have some rules, and we’re going to have some moderation so that it’s…

KURTZ: Rules that say that there are certain things you can’t do.

MCKINNON: If you start swearing at people, you’re out.

KURTZ: Because that would never happen in the backroom of a political consulting firm, right?

LOCKHART: But I think the bottom line here is it’s not going to be about what Mark and I decide. It’s going to be about what the community decides. If you look at the social networking sites right now — even look at some place like eBay — the community decides what gets discussed, what gets bought, what gets put forward, what the rules are.


KURTZ: You have to have a community. You have to get people to come to a site that they’ve never heard of. That could be a difficult thing to do.

MCKINNON: We’re going to have a great site. It’s going to be the Disneyland of public policy sites. There’s going to be so much there to do and so much fun, people are going to come in droves.

KURTZ: It’s going to be that entertaining?

MCKINNON: It’s going to be spectacular.

KURTZ: Boy, you’re a good salesman. Now, you said earlier, Joe Lockhart, that a lot of people bear responsibility for the corrosive state of political debate in this country, including the media. You had to deal with the press in your White House job, in your current job.

How much responsibility does the media have? Do we basically hold the coats and invite people like you on and get you to fight because we like to watch the action?

LOCKHART: Well, there’s certainly a market for people fighting. You know, the media is not a non-profit business, although sometimes, they may feel that way. Fighting, partisanship sells. There’s not doubt about that.

If you can get a couple hundred thousand people at any given time to tune in and watch your ads, that’ll make you money, and there are people who want to watch that.

We think there are 20, 30 million people who are turned off by that and have a lot of things they want to talk about that will go to this place as a way of not only discussing what they think but learning something about what other people think. And that’s what missing in the political debate. People aren’t interested in any learning.

KURTZ: Are the media too driven by conflict, based on your experience in both Bush campaigns?

MCKINNON: Listen, I think that’s just the nature of the beast. I think the media’s always been about conflict. Always has been, always will. And we’re not trying to change that. We’re just trying to create a new forum for people to come in and express and listen to ideas.

KURTZ: But you are offering an alternative, so obviously, you must be somewhat critical of what we have now.

MCKINNON: No. We accept the fact that there’s media out there. We accept the fact that there’s conflict. But what we also understand is that there’s a huge audience that wants something different.

LOCKHART: There’s a great, big menu out there for people to choose from. If someone goes to Hot Soup, that doesn’t mean they don’t — we say, “Don’t tune into Howie’s show.”

KURTZ: I like that message. All right. We’ll see how hot Hot Soup gets. Mark McKinnon, Joe Lockhart. Thanks very much for joining us.