New Media Yields New Politics

John Harris observes in a front page “Analysis” piece in today’s WaPo that the emergence of blogs and other Web based media is changing the dynamic of political scandals.

At first glance, three uproars that buffeted American politics in recent weeks have little in common.

Former congressman Mark Foley (R-Fla.) ended his political career over sexually charged e-mails to former House pages. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) stumbled over his puzzling use of the word “macaca” and his clumsy response to revelations about his Jewish ancestry. Former president Bill Clinton had a televised temper fit when an interviewer challenged his terrorism record.

All three episodes, however, were in their own ways signs of the unruly new age in American politics. Each featured an arresting personal angle. Each originally percolated in the world of new media — Web sites and news outlets that did not exist a generation ago — before charging into the traditional world of newspapers and television networks. In each case, the accusations quickly pivoted into a debate about the motivations and alleged biases of the accusers.

Cumulatively, the stories highlight a new brand of politics in which nearly any revelation in the news becomes a weapon or shield in the daily partisan wars, and the aim of candidates and their operatives is not so much to win an argument as to brand opponents as fundamentally unfit.

Certainly, that tactic predates the Web, let alone blogs. Still, the proliferation of media voices and the incredible amount of competition for scoops and attention that has ensued has undeniably sped up the news cycle. And Mickey Kaus’ Feiler Faster Thesis is one result.

Jeff Jarvis notes, too, that the television end of this occured a decade ago.

FoxNews is 10 years old this week. This year, Al Jazeera turns 10. So did The Daily Show. All that the three have in common, besides birthdays, is that they brought new voices to TV news: no longer the allegedly objective, cold, institutional tone that journalism took on when it became a monopoly, once-size-fits-all business in this country, thanks to the impact of broadcast on the media marketplace. These fraternal triplets each brought perspective to news, a distinct and clearly apparent worldview, and a passion about serving a public that each believed was underserved.

What enabled this to happen? Simple: Choice. Bandwidth. The ability to broadcast off the broadcast tower and its strait-jacket frequencies. Cable made it possible, and satellite. That’s the frequency, Kenneth (which, by the way, was said to Dan Rather a decade before, when the remote control started revolutionizing American media). And now, a decade after the cable age we are in the thick of the internet age, which allows us to not only hear new voices but also to speak with our own.

Obviously, talk radio and the Internet, especially the blogs and the Drudge clone tabloids, have contributed as well for similar reasons.

While the old line media still have to at least make a show of balance, the new media are unabashedly branded. Fox News claims merely to be “Fair and Balanced” but they wear their viewpoint in red,white, and blue on their lapels. Judging by the decline in the ratings of the Big 3 networks and the rise of Fox, a substantial percentage of the populace wants their news from people with whom they share a set of basic assumptions. Blogs and talk radio would seem to indicate they like their opinion journalism the same way.

That these media can be exploited to play the old game of “gotcha” politics is a simple fact of life. The new media are part of the communications process now, so it’s hardly a surprise.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Slow Friday? (Or, more likely: busy Friday?)

  2. I think the big difference is that more extreme voices are heard on both sides, though the lefts extreme voices are getting much more of the traffic. In addition, there are more center-right voices being heard.

    When Rather took over from Cronkite, there was very little choice on how you got your news and analysis of the news. Now, there are more quality sites (like OTB) than you can reasonable view in a day.

    Fox’s ratings are simple classic market location optimization. If you think of a long beach, where is the optimal place to locate a refreshment stand to maximize revenue? Lets say that one stand is placed 1/3 along the way of the beach. You want to locate you stand just past the other stand. All those to your right will come to you because you are closer. And you can compete with those close to the other stand. Fox just set their news slightly to the right of the other channels and they get the center and all to the right. If a truly right wing channel showed up, then that would make for some interesting dynamics as Fox would either have to move right to compete or try to just hold the center.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Both. Very busy and not really much happening that I could knock out a quick post on.