Saturday, April 15, 2006

Looking back on Miers, Gannon, CBS, Blair, Lott, Clinton, and others...

For one of my recent research projects I've attempted to document the short but rich hystory of political news blogs. I argue that over time blogs transformed from online "grandma's birthday" diaries into a highly efficient cumulative outlet that is heard by politicians, mainstream media, and public, and capable of swaying public opinion. All the information below came from news reports (NYT and WP primarily), research studies (such as several done by Pew and CBS), and wikipedia. So, here we go:

· Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (Janurary 1998). In 1998, a blogging pioneer, Matt Drudge posted an article on his blog, DrudgeReport.com, in which he claimed that President Bill Clinton had an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. The Drudge’s blog was widely credited with speeding up the process of making the information about the affair public.

· Aftermath of 9/11 (September 2001). After the worst terrorist attack on the U.S. many Americans turned to blogs to vent, show compassion, or just feel like they are a part of community. Similar to friends sharing stories on the front porch or around a campfire, blogs helped people emotionally reconnect during the period right after the attacks.

· Trent Lott resignation (December 2002). In winter 2002, senator Trent Lott reluctantly resigned from the post of U.S. Senate majority leader. The resignation was a result of Lott’s racially insensitive remarks made at a birthday party of another senator, Strom Thurmond. Mainstream media paid little attention to the comments until blogs turned Lott’s gaffe into a prominent political controversy.

· The New York Times editor (June 2003). Howell Raines was forced to resign from his position of executive editor of The New York Times after a storm created by traditional media as well as blogging professionals. He and newspaper under his leadership were criticized for Jason Blair scandal, Raines management style, for biases exposed by bloggers who posted transcripts of press conferences alongside NYT stories, and other issues.

· Iraq war (March 2003 - present). The war in Iraq, sometimes characterized as the first true Internet war (similar to the first television war - which was the Gulf War I), was extensively covered by soldiers who provided first-hand accounts of ambushes and recon operations, Iraqis who blogged about their daily life from inside Baghdad, or Americans reporters who were determined to provide an unfiltered account of what was actually happening inside the war zone.

· 2004 presidential election (2003 - 2004). In 2004 presidential candidates from both parties paid considerable attention to bloggers, by feeding latest campaign news directly to their sites, buying ad space on blogs, and asking for help raising funds. Perhaps for the first time, political bloggers were officially accredited as members of the press and invited to cover national conventions by both Republicans and Democrats in 2004.

i. CBS documents (September 2004). During the most intense weeks of 2004 presidential election campaign, CBS News president, Andrew Heyward and star-anchor Dan Rather were forced to apologize for airing a misleading report about George W. Bush during a prime-time program. PowerLine.com and other primarily conservative bloggers orchestrated a campaign that turned the issue from a partisan discussion on conspiracy theories into a massive campaign against a major news media organization. As a result, a prominent journalist Dan Rather, as well as several CBS News producers resigned.

ii. CNN executive resignation (September 2004). In the fall of 2004 Easton Jordan, the CNN’s chief news executive resigned because of the contentious claim he made at the off-the-record forum in Switzerland. He alleged that some of the war correspondents were targeted and killed by the U.S. military. The comments may have remained below mainstream media’s radar if it was not for a blogger attending the same forum, who posted the comments on a Forumblog.org.

iii. Film about John Kerry (Fall 2004). Just days before the vote in presidential election of 2004, Sinclair Broadcasting Group planned to run a documentary called “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” critical of democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Liberal blogs helped raise the issue to the fore of public discourse, which resulted in the fall of broadcasting company’s stock and subsequent announcement that only portions of the film would be broadcast.

· Indian Ocean tsunami (December 2004). Right after the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami, bloggers from inside and outside of the disaster zone started putting information online about the events, enabled people to connect to one another, as well as launched a massive fundraising effort.

· Jeff Gannon (January 2005). In the early 2005 some bloggers started to raise questions about softball questions asked by Jeff Gannon, a member of the White House press corps. Through an intense research effort, mostly by liberal bloggers, it was uncovered that Gannon was affiliated with pro-Republican organization and was involved in setting up sex-websites.

· Hurricane Katrina (August 2005). In summer 2005 a major hurricane took a direct hit on the Gulf Coast, destroying or significantly damaging several coastal cities including New Orleans. The Times-Picayune, official newspaper of the city had to evacuate and it decided to start a blog, which was constantly updated with information about the events on the ground. Similar to tsunami disaster, hurricane blogs delivered neighborhood-specific accounts of the situation, helped people find out about their loved ones, and orchestrate a fundraising effort. Because many people and news media outlets had to flee the area, they had to turn to the sources of information that could deliver specific and timely information about the disaster zone – Internet and blogs.

· Harriet Miers (October 2005). To some observers it came as a surprise that primarily conservative bloggers were among the most vocal groups pushing for and ultimately succeeding in derailment of Harriet Miers’ nomination to the position of a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The bloggers decided to go against their ideological counterparts in the White House mostly because of questions on the nominee’s experience.

To be continued...

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