By Tom Griscom
Publisher and Executive Editor
Politics is never static.
The ebb and flow of a campaign are influenced by any number of factors —; some that are planned and others that are out of the control of a candidate or a campaign staff.
For some time those involved in politics —; those in office and trying to get there —; have known that 24 hours is a lifetime. What appeared to be an easy coast quickly turns into a rough ride.
The time element is shrinking more with the advent of new media —; the Internet, in particular —; that spread information with the speed of a broadband connection. Television previously shortened the message path to voters, but the delivered information was less precise when trying to focus on a particular audience and not merely a geographic region.
Then the Internet altered the political landscape and the delivery of politically attuned information. Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic candidate for president in 2004, relied on the computer-based communication platform to identify potential supporters and to raise money for his campaign. While he floundered over time, partly undone by the same technology that he was using to bolster his campaign, a new window to the political world opened.
For those of us in the “mainstream media,” there is a challenge to sort through information that comes from Internet-based sources via blogs, Web sites and other means, to determine the validity of the material. It has been stated that anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can become a citizen journalist, pushing information into cyberspace for any and all to access.
The Drudge Report, for example, an Internet-based Web source, lists a number of links to other stories and news sources. In its early form the report was an e-mail blast. Over time the Drudge Report transitioned into a Web site that broke the news of a relationship between President Bill Clinton and an intern, Monica Lewinsky, according to The Associated Press.
Thousands of bloggers circulate over the Internet and many political candidates, parties and fund-raising groups also use the new media as a means to reach thinly sliced voting blocs.
This background is part of the decision process used by the Chattanooga Times Free Press two weeks ago to publish information about a daughter of former Mayor Bob Corker, who is a candidate in the Republican Senate primary in Tennessee.
The initial step was to determine whether the photos and descriptions posted on a New York-based blog, Wonkette, were accurate. That was done and they were. No one attempted to discredit the content.
Next came an assessment as to whether the material was relevant to the Senate race. Are the families of candidates off limits in a political contest or do they become part of the campaign? We discussed stories on the twin daughters of President Bush and the driving arrests of Al Gore’s son.
With the three main candidates for the Republican nomination pushing conservative principles and values, the decision was to publish information from the Wonkette blog.
The story in the Times Free Press described a posting on a Facebook.com Web site that was provided to the co-editor of the Wonkette blog. Times Free Press writer Michael Davis took the Wonkette posting and expanded his report into the “advent of the Internet which means elected officials or political candidates and their families are being put before the public in a new light.”
A University of Tennessee professor, Glenn Reynolds, who runs the Instapundit.com blog, told Mr. Davis that “politicians have less privacy than they did before the Internet. In a world where the rest of us have less privacy, that seems only fair.”
A spokesman for the Corker campaign described the candidate’s daughter as “acting silly,” then criticized media outlets “usually thought to be responsible” for bringing attention to the Facebook.com post.
But as Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at George Washington University, said, “Political journalism is no longer the exclusive domain of mainstream media outlets.”
Times have changed for politicians and political campaigns, and also for those of us in the “mainstream media” who tell the stories that potentially influence voters.
For the “mainstream media” the challenge is, in addition to sorting through the rhetoric from the campaigns and their spokespeople, also to assess information —; true and false —; shared on the Internet.
To reach Tom Griscom, call (423) 757-6472 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.