Apparently, the major political parties need a lot of strategy.
The “strategists” who sling opinions on TV, in fact, are many things — consultants, lobbyists, public-relations types, trade association executives. Some are even actual political strategists — though it’s hard to tell exactly who’s who and what the label means.
Take Hilary Rosen, for example. Just because she’s frequently described as a “Democratic strategist” on TV, does that mean she really speaks for Democrats?
Rosen got in hot water this week for some intemperate remarks she made on CNN about Ann Romney. Rosen opined that the wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has “never worked a day in her life,” and therefore is out of touch with women in America. Critics seized on the comments as evidence that Democrats in general, and the Obama campaign in particular, are hostile toward mothers who choose to stay at home to raise their children. (The Romneys have five sons.)
Rosen, who once headed the record industry’s Washington trade group, actually does provide strategic advice to the clients of her communications firm, SKDKnickerbocker. And many of those clients have been Democratic candidates — although at least one, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is a former Republican who is now an independent. (Rosen’s business partner, Anita Dunn, provides advice — strategy, if you will — to the Democratic National Committee, but the DNC says Rosen is not involved.)
Rosen, in fact, has no official role in the Democratic Party. Nor is she paid by the White House to spout the Obama campaign’s line — something actual Obama strategists such as David Axelrod and David Plouffe were quick to point out in the wake of Mommy-gate.
Network executives say the term “strategist” is a useful label, quickly signaling to viewers where a pundit is coming from. There’s no particular standard or set of qualifications for who gets to be described this way, they say.
CNN spokeswoman Edie Emery said her network identifies commentators as “strategists” if they “work in partisan politics,” although she declined to be more specific. She declined to comment on Rosen.
Michael Clemente, Fox News’s senior vice president of news/editorial, says guests so described have to have worked for a national-level campaign at some point in their careers. Fox News often runs more detailed graphics — known as “wings” — that flesh out a talking head’s background.
“I always think that the more clear you are and the more honest you are with viewers [about who appears on a panel], the better off you are,” Clemente says. “If you’re a really smart viewer, you already know something about a [person’s political leanings]. If some party affiliation is a fact in your background, we should say that.”