A zeitgeisty piece this morning by Michael Scherer on Salon explores how the Web—most notably Matt Drudge—is breaking stories that the mainstream media is ignoring thus far in this elongated election season.
We explored the topic a few weeks back with regard to how Josh Marshall and his site, Talkingpointsmemo.com, doggedly connected the dots on the Justice Department’s firing of several U.S. attorneys until the rest of the mainstream press finally pitched in with some digging of its own.
In a sense, the story of TPM and the attorneys is somewhat of an outlier when it comes to the kind of story typically hyped, or even broken, by blogs, which more often than not tend to fall back on the crutch of pure partisanship, and exist more in the world of fact checking the MSM, than in the world of investigative reporting.
Scherer’s central point is that opposition researchers working for various political campaigns are having quite a bit of success this year placing damaging items about rival candidates with mainstream reporters and bloggers, and in that way are helping to drive coverage of the campaign in general. Scherer admits that this phenomenon is not new, and suggests that the difference is a matter of degree: “What has changed is the pace and profusion of stories based on opposition research, especially so early in the campaign cycle. There are now more outlets clamoring for the information than ever before, and more competition from reporters for the latest ‘scoop.’”
But before you go and get all Jeff Jarvis on us, proclaiming another blogospheric victory over the hopelessly overmatched MSM, let’s take a look at some of the stuff that’s being broken online. Scherer points to two recent stories: John McCain’s “Bomb Iran” mess a few weeks back, and the Politico’s vital scoop about John Edwards’ $400 haircut. Not exactly seismic stuff, but they are nevertheless stories that can—and will—be used against the candidates whenever their foes get the chance.
Another example popped up on Thursday, when TPM’s Greg Sergeant called attention to a story that initially appeared in the Anamosa, Iowa, Journal-Eureka about Rudy Giuliani’s campaign. Apparently, Rudy’s people contacted an Iowa couple and asked to stage a campaign event at their farm. The couple agreed, only to be contacted later by the campaign and informed that since they weren’t “worth a million dollars” and Rudy is “campaigning on the Death Tax right now,” the rally at their place was being cancelled.
Sargent wondered, “Will the haircut-obsessed political media cover it?”
TPM guest blogger Steve Benen picked up the thread this weekend, writing that “it seems the political establishment doesn’t care” about the story, and that “the story hasn’t been mentioned in any of the major dailies, the wires, or on any national TV broadcasts. C’mon, assignment editors, this is an easy one. It obviously isn’t nearly as fascinating as a Democrat getting an expensive haircut, but couldn’t CNN send a camera crew to the VonSpreckens’ farm?”
But, do we really want CNN send a camera crew out to the farm to cover a cancelled campaign event? Or reporters to give the story the same legs as they have given other marginal stories, like the Edwards haircut? Politics is a messy business, and while the Giuliani campaign demonstrated just how calculating it can be, is that at all surprising?