If you followed the 2004 election season only on television, you missed out on lots of the good stuff. This was the year the Internet erupted as the outlet for political discourse, and a surprisingly large number of memorable moments came out of the rolling conversation found on the Berkeley-based Weblog DailyKos.com.
When Dick Cheney claimed during the vice-presidential debate that he had not met Senator John Edwards until that evening, a Daily Kos reader unearthed TV footage of the two men together at a 2001 prayer breakfast. Before the debate was even over, the image had been posted on the Daily Kos Web site and disseminated by the Kerry campaign.
Then there was the moment when a Daily Kos reader realized that a Bush ad showing the president speaking to an audience of soldiers had been altered to make it appear that the crowd was full of military personnel. The Bush campaign had to apologize.
And when the Sinclair Broadcast Group announced it would preempt normal television programming to air the anti-Kerry hit piece Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal, it was on Daily Kos that outraged readers first organized a boycott of Sinclair's advertisers. The company's stock began to tank, investors complained, and Sinclair ultimately was forced to air a more balanced program instead.
Each time, the Kerry campaign profited without having to lift a finger. Neither, for that matter, did blogger Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the founder of Daily Kos. All he had to do was give people a place to talk.
The meteoric rise of political bloggers during the presidential campaign has sent media types scrambling to parse what it means to have a new army of semiprofessional commentators getting press credentials, covering stories from multiple vantage points and, in many cases, drawing enormous crowds. Prior to the election, a New York Times Magazine cover portraying veteran political journalists R.W. Apple of the Times and Jack Germond of the Baltimore Sun peering over the shoulders of Wonkette blogger Ana Marie Cox seemed to frame all the tensions created by the rise of this new class of pundit. Did bloggers like Cox and Moulitsas have the credibility of seasoned reporters? Were they even journalists at all, or were they simply journal-keepers? Were they even observers, or merely rabble-rousers with axes to grind?
Several months later, the better question to ask is not how bloggers are changing journalism, but how they're changing politics.
By the time all the dust from the 2004 election had settled, Moulitsas had had an impressively deep impact on the presidential race for someone whose primary tools are nothing more than an opinion and a laptop. He helped launch Democratic candidate Howard Dean's Internet strategy, which first thrust both Web-based fund-raising and opposition to the war in Iraq into the middle of the campaign. He also started the Draft Wesley Clark movement, which solidified the importance of both Web and war to the 2004 campaign, and further encouraged Democratic nominee John Kerry to stake out his own tenuous opposition to the war.
And just as Moulitsas became one of the few people to turn blogging into his own primary source of income, he also turned Daily Kos into a formidable generator of money for others. By the end of the 2004 campaign cycle, his readers had donated more than a half million dollars to the "Kos Dozen" -- actually, fifteen congressional candidates hand-selected by Moulitsas. Online donors often didn't even share a home state with the candidates they were funding.
Perhaps the candidacy most emblematic of this new type of political power was that of rookie congressional candidate Jeff Seemann. In April, Moulitsas made a gaffe that accidentally linked his fortunes to those of Seemann. In writing a post about the four civilian contractors who had been brutally killed in Fallujah on March 31, his emotions overshot his sense of diplomacy. "I feel nothing over the death of mercenaries," he wrote. "Screw them." The response from the political establishment was immediate. The Kerry campaign delinked from his site. Conservative blogs denounced him as a hatemonger and pressed Democratic candidates who advertised on Daily Kos to withdraw their support. Three of them pulled their ads. Daily Kos readers began to worry that the Web site was toast.
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