MF: I followed the California Obama campaign since June at the grassroots and the fundraising level. They had never denied me any access, and it was not the first Obama fundraiser I had written about and covered for the Huffington Post. Also, I certainly knew that mainstream media are not allowed to contribute to political campaigns, in a direct way. But my experience in internet media has been: there are no rules. I’ve had to make them up myself. I’ve passed up a number of stories, feeling that they have been unethical to cover. There’s the code of the road for the traveling press, but they too are very naïve about the whole new dimension of the internet, of blogging, what it means to the media campaign.
I have a number of copies of the invitations to the four events that day. None of them say ‘closed to media.’ I’ve given this a lot of thought. I don’t think either the Obama campaign or I ever dreamed I would ever see or hear anything that would be newsworthy. If you go back to the first thing I wrote for the Huffington Post, it was very critical piece, about the head of the Obama campaign. But when I saw him after, he came up to me and said, ‘Oh you were hard on me.’ He came up and hugged me and threw his arms around me. It was in the context of, ‘She’s never going to see or hear anything important.’ I didn’t think so either. If I thought of myself as anything, it was as a political humorist.
JMS: Did you have any reservations about publishing the piece?
MF: Oh, yes. I had already told my East Coast editor Amanda Michel that there was more on the tape besides what I wrote immediately after, online. I told her there might be one more piece about what Obama had to say about Pennsylvania, and that it was pretty damning. We had a long conversation and she was talking about how if you’re really going to be a journalist, you have to be willing to report on what you see, what you hear, regardless of your political opinions. Already ‘Off the Bus’ had too many bloggers who are pro-Obama and therefore present everything from an Obama slant. And I thought about that for a while and at some point I realized on Monday that she was right. And on Tuesday, the piece was just in my head suddenly, I wasn’t thinking about it but the entire piece was suddenly there and at that moment I knew I was going to do it, and I had a sense of peace about it.
JMS: When did you realize the piece was having impact?
MF: Well. I thought Amanda was right but I knew the classic thing with news was to bury it on Friday. So I told Amanda, you can’t have it until Friday night. We ended up going for coffee together and we took a look at the statistics. By 2:30 there were 5,000-something hits. We came back two hours later and there had been 89,000 hits. And at 5:00 the Lou Dobbs show was yammering for me to be on the show.
JMS: Did you hear or pay any attention to the backlash against the piece?
MF: When I started posting on Huffington, I would read all my comments. I’m a very bossy person. You can throw out the ones you don’t want to be there, so I would do that. But once I started covering the campaign in Iowa, I just didn’t have time to read comments and since then, I haven’t read any. I’ve been too busy. There are over 5,000 comments so I wouldn’t even have the time. I had no idea, as I say, there had been a fatwa issued against me in the blogosphere.
I have a daughter who has my exact same name. She was easy to find because she’s a graduate student in Princeton. That’s been really hard. Plus another blogger who was furious about the piece had put out my email address. So I was getting hate email and eventually I got a couple of death threats. Now, there’s two things to say. First, there’s a lot of crazy people out there. Secondly, people figured, ‘Oh my god, what has she done?’ They love and have placed—rightly, I think—so much hope for the future in Senator Obama and people thought I had done that in. In the blogosphere people don’t think about what they do. I’m sure if I met a lot of these people, I’d like them. They’d be great, decent people.
JMS: How did you start writing for the Huffington Post?