Reconstruction 6.4 (2006)


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Democracy Defended: Polibloggers and the Political Press in America / Erica Johnson

Abstract: Since their creation less than a decade ago, blogs have metamorphosed from a relatively unknown activity into a recognized phenomenon. Political blogs have shown the potential to influence the functioning of American democracy. As the importance of blogs has grown, there has been heated discussion about whether or not to consider political blogs as a form of political journalism, an important aspect of American democracy. To resolve the debate, the author examines the two principal democratic responsibilities of the media: gatekeeper and government watchdog. The author selected two widely-read political blogs, Instapundit and Eschaton, and one influential newspaper, the New York Times, and compared their coverage of the three 2004 presidential debates. Analysis revealed that the two political blogs assumed the democratic roles of political journalism. In addition, Instapundit and Eschaton fulfilled the supplementary responsibility of analyzing the media. By demonstrating that these two political blogs were forms of political journalism during the 2004 presidential debates, the author underlines the magnitude of the blogging phenomenon, not just in the United States but in any democratic country.

<1> "Blog." At the turn of the 21 st century, only the technically-inclined had even heard of the word. In January 2005, a Pew Internet and American Life Project memo reported that "only thirty-eight percent of all Internet users know what a blog is ... the rest are not sure what the term 'blog' means."[1] Today, no matter where you turn, people are discussing blogs. Gene Veith and Lynn Vincent of World Magazine assert that "blogs are revolutionizing journalism, politics, and American culture."[2] But how, exactly, have blogs impacted the media landscape?

<2> While blogs have only existed for less than a decade, many blog authors argue that political blogs are a form of political journalism. To test this hypothesis, this paper will analyze the coverage of the 2004 presidential debates as presented in the New York Times and on two high-profile political blogs: Instapundit, a conservative blog, and Eschaton, a liberal blog. Focusing on the success of blogs in carrying out the democratic responsibilities of journalism during the 2004 presidential debates will determine to what extent political blogs can be considered a form of political journalism.

<3> Information has always played a key role in American representative democracy. This type of government respects the fundamental notion at the heart of democracy: self-government by the people. The preamble to the American Constitution, "We the People," emphasizes this central role of the people in American democracy.[3] Citizens participate in democracy by voting in elections. Giovanni Sartori, retired professor of political science at Columbia University, affirms that "the democratic process is ... encapsulated in elections and electing."[4] Citizens' ability to govern themselves by making political decisions, however, is dependent on information. During an election campaign, the electorate has difficulty in choosing a candidate without information about his or her platform. While it is often said that ignorance is bliss, in a representative democracy, knowledge is power. In 1822, James Madison alluded to this when he told W.T. Barry that "knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."[5] True self-government requires an informed electorate and the public is only as powerful as the information to which it has access.

<4> But where do citizens get their information? Journalism disseminates to the public at both a local and a global level information about what is happening in the world. Michael Ventura, a columnist for the Austin Chronicle, traces the term 'journalism' back to the French word 'jour,' meaning day. Journal thus means daily. Ventura states that the original English use of the word 'journalism' denoted a person who kept a journal to record the day's events.[6] It was only later that the term journalism evolved to signify professional journalism. As the concept of journalism is extremely broad, our study will be limited to daily newspapers as the principal form of print journalism, often referred to as the press. Thanks to printing technologies and an increasingly literate population, newspapers have from early times had significant influence on American society.[7]

<5> The press fulfills two key roles in American representative democracy: that of gatekeeper and of government watchdog. Due to the massive amount of information that exists, it would be extremely difficult and costly for newspapers to publish everything. Journalists and editors therefore select what they consider important enough to print, and by limiting the information that is disseminated, they prevent the public from being flooded by an overflow of information. Even though many people remain unaware of the process, filtering exists and allows biases to manifest themselves. During a May 2005 CNN conference entitled " Blogging: The Fifth Estate?" , Christopher Allbritton, a freelance journalist who had moved to Iraq to provide coverage of the war on his blog, equates this hidden process of filtering to a sausage factory, where something goes in and then something comes out, but the underlying process remains hidden. The information provided by the media, he notes, has undergone a hidden process as well.[8] To as objectively as possible fulfill the role of information filter, however, the press must be independent from potential government interference. If information is supplied, or even regulated, by the government, then the press's democratic role of information provider is invalidated because only information selected by the government reaches the public. The First Amendment ensures an independent press; the United States government has no official power to regulate journalists through any sort of centralized organization, nor does it require them to register as journalists or join a union.[9]

<6> The First Amendment not only established an independent press, it also attributed a second democratic role to journalists, that of government watchdog. By disseminating both positive and negative information about the government, journalists scrutinize the workings of government in order to uncover scandals and illegal activities that would otherwise remain hidden. This role is often denoted by the term 'fourth estate,' a designation which makes reference to the theory that the government is composed of three equal branches. In a 1974 speech, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stated that the primary purpose of the First Amendment was to "create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches."[10]

<7> As often in the past, many recent critics have argued that the American press is not suitably fulfilling its duties, and high profile press-related scandals over the past decade have tarnished its reputation. In the early months of 1998, for example, various respected publications such as The Boston Globe and Time Magazine issued formal apologies for misreporting, and in 2003, the New York Times confessed that one of its journalists, Jayson Blair, had written fraudulent stories over a number of years.[11] Statistics on the public's trust in the media (meaning print as well as radio and television) indicate a lack of faith in journalists. A September 2004 Gallup poll confirmed that only 44% of Americans have confidence in the media to accurately report the news, down 54% from just one year prior. More importantly, 39% of Americans are not very confident, and 16% have no confidence at all, in the credibility of the media. These numbers reflect the lowest level of media confidence since survey-taking began in 1972.[12]

<8> The decline in the media's credibility is also based on the public's belief that the media has become too commercial. Nicholas Johnson notes that "the media are profit-driven enterprises. Most of the public's primary sources of information ... are in the business to make money."[13] Many analysts argue that the media publishes information that will sell the most newspapers, thus negatively affecting their ability to publish information based on what is most important to a working democracy. Journalists may consider a story important enough to be published, but they are often "compromised by the business interests and skewed editorial policies of their publications."[14]

<9> No longer confident in the media's willingness or capability to fulfill its democratic roles, many Americans have started turning to alternative sources of information. Combining far-reaching and in-depth research capabilities with instantaneous information about current events, the Internet has become the "go-to" source for information.Given its democratic implications, political journalism represents an important facet of the media. One Internet phenomenon with the potential to become a viable alternative to mainstream journalism is blogs, public websites on which the author provides commentary.[15] Often contested by professional journalists, many blog authors maintain that political blogs are a form of political journalism.

<10> So what, exactly, is a blog? The term 'blog' is an abbreviation of 'web log' (also written as 'weblog'),[16] first used by John Barger on his "Robot Wisdom" website in 1997.[17] Two years later, Peter Merholz declared on his website that he would pronounce 'weblog' as 'wee-blog,'[18] which was later shortened to just 'blog.' Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell define blogs as "periodically updated journals, providing online commentary with minimal or no external editing. They are usually presented as a set of 'posts,' individual entries of news or commentary, in reverse chronological order."[19] JD Lasica adds that the blog's author selects what to publish based on what he considers important.[20] A few key terms often arise when dealing with blogs. The verb to blog means to add a new entry to a blog, and the author of a blog is referred to as a blogger.[21] The vast community of blogs is widely referred to as the blogosphere.[22]

<11> Two distinct categories of blogs exist: personal blogs and filter blogs. Personal blogs focus on the internal world of the blog author.[23] Filter blogs concentrate on a topic, such as politics or technology. Filter bloggers publish selected information and commentary about a given subject, often providing links to supplementary material. Filter blogs thus allow individuals to serve as gatekeepers. Despite the large number of personal blogs, this paper will focus on filter blogs since they garner the largest audience and are considered the more influential kind of blog.[24] Politicalblogs also represent a significant part of the blogosphere, with the top five political filter blogs drawing over half a million visitors per day.[25] Given the potential influence of political blogs, this article will concentrate on political filter blogs, whose authors are often referred to as polibloggers.[26]

<12> As the word itself suggests, the original weblog was literally a list of websites that the author found interesting.[27] Due to a lack of search engines at the time, weblogs allowed people to exchange links to various websites. In 1994, Justin Hall created a website, "Links from the Underground," which provided a running list of interesting websites.[28] In 1995, Dave Winer, nicknamed the 'Johnny Appleseed' of blogging, expounded on Hall's precedent by adding personal commentary to the links on his website.[29] Others later followed his example, and blogs as we know them today--a combination of links and commentary--was conceived. In 1998, there were only a few websites that we would identify today as blogs,[30] and a year later, the total number of blogs was estimated at fifty.[31] Skipping ahead to June 2003, Blogcount estimated the existence of 2.5 million active bloggers in the United States.[32] In May 2005, Rebecca McKinnon, a research fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, noted that there were ten million blogs,[33] and a September 2006 article in The Boston Globe indicated the existence of 12 million active bloggers in the United States.[34]

<13> The jump from a few thousand blogs to millions of blogs is the result of two occurrences. First, free and easy-to-use blogging tools were created in the late 1990s, allowing anyone with a computer and Internet access to create a blog. In late 2003, Matt Welch declared that "blogging technology has, for the first time in history, given the average Jane the ability to write, edit, design, and publish her own editorial product--to be read and responded to by millions of people, potentially."[35] Once it became easy to create and maintain a blog, the people needed something to discuss. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, created the impetus that compelled many Americans to use these free and easy blogging tools. Douglas Kellner maintains that the events of September 11 led to "a magnum jump in blogs," provoking a shift in the main subject of blogs from technology, with a rather narrow audience base, to politics, with its enormous audience.[36] Welch asserts that people turned to blogs because they wanted to take part in the "conversation": to mourn, vent, and analyze publicly.[37] The magnitude of the horror of September 11 transformed the American public from a passive audience to active participants. Many September 11 blogs offered information though the eyes of those personally touched by the tragedy: people with missing loved ones, emergency crew workers, New Yorkers, and many others. This type of raw information gave people who did not live close to the sites of the tragedies an on-the-street approach to the information.[38]

<14> There are millions of bloggers in the United States, but is anyone reading their blogs? Readership levels are one indication of blogs' potential influence on society.[39] In 2003, a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Internet survey maintained that only 4% of American web users were turning to blogs for information and opinion; however, this figure climbed to 11% in 2004.[40] A January 2005 Pew memo indicated that 27% of American web users looked to blogs for information, a 58% increase from the 17% who said that they were blog readers in February 2004.[41] The Pew Internet and American Life Project stresses that "the audience for such alternative media is growing rapidly," with the number of Americans reading blogs jumping to approximately 32 million people in 2004.[42] According to The Boston Globe, 57 million Americans are regular blog readers in 2006.[43] Jimmy Orr, the White House Internet Director, recently characterized the 'blogosphere' as "instrumental, important, and underestimated in its influence."[44] Over the course of less than a decade, blogs have grown from a small Internet movement into an influential phenomenon.[45] But the question remains: are political blogs a form of political journalism?

<15> There is evidence that lends weight to the arguments of those answering yes. In the summer of 2004, it became clear that government officials viewed blogs as both credible and influential when political bloggers were given press credentials to attend both the Republican and Democratic political conventions.[46] This indicates that political blogs were finally being considered as a form of political journalism that a significant number of Americans would refer to when seeking information about the conventions.

<16> This is borne out by the fact that the blogosphere has been credited over the past decade with a number of achievements, most notably in reporting on the Lott scandal in 2002 and the Rather scandal in 2004. The first blog triumph, however, is considered to be the controversy of the late 1990s revolving around President Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Matt Drudge originally broke the Lewinsky scandal on his website The Drudge Report and revealed that the magazine Newsweek had known about the affair but had decided that it was not worthy of publication.[47] The mainstream media later disseminated the story but credited neither Drudge nor the blogosphere.

<17> The Lott scandal of 2002 represents the first journalistic triumph of blogs to be recognized by the media. In a public speech given at Senator Strom Thurmond's 100 th birthday party on Friday, December 5, 2002, Senator Trent Lott seemed to glorify Thurmond's 1948 segregationistpresidential campaign.[48] ABC News published a short news item on its website the following day, but Lott's comments, according to The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman, went "unmentioned in the Washington Post's account" of the celebration and "were not picked up by the New York Times, which defines news in the U.S., until Dec 10."[49] Over the weekend, a number of well-known and respected bloggers criticized Lott's racist comments, and they uncovered that Lott had a history of making similar comments. When the Washington Post and the New York Times eventually published articles on the controversy, President George W. Bush rebuked Lott, compelling him to resign from his post as Senate Majority Leader.[50] Had it not been for the continued insistence of the bloggers, this story might have disappeared into history.

<18> In September 2004, bloggers brought to light another potential controversy. Just a few weeks before the 2004 presidential election, 60 Minutes Wednesday anchor Dan Rather reported a story about incumbent President George W. Bush's military service. Based on a series of documents, the report portrayed Bush in a negative manner. Bloggers questioned the legitimacy of the documents, especially since the report's timing was so close to the election. The constant storm of questions and accusations from bloggers kept the story at the forefront until, according to CNN, CBS "admitted a mistake in relying on what turned out to be fake documents."[51] When the source of the documents could not be verified, the network retracted the original story and fired four of the story's producers and editors.[52] Another consequence, according to blogger Andrew Sullivan, is that bloggers might have compelled Dan Rather into early retirement.[53]

<19> Blogs might therefore be said to fulfill the democratic roles of the traditional press, here represented by the New York Times. First published in 1851, the New York Times has grown into one of the most reputed newspapers in the United States and the third most widely-read.[54] In September 2004, the newspaper's daily circulation consisted of over 1.2 million people.[55] Because of its widespread distribution, the New York Times is generally considered to be a national newspaper.[56] Two high-profile political blogs will represent the political blogosphere: Instapundit, a conservative blog, and Eschaton, a liberal blog. Both blogs have a high readership, thus indicating a potentially strong influence on the public. Instapundit is maintained by Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, and has become so influential that Reynolds is often referred to as the BlogFather.[57] Sitemeter, a company which analyses blog statistics, cites Instapundit as the third most widely read blog with over 130,000 daily visitors.[58] At the other extreme of the political spectrum is Eschaton. Created under the pseudonym 'Atrios' by Dr. Duncan Black, a Senior Fellow at the liberal media research group Media Matters for America, Eschaton receives almost 110,000 daily visitors, making it the fourth most visited blog according to Sitemeter.[59]

<20> Political journalism is very active during presidential elections, as journalists have more events to cover and citizens seek more information. The 2004 election campaign was no exception; in fact, with such controversial issues as domestic security and the war in Iraq, the 2004 election was highly charged. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, approximately 11 million people looked at political blogs during the 2004 presidential campaign.[60] However, given that the campaign lasted months, it is impossible in a short space to analyze it in its entirety. We will therefore concentrate on the three 2004 presidential debates between the two principal candidates, Republican incumbent George W. Bush and Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry, which took place on Thursday, September 30; Friday, October 8; and Wednesday, October 13.[61] Journalist Michael Coren affirms that there were "more than one thousand bloggers watching and commenting on the [Presidential] debates."[62] Analysis will be limited to a two-day period: the day of the debate and the day following it. The New York Times archives were searched for the terms 'presidential' and 'debate,' and only those articles dealing directly with the debate were selected. Letters to the editor were excluded because they were not written by a New York Times journalist. The blog archives were also limited to the same two-day period, and posts were ignored if they did not directly involve the debate.

<21> Analyzing the coverage of candidate performances and debate controversies will determine to what extent the blogs fulfilled the democratic responsibility of gatekeeper, or information filter. The New York Times published a number of articles devoted to candidates' performances. After the second debate, for example, James Bennet's article, "In a Disguised Gym, Softballs and Political Drama," indicated that the home viewer was not privy to certain aspects of the debate. He then provided certain details that only people in attendance could have noticed: the tense expression on Teresa Heinz-Kerry's face as she took her seat after smilingly shaking Laura Bush's hand on camera.[63] Bennet's article about performances in the third debate was published under the headline, "The 2004 Campaign: The Scene; Act 3, Wherein Bush Turns That Frown Upside Down", discussed Kerry's consistency and Bush's inconsistency to present a consistent personality.[64] Todd S. Purdum offered his overall analysis of the debate performances in an article entitled "A Crucial Test, But Not Final." He maintained that Kerry had been consistent throughout the debates, a characteristic important to most people in a president; Bush, on the other hand, had presented a different personality at each debate.[65]

<22> The blogs provided less information about the candidates' debate performances than the New York Times. At the end of the first debate, Reynolds concluded on Instapundit that "it was a more substantive debate than I had expected," claiming that people unfamiliar with the election campaign would be impressed by Kerry's performance.[66] At the same time, Eschaton's author Black was so confident of Kerry's strong performance that he posted, "Say hello, to our next president, John Kerry" and just a few minutes afterwards referred to "President John Kerry."[67] At the end of the third debate, Black declared that "Kerry looked way more presidential and won where it mattered," thus leaving no doubt about his opinion as to candidate performances.[68]

<23> The manner in which the New York Times, Instapundit, and Eschaton covered debate controversies will also help determine to what extent the two political blogs acted as gatekeepers.The first debate's major controversy revolved around body language. The New York Times' coverage explained this matter in detail. Alessandra Stanley's article, "Candidates Most Telling When They Aren't Talking," evaluated the physical mannerisms and gestures of each candidate.[69] Todd S. Purdum's "Standing Firm for 90 Minutes" offered a more editorial analysis of the debate: he asserted that the debate had been "sharp, scrappy and defining" and then described Kerry as "cool, respectful, rational" whereas Bush was "defensive and less sure of himself."[70] Purdum and Stanley's interpretations of the debate performances gave those who had not watched the debates an idea of the candidates' public speaking skills. Of the two political blogs, Eschaton was the only one to mention the body language issue. The day after the first debate, Black indirectly mentioned it by providing links to videos and pictures of Bush's "unpresidential moments."[71] Later that morning, Black linked to another video highlighting Bush's "faces of frustration" during the debate. It was not until the afternoon, however, that Black posted a link to a limited explanation of the issue.

<24> The controversy that came to light after the second debate was actually focused on a bulge in Bush's suit during the first debate. Elisabeth Bumiller's New York Times article, "The Mystery of the Bulge in the Jacket," reported that rumors racing across the Internet suspected that the bulge was an earpiece, implying that Bush had been receiving answers during the debate.[72] If this were proven to be true, the ensuing scandal would deal a major blow to Bush's reputation with the American people, which in turn would impact his chances of being re-elected. On his blog Eschaton, Black referred to the earpiece scandal on October 8 in a post entitled "Earpiece." Black did not directly explain the controversy, but it can be inferred by reading the title and the text of the post. Black provided links to a clearer explanation on another blog and to a video of the first debate to allow readers to decide for themselves.

<25> During the third debate, in response to a question about same-sex marriage, Kerry invoked the fact that Mary Cheney, the vice-president's daughter, was a lesbian. The ensuing scandal was discussed in three separate New York Times articles. Jodi Wilgoren's article, "After 3 Debates, Some Voters Remain on Fence," asserted that Kerry's reference may have lost him three critical votes in Iowa.[73] She also quoted a number of voters from Iowa who found Kerry's remarks to be "unfair" and "a low blow."[74] Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner's informative article, entitled "In Final Debate, Clashes on Taxes and Health Care," reproduced Kerry's words without adding any additional commentary.[75] In his article, "The 2004 Campaign: The Scene; Act 3, Wherein Bush Turns That Frown Upside Down," James Bennet stressed that Kerry "dragged" Mary Cheney into his response to the same-sex marriage question.[76] The use of 'dragged' implies Cheney's unwillingness to be involved. The Cheney controversy was discussed in detail by both Reynolds and Black. Immediately after the end of the third debate, Reynolds published links on Instapundit to a number of other bloggers who found Kerry's reference to Mary Cheney "a low blow."[77] The next morning, Reynolds indicated that the BBC news service, another blogger, and Lynne Cheney (Mary's mother) were outraged. Later the same day, Reynolds again discussed the issue and continually updated his post as he uncovered more information. Reynolds posted quotes from Dick Cheney, reader emails, and other bloggers to highlight the inexcusable reference.[78] Black, on the other hand, claimed numerous times on Eschaton that the incident was being blown out of proportion. A few hours after the debate ended, Black asked, "What can you make of pundits who think it's shocking to mention that someone is a lesbian?"[79] The next day, as the controversy appeared to take on a life of its own, Black mentioned the subject a second time by linking to a blog presenting both sides of the controversy. Later in the evening, after watching a televised CNN report, Black brought up the subject a third time to repeat that, openly gay for many years, Mary Cheney was only referred to, and not outed, by Kerry. Despite providing less analysis of candidates' debate performances than the New York Times, Reynolds and Black did examine certain aspects of the candidates' performances. In addition, Reynolds and Black discussed the debate controversies as much as, if not more than, the New York Times. A political blogger is similar to the editor of a newspaper; by selecting what information to publish, Reynolds and Black assumed the role of gatekeeper. Sometimes they circulated the same information as the New York Times, but sometimes the two political bloggers disseminated information that went unpublished in the newspaper.

<26> In addition, the New York Times article, "Quick Verdicts on Debate: 'Bush Won.' 'Kerry Won.'" refers to numerous political bloggers such as Polipundit, a conservative blogger, Ann Althouse, a Democratic blogger, and liberal blogger DailyKos.[80] Given the gatekeeping process, it is remarkable that the New York Times deemed the opinions of a few political bloggers important enough to print. In doing so, the New York Times underlined the increasing importance of political blogs as credible sources of information, which in turn suggests that some political blogs could be considered a form of political journalism.

<27> To establish further that Instapundit and Eschaton were forms of political journalism during the 2004 presidential debates, it is equally important to analyze to what extent they fulfilled the responsibility of government watchdog. Properly assuming this role in a presidential debate entails fact-checking the candidates' statements, especially vital during debates, as the public, generally unaware of statistics and other details, could be easily misled. While the New York Times published a great deal of information about the debates, the newspaper's coverage remained more or less 'he said, she said.' Adam Nagourney's three post-debate articles could all be considered articles in which each candidate was directly cited without investigating the veracity of the statements. Nagourney's front page article about the first debate, "Bush and Kerry Clash Over Iraq in Debate," offered a non-partisan view of the debate by frequently quoting both Kerry and Bush.[81] Nagourney and fellow journalist Robin Toner's second debate article, "Rivals Clash on Iraq, Taxes, and Health Care," analyzed the candidates' performances--Bush "seemed hesitant" and Kerry "seemed assured and comfortable"[82]--but did not fact-check any of the candidates' statements. Nagourney and Toner's article about the third debate, "In Final Debate, Clashes on Taxes and Health Care," also provided information and quotes from each candidate.[83] Almost all of the other articles published in the New York Times followed the same pattern: present the debates without including any personal bias.

<28> The only fact-checking article was published by the New York Times after the last debate. Entitled "Under Pressure, Mischaracterizations and Misstatements," David E. Rosembaum's article revealed the exaggerations and inaccurate statements by both candidates. For instance, Rosenbaum wrote that while Bush declared that his tax cuts had assisted low- and middle-income Americans, the figures from the Internal Revenue Service showed that "half of all the tax cuts in effect this year go to the wealthiest 10 percent of taxpayers."[84] The article addressed many of these statistical figures by providing additional information in order to disprove the original statement. Fact-checking by political bloggers Reynolds and Black was superior to that of the New York Times, both in quantity and timeliness.While Black did not uncover any incorrect statements during the first debate, Reynolds caught one obvious misstatement by Kerry: Kerry stated that he would not have attacked Iraq if he had known that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. To illustrate the contradiction, Reynolds published a link on his blog Instapundit to an article in which Kerry had stated that he would have gone to war even if he had known that Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction.[85] After the first debate, Instapundit posted links to three other websites whose authors had already uncovered inconsistencies and misstatements.[86] Both Instapundit and Eschaton uncovered inaccuracies concerning the second debate. Reynolds revealed Kerry's incorrect statement regarding a politician named Shinseki by providing a link to an article highlighting the falsehood; to support his argument, Reynolds later updated this post with a reader email describing a post-debate television news program that focused on the fact that Kerry had been wrong about Shinseki.[87] Towards the end of the debate, Reynolds underlined Kerry's criticism that Bush would appoint conservatives such as Scalia and Thomas to the Supreme Court and then included a reader email pointing out that Kerry had voted to confirm Scalia, a conservative, to the Supreme Court.[88] In a post entitled "You Can Run," Black quoted Bush's statement about bin Laden and then cited Bush as having stated the opposite in a February 8 th interview.[89] In a classic example of blog fact-checking; Black utilized archives to unearth an interview that many people had probably forgotten. The Eschaton post entitled "Earpiece" is another classic example of fact-checking. Like the New York Times, Black used his blog to explain the controversy surrounding a bulge in Bush's jacket. In order to allow readers to draw their own conclusions, he linked to a video of the second debate.[90]

<29> In terms of the third debate, Black was the only one of our two bloggers to undercover a few falsehoods. He revealed a few instances in which Bush contradicted himself. The day after the debate, for example, he revealed that during the final debate, Bush had used a recycled story from the 2000 Republican convention.[91] Later that day, Eschaton also cited Bush's criticism of Kerry's health care plan as being wrong. By using sarcasm--"assuming Bush's numbers are correct (and who am I to question him?)"[92]--Black argued that Bush's numbers actually illustrated that Kerry's health care plan would be better. This analysis has shown that throughout the three debates, Reynolds and Black efficiently fact-checked the candidates' statements.

<30> In addition to watching over the first three estates, political blogs also scrutinize the media, leading to the argument that political blogs represent a new 'fifth estate.' Examination of Instapundit and Eschaton demonstrates that they embodied this supplementary role during the 2004 presidential debates. During the first debate, both Instapundit and Eschaton analyzed the media numerous times. Before the debate began, Reynolds claimed that the media was going to spin the debate to be a positive for Kerry. He linked to a Newsweek article in which the author, Evan Thomas, had declared that the press "wants Kerry to win."[93] By analyzing how the press would most likely react to the debate, Instapundit argued that the press' analysis would not be based solely on debate. The day after the debate, Reynolds offered another criticism of the mainstream media on his blog Instapundit when he presented information about a fake news story about Kerry and the later retraction that were published on the Fox News website.[94] By highlighting Fox News's pro-Bush bias when it mistakenly published this bogus article, Reynolds emphasized that mainstream journalists do not always act properly when it comes to politics. Despite being a conservative himself, Reynolds criticized Fox News when he argued that it was "somewhat hard to see how this stuff saw print."[95] On his blog Eschaton, Black provided a harsher analysis of the media's coverage of the first debate. His third post, entitled "Oops, I Missed It," presented an Associated Press article published on the Internet which summarized the debate before it had even taken place.[96] Because the story was quickly removed, Black linked to another blog which had posted a screenshot of the Associated Press article in order to provide evidence to support his claim. Despite the article's quick removal from the website, the mere fact that it had been published seriously called into question the authenticity of the press.

<31> The day after the debate found Black further analyzing the news media's coverage of the debate. In a post entitled "CNN's 'Undecided' Voter," he linked to an article which revealed that CNN had interviewed a supposedly undecided University of Miami student who was, in fact, a staunch Republican.[97] Later that day, Eschaton published another example in which mainstream journalism interviewed supposedly undecided voters who turned out to have strong associations with the Republican Party.[98] Like Reynolds on Instapundit, Black also referenced the fake Fox News story on his blog Eschaton after the second debate. When he criticized the television news channel by writing, "The fake Fox News (is there any other kind?) story," he conveyed his opinion that Fox News was an unreliable source of information.[99] The second debate also generated numerous criticisms of the media by our two political bloggers. Before the second debate began, Reynolds linked to an ABC anti-Bush internal memo about debate spin in which ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin stated, "We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides 'equally' accountable when the facts don't warrant that."[100] Black also presented a few criticisms of the media coverage after the debate. Just after the end of the debate, Reynolds declared, "It's as if the press wants Kerry to win!"[101] Black's only criticism of the media in the second debate appeared before the debate began. In a post entitled "Kerry More Likeable Than Bush," he argued that the public accepted everything fed by the media as the truth. Black fumed that the notion that Bush is more likeable than Kerry had been "shoved down our throats more than any of them."[102] This post emphasized the influence that the media holds over society's opinions of presidential candidates. During the third debate only Instapundit provided an example of a blog acting as a media watchdog. The day after the debate, Reynolds affirmed that "the reactions seem to have done a 180" between the end of the debate and the next day.[103] Reynolds further criticized the mainstream media by declaring that "the press is working damned hard to deliver its 15 percent."[104] Comments such as this encouraged readers to closely examine press opinions. Given the numerous examples in which Black and Reynolds intensely scrutinized the media coverage of the 2004 presidential debates, it can be concluded that they assumed the role of media watchdog.

<32> Each of the two blogs provided numerous examples in which they posted information similar to that published in the New York Times. At the same time, Instapundit and Eschaton analyzed the veracity of the candidates' statements throughout the debate period. In doing so, they fulfilled the role of government watchdog. In addition to fulfilling these two democratic responsibilities of political journalism, Instapundit and Eschaton also assumed the supplementary role of 'fifth estate.' By analyzing the media coverage of the debates, bloggers Reynolds and Black revealed various instances of media political bias. Therefore, both Instapundit and Eschaton should be considered as forums for political journalism based on their performance during the 2004 presidential debates. The Internet now allows every citizen to exercise his or her political voice through the use of blogs, as any individual can publish information and opinions about political leaders and political decisions. The people now have the power of the press in their own hands and are no longer reliant on the mainstream media for information. Political blogs also embody an alternative source of information that analyzes the media, and this appears to emulate the mood of the American people, given recent criticisms of the media. The political blogs in this study represent only two among the thousands present in the blogosphere. When regarded collectively, however, political blogs as a viable form of political journalism could have a significant impact on the functioning of representative democracy, not only in the United States but in democracies around the world. While further studies concerning the influence of political blogs must be carried out before any definitive conclusions can be reached, the fact that an increasing number of citizens are using political blogs as a means of participating in the political process appears to be an advantageous means of defending democracy.

 

Notes

[1] Lee Rainee, "The State of Blogging," Pew Internet & American Life Project January 2005: 1; available from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_blogging_data.pdf; Internet; accessed 17 January 2005. [^]

[2] Gene Edward Veith and Lynn Vincent, "Year of the blog," World Magazine 4 December 2004; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); accessed 6 February 2005. [^]

[3] "Constitution of the United States" The National Archives; accessed 11 May 2006; available from http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/constitution_transcript.html; Internet. [^]

[4] Dean Alger, The Media and Politics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ : Prentice Hall, 1989: 5. [^]

[5] "The James Madison Memorial Building." Library of Congress 11 January 2006; available from http://www.loc.gov/loc/walls/madison.html; Internet; accessed 1 September 2006. [^]

[6] Michael Ventura, "Open Letter to Vanessa Leggett," The Austin Chronicle 31 August 2001; available from http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2001-08-31/cols_ventura.html; Internet; accessed 12 December 2001, quoted in James Branum, "The Blogging Phenomenon: An Overview and Theoretical Consideration," Southwest Texas State University December 2001; available from http://www.ajy.net/jmb/blogphenomenon.htm; Internet; accessed 8 December 2004. [^]

[7] Alexis de Tocqueville, " Liberty of the Press in the United States." Democracy in America: Volume 1; available from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/1_ch11.htm; Internet; accessed 5 February 2005. [^]

[8] Blogging: The Fifth Estate (CNN World Report Conference, Host Michael Holmes, CNN International 11 June 2005), videorecording. [^]

[9] "FOCUS--Freedom of Press and Information," United States Embassy Islamabad, IRC Alert July 2002; available from http://usembassy.state.gov/islamabad/wwwhircalert0702.html; Internet; accessed 4 February 2005. [^]

[10] "FOCUS--Freedom of Press and Information," United States Embassy Islamabad, IRC Alert. [^]

[11] "The Mass Media as Fourth Estate," CCMS Infobase; available from http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/index.html; Internet; accessed 6 February 2005; "New York Times," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia 5 June 2005; available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times; Internet; accessed 6 June 2005. [^]

[12] Mark Gillespie, "Media Credibility Reaches Lowest Point in Three Decades," The Gallup Organization 23 September 2004; available from http://www.gallup.com/content/?ci=13132; Internet; accessed 15 May 2005. [^]

[13] Nicholas Johnson, "Focus: Defining the Land of the Fourth Estate." Global Issues (Volume 6, Number 1) April 2001; available from http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itgic/0401/ijge/gj01.htm; Internet; accessed 4 February 2005. [^]

[14] J.D. Lasica, "Weblogs: A New Source of News," USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review 18 April 2002; available from http://www.ojr.org/ojr/lasica/1019165278.php; Internet; accessed 6 December 2004. [^]

[15] Daniel W. Drezner and Henry Farrell, "Web of Influence," Foreign Policy November/December 2004; available from http://foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=2707&print=1; Internet; accessed 6 February 2005. [^]

[16] Veith and Vincent, "Year of the blog." [^]

[17] James Branum, "The Blogging Phenomenon: An Overview and Theoretical Consideration." Southwest Texas State University December 2001; available from http://www.ajy.net/jmb/blogphenomenon.htm; Internet; accessed 8 December 2004. [^]

[18] Branum, "Blogging Phenomenon." [^]

[19] Drezner and Farrell, "Web of Influence." [^]

[20] J.D. Lasica, "Blogging as a Form of Journalism," USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review 29 April 2002; available from http://www.ojr.org/ojr/lasica/ 1017958873.php; Internet; accessed 6 December 2004. [^]

[21] Biz Stone, Who Let The Blogs Out?: A Hyperconnected Peek at the World of Weblogs ( New York: St.Martin's Griffin, 2004): 35. [^]

[22] Cassie Lancellotti-Young and David Suk, "Internet and Social Change," ( Duke University, Project for 'Public Policy 126s,' Professor Rogerson); available from http://www.duke.edu/~djs13/pps126/blogs.htm; Internet; accessed 6 February 2005. [^]

[23] Branum, "Blogging Phenomenon." [^]

[24] Michael Tyworth, "An Exploratory Analysis of Weblogs," 2004: 2; available from http://www.fraterslibertas.com/MJT_FINAL.pdf; Internet; accessed 17 January 2005; Veith and Vincent, "Year of the blog." [^]

[25] Drezner and Farrell, "Web of Influence." [^]

[26] Hugh Hewitt, Blog: Understanding the Information Revolution That's Changing Your World. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2005: 108. [^]

[27] Veith and Vincent, "Year of the blog." [^]

[28] Branum, "Blogging Phenomenon." [^]

[29] Frank Bajak, "TECH COLUMN: Memo to media establishment: Ignore blogs at your peril." The Associated Press 27 January 2005; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet; accessed 6 February 2005. [^]

[30] Kathy E. Gill, "How can we measure the influence of the blogosphere?" World Wide Web Conference 18 May 2004: 1; available from http://faculty.washington.edu/kegill/pub/www2004_blogosphere_gill.pdf; Internet; accessed 14 April 2005. [^]

[31] Drezner and Farrell, "Web of Influence." [^]

[32] Douglas Kellner. Interview by Laura Fries. In " Create your own news; Get corporate media out of your head ." San Antonio Current (Issue 715) 22 January 2004: 14; available from http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=10848037&BRD=2318&PAG=461&dept_id=484045&rfi=8; Internet; accessed 4 February 2005. [^]

[33] Blogging: The Fifth Estate (CNN World Report Conference). [^]

[34] Sacha Pfeiffer, "In court, blogs can come back to dog the writers." Boston Globe 28 September 2006; accessed 28 September 2006; available from http://www.boston.com/business/personaltech/articles/2006/09/28/in_court_blogs_can_come_back_to_dog_the_writers/?page=full; Internet. [^]

[35] Matt Welch, "The New Amateur Journalists Weigh In." Columbia Journalism Review September/October 2003; available from http://www.cjr.org/issues/2003/5/blog-welch.asp; Internet; accessed 4 February 2005. [^]

[36] Douglas Kellner, interview by Laura Fries; Gill, "How can we measure the influence of the blogosphere?," 2. [^]

[37] Welch, "The New Amateur Journalists Weigh In." [^]

[38] Branum, "Blogging Phenomenon." [^]

[39] Hewitt, Blog, 79. [^]

[40] Drezner and Farrell, "Web of Influence."; Pew Internet & American Life, quoted in Gill, "How can we measure the influence of the blogosphere?," 1. [^]

[41] Rainee, "The State of Blogging," 1. [^]

[42] Jessica Mintz, "When Bloggers Make News," The Wall Street Journal 21 January 2005: B1; available from http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/0,,SB110626272888531958,99.html; Internet; accessed 21 January 2005. [^]

[43] Pfeiffer, "In court, blogs can come back to dog the writers." [^]

[44] Drezner and Farrell, "Web of Influence." [^]

[45] Stone, Who Let The Blogs Out?, 68. [^]

[46] Taylor Clark and Mark Baumgarten. "BLAH, BLAH, BLOG." Willamette Week (Volume 30, Issue 36) 7 July 2004: 18; available from http://www.wweek.com/story.php?story=5286; Internet; accessed 4 February 2005. [^]

[47] Veith and Vincent, "Year of the blog." [^]

[48] Gill, "How can we measure the influence of the blogosphere?," 4-5. [^]

[49] Oliver Burkeman, "Bloggers catch what Washington Post missed," The Guardian 21 December 2002; available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,864036,00.html; Internet; accessed 6 February 2005. [^]

[50] Gill, "How can we measure the influence of the blogosphere?," 6. [^]

[51] "How do bloggers impact political news?," CNN.com 14 November 2004; available from http://edition.cnn.com/2004/TECH/11/14/blogging.ap/index.html; Internet; accessed 6 December 2004. [^]

[52] "CBS Ousts 4 For Bush Guard Story." CBS News 10 January 2005; available from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/01/10/national/main665727.shtml; Internet; accessed 10 May 2005. [^]

[53] "Inauguration Coverage; Rise of the Blogs," (Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz, CNN) 2 3 January 2005 [transcript]; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); accessed 6 February 2005. [^]

[54] "New York Times Timeline 1851-1880," The New York Times Company; available from http://www.nytco.com/company-timeline-1851.html; Internet; accessed 15 May 2005; "Top 150 Newspapers by Largest Reported Circulation," Audit Bureau of Circulations; available from http://www.accessabc.com/reader/top150.htm; Internet; accessed 15 May 2005. [^]

[55] "Circulation Data: The New York Times," The New York Times Company; available from http://www.nytco.com/investors-nyt-circulation.html; Internet; accessed 15 May 2005. [^]

[56] "The State of the News Media 2004," Project For Excellence in Journalism, affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 2004; available from http://www.stateofthenewsmedia.org, quoted in Hewitt, Blog, 81. [^]

[57] "Instapundit." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia 9 May 2005; available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instapundit; Internet; accessed 27 May 2005. [^]

[58] "Weblogs By Average Daily Traffic," The Truth Laid Bear 5 May 2005; available from http://www.truthlaidbear.com/TrafficRanking.php; Internet; accessed 5 May 2005. [^]

[59] "Atrios ," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia 9 May 2005; available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atrios ; Internet; accessed 27 May 2005; "Weblogs By Average Daily Traffic," The Truth Laid Bear 5 May 2005; available from http://www.truthlaidbear.com/TrafficRanking.php; Internet; accessed 5 May 2005. [^]

[60] Mintz, " When Bloggers Make News." [^]

[61] "2004 Debates," Commission on Presidential Debates; available from http://www.debates.org/pages/his_2004.html; Internet; accessed 16 April 2005. [^]

[62] Michael Coren, "Candidates bet on Internet to set record straight," CNN.com 1 October 2004; available from http://edition.cnn.com/2004/TECH/internet/09/30/web.debates.cnn/index.html; Internet; accessed 6 December 2004. [^]

[63] James Bennet, "In a Disguised Gym, Softballs and Political Drama." New York Times 9 October 2004: A11; accessed 14 April 2005; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet. [^]

[64] James Bennet, "The 2004 Campaign: The Scene; Act 3, Wherein Bush Turns That Frown Upside Down," The New York Times 14 October 2004: A19; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); accessed 14 April 2005. [^]

[65] Todd S. Purdum, "A Crucial Test, But Not Final." New York Times 14 October 2004: A1; accessed 14 April 2005; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet. [^]

[66] Glenn Reynolds, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Instapundit
2 October 2004; accessed 4 April 2005; available from http://instapundit.com/archives/week_2004_09_26.php; Internet. [^]

[67] Duncan Black, "September 26, 2004--October 02, 2004 Archives." Eschaton
2 October 2004; accessed 8 April 2005; available from http://atrios.blogspot.com/2004_09_26_atrios_archive.html; Internet. [^]

[68] Duncan Black, "October 10, 2004 - October 16, 2004 Archives." Eschaton
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[69] Alessandra Stanley, "Candidates Most Telling When They Aren't Talking." New York Times 1 October 2004, A18; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet; accessed 10 July 2006. [^]

[70] Todd S. Purdum, "Standing Firm For 90 Minutes," The New York Times 1 October 2004: A1; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); accessed 14 April 2005. [^]

[71] Black, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Eschaton. [^]

[72] Elisabeth Bumiller, "The Mystery of the Bulge in the Jacket." New York Times
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[73] Jodi Wilgoren, "After 3 Debates, Some Voters Remain on Fence." New York Times 14 October 2004, A1; accessed 14 April 2004; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet. [^]

[74] Wilgoren, "After 3 Debates, Some Voters Remain on Fence." [^]

[75] Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner, "In Final Debate, Clashes on Taxes and Health Care," New York Times 14 October 2004: A1; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet; accessed 14 April 2005. [^]

[76] Bennet, "THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: THE SCENE; Act 3, Wherein Bush Turns That Frown Upside Down." [^]

[77] Glenn Reynolds, "October 10, 2004 - October 16, 2004 Archives," Instapundit 16 October 2004; available from http://instapundit.com/archives/week_2004_10_10.php; Internet; accessed 4 April 2005. [^]

[78] Reynolds, "October 10, 2004 - October 16, 2004 Archives," Instapundit. [^]

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[80] Jim Rutenberg, "Quick Verdicts on Debate: 'Bush Won.' 'Kerry Won.'" New York Times 14 October 2004: A25; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet; accessed 19 July 2006. [^]

[81] Adam Nagourney, "Bush and Kerry Clash Over Iraq in Debate." New York Times
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[82] Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner, "Rivals Clash on Iraq, Taxes, and Health Care." New York Times 9 October 2004: A1; accessed 14 April 2005; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet. [^]

[83] Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner, "In Final Debate, Clashes on Taxes and Health Care," New York Times 14 October 2004: A1; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); Internet; accessed 14 April 2005. [^]

[84] David E. Rosenbaum, "Under Pressure, Mischaracterizations and Misstatements," The New York Times 14 October 2004: A25; available from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe (Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis, Columbia University, New York City, New York); accessed 14 April 2005. [^]

[85] Reynolds, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives," Instapundit. [^]

[86] Reynolds, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives," Instapundit. [^]

[87] Glenn Reynolds, "October 03, 2004 - October 09, 2004 Archives," Instapundit 9 October 2004; available from http://instapundit.com/archives/week_2004_10_03.php; Internet; accessed 4 April 2005. [^]

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[89] Duncan Black, "October 03, 2004 - October 09, 2004 Archives." Eschaton
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[90] Black, "October 03, 2004 - October 09, 2004 Archives," Eschaton. [^]

[91] Black, "October 10, 2004 - October 16, 2004 Archives," Eschaton. [^]

[92] Black, "October 10, 2004 - October 16, 2004 Archives," Eschaton. [^]

[93] Reynolds, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Instapundit. [^]

[94] Reynolds, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Instapundit. [^]

[95] Reynolds, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Instapundit. [^]

[96] Black, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Eschaton. [^]

[97] Black, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Eschaton. [^]

[98] Black, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Eschaton. [^]

[99] Black, "September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives." Eschaton. [^]

[100] Reynolds, "October 03, 2004 - October 09, 2004 Archives," Instapundit. [^]

[101] Reynolds, "October 03, 2004 - October 09, 2004 Archives," Instapundit. [^]

[102] Black, "October 03, 2004 - October 09, 2004 Archives," Eschaton. [^]

[103] Reynolds, "October 10, 2004 - October 16, 2004 Archives." Instapundit. [^]

[104] Reynolds, "October 10, 2004 - October 16, 2004 Archives." Instapundit. [^]


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