Campaign '08: The Year of the Blog

In 2004, when I was blogging at the Republican Convention, almost no one knew who bloggers were or what we were doing there. Those days are over. In 2008, blogs and new media are poised to by-pass mainstream media as the go-to place for American political campaigns.

As evidence, please excuse this bit of self- promotion…

In a recent interview with PJM's Bill Bradley, senior John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt said:

When Senator McCain appears on Pajamas Media, when Senator McCain appears on a late night show, it's far more important, in terms of its impact on actual, real Americans, than the white noise that you see on a lot of the cable programs.

Why has this happened? Besides the obvious that there are now more blogs than grains of sand in Mongolia, in the fast-moving environment of the modern campaign when information and attitudes can shift on an hourly basis, online media are the natural place for readers to sort out the truth.

This would seem counterintuitive. Since their inception, blogs have been accused of being the Wild West, not subject to traditional fact-checking. But in many ways blogs are subject to more immediate fact-checking than mainstream media. A popular blogger has, in essence, thousands, often tens of thousands, of fact-checkers, many with specific domain knowledge, vetting him or her. Those thousands dwarf the number of “professional” fact-checkers any media organization, even the most wealthy, could conceivably afford.

In other words, blogs rely on the “wisdom of crowds” both for their fact-checking and, increasingly, the reporting of news. And they seem to be getting better and better at it.

No wonder sharp observers can see cable television frequently cannibalizing blogs for up-to-date campaign analysis and other political reporting -- even though, with the growing economic competition between new and old media, this is often carried out without attribution.

Meanwhile, the presidential campaigns, as the quote from Schmidt above indicates, are well aware of the power of blogs. But the candidates and their advisers seem to be exploiting it differently and employing different philosophies.

John McCain personally conducts regular blogger calls, sometimes sending out alerts only an hour or so before the call when he wants to discuss a hot topic. (I’ve missed a couple because of this.) At first these calls could be criticized as “preaching to the choir,” but McCain has done something that is, as far as I know, unique for a politician at his level. He has invited bloggers from the left side of the blogosphere to the calls, even though not very many of the lefties seem to want to come. Nevertheless, some environmental blogs were on the phone for a recent McCain blogger call concerning global warming. I have been told by sources inside the campaign that the candidate has every intention of continuing this open policy.

The Obama Campaign, however, has adopted a more traditional online approach -- if the word “traditional” can be used for something so new -- tearing a leaf from the Howard Dean playbook. Obama’s huge success at online fund-raising is well known, but he seems to take a more aloof stance when it comes to blogger calls or direct interaction with bloggers, preferring to make his presence felt online in careful written form. (He did this at the Huffington Post with his first response to the Wright controversy.) And, although the candidate preaches bi-partisanship, there has been no outreach, to my knowledge, to the right side of the blogosphere by Obama’s campaign.

Early indications are that this “split personality” regarding online media will continue at the conventions. Both sides are now credentialing blogs with an announcement already online of those selected at this juncture by the Democrats. The list shows representation from groups as disparate as the AFL-CIO NOW Blog and Bitch Ph.D., but not one that could be construed as right-of-center.

Sources within the Republican Party have informed me that they will credential left-leaning blogs for their convention, if those bloggers wish to attend.

Pajamas Media has applied for credentials to the Democratic Convention. No response so far.