This is amusing, because researching nowadays is a far cry removed from the good old days 10 years ago when the Political Animal first curled up in the pages of City Paper. Back then, "research" meant prowling through whatever wire copy one could drag up agonizingly slowly through what few wire services you could access through America Online. Today a high-speed Internet connection and Google News mean that there's a world of papers to troll for news and amusement.
But the fact is, newspapers in the new century are often behind the times. If you were a solely a newspaper reader last week, for instance, you would be about three days behind the times on the issue of President George W. Bush's whereabouts during his years in the National Guard. Granted, it was entertaining watching spokesman Scott McLellan hold up a blurry form next to his face while saying "he fulfilled his duties" 23 times in 37 minutes as an answer to nearly any question asked except "Who moved my cheese?" But the real meat of the story happened on the blog scene.
Web logs aren't exactly what one would call "journalism" in many cases--more like "extended written riffs on the news." But there are a small few who contribute original reporting. Author, columnist, and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall's TalkingPointsMemo.com was an integral part in moving the mass media toward covering the fiasco over Trent Lott's crypto-racist remarks a year ago, and the size and influence of his readership allowed him to successfully lobby his readers to pay for his trip to cover the New Hampshire primaries this election season.
Marshall is one of the best-known political bloggers, along with conservative Glenn Reynolds and his InstaPundit.com. Many of the top political bloggers know or are at least familiar with one another personally, and so many of their comments toward one another are civil, unlike what you get on the fringes.
If you want to read the prime mover on the Internet for the National Guard story, go to Californian Kevin Drum's Calpundit.com. Back on Feb. 4, Drum began by posting a scan of the "torn document" that the Bush campaign released in 2000 claiming it showed that Bush fulfilled his obligations to the Guard. By posting scans of records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Drum demonstrated how that document, referred to only once before in a mainstream media report during the '00 general election season, raises more questions than it answers. To understand why that was, there's no better blog than the one written by Baltimore resident, wag, and humorist Bob Somerby, whose DailyHowler.com takes the Washington press to task with biting commentary for its Heathers-like coverage of Somerby's college roommate Al Gore during the '00 campaign. Somerby savagely points out the obvious mistakes, the intentional biases, and shows how the deferential treatment of Bush four years ago explains why it took so long for a self-described "wartime president" to get the scrutiny he deserved for no fewer than five missing months in his own military history.
Another blog that makes indispensable reading is that of freelance journalist David Neiwert. Under the title Orcinus (dneiwert.blogspot.com), he makes long, detailed posts with relevant links to source text in newspapers, weekly publications, and other blogs. Orcinus specializes in coverage of the fringe hate movement and domestic terrorism in America, but has made some valid contributions to the Bush Guard story as well.
Everyone knows about Matt Drudge by now, and the Drudge Report hasn't gone anywhere, despite his ability to make unfounded wife-beater allegations about someone and escape libel charges. Getting better known in Washington is Ana Marie Cox, who pens the charmingly snarky D.C. gossip blog Wonkette.com. When late last week the conservative press started to push a Drudge-fueled rumor about a John Kerry "intern problem," Cox was the best at finding links to show how none of the pieces of the "story" matched.
Political blogs are still in their infancy. Next to an incredibly insightful essay on why a man who will turn around an aircraft carrier for a photo op should be upfront about his military service, often you will find a screed mocking a fringe conservative blogger as "America's Worst Mother." But members of the mainstream press are starting to find that they are on notice should they try to fall asleep on the job or cover the political candidates like the competition for homecoming king at a bitchy private school.
Political coverage has changed a lot since 1994--it moves faster and meaner than ever before. If anything, the Internet has shown that while traditional newspapers might still be the standard, they are by no means the last word on a story. Some guy or gal with a computer and a phone might have gotten there three days ahead of them.
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