Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.
It was just a simple "heads up."
On May 12, the Hillary Rodham Clinton For U.S. Senate Committee sent an e-mail to its press list—about 200 journalists and others—about a campaign appearance in Manhattan.
The only problem was that the note inadvertently contained everyone's names and e-mail addresses—including media stars such as columnist Maureen Dowd; Paul Moses of Newsday; Mary Martin of CBS News; Laurie Luhn of Fox News; Lisa Anderson, New York bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune; ABC critic Joel Siegel; Kerri Forrest of MSNBC; and dozens of others. It also included the private e-mail address of Clinton campaign's spokesman, Howard Wolfson.
Some whose e-mail addresses were broadcast were incensed, and it created a storm for the Clinton campaign, particularly after Matt Drudge got hold of the list and posted it on his Web site. From there, the list appeared on several conservative Web sites, which used it to broadcast their own messages.
Drudge is the Hunter S. Thompson-esque bad boy of Internet journalism. From his base in a Hollywood apartment, he sucks up information like a vacuum cleaner on a mission and puts it up, raw and often ungrammatical, on his Drudge Web site. Unlike many journalists, he takes all the credit and blame for his material.
At his National Press Club speech in 1999, Drudge said: "No 'Periscope' here, No 'Washington Whispers' here. I put my name on it. I'll answer for anything I write." He has broken some important stories, most notably Bill Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Drudge carried that story for several days before it was reported by other journalists.
But the White House has consistently refused comment on any scoops floated by Drudge, and the president's press secretary referred to him as "Sludge."
This inflexibility about responding to stories that first appear on Drudge's site extends even to refusing to answer technical questions about how the e-mail snafu occurred, more than a week after a few news organizations reported the story.
At the Hillary For Senate campaign office this week, staffer Karen Dunn, who sent out the e-mail, refused to comment on the incident or even to admit that it occurred. But while keeping mum, she was surprised and outraged that a story was going to be written at all. "No responsible journalists" were picking up the story, she said, before resorting to her no comment. (Apparently, that includes the Washington Post's Ben White or Salon's Alicia Montgomery, both of whom wrote about the mistake.)
Dunn also refused to comment on whether anything has been done to keep a similar security breach from occurring or to discuss any aspect of what the Clinton campaign does to protect the privacy of its supporters and contacts.
But the campaign's distaste for its own blunder is consistent with the candidate's past statements about Internet reporting. At a March 11, 1998, news conference, the first lady was asked about news dissemination on the Internet. She responded: "We're all going to have to rethink how we deal with the Internet. As exciting as these new developments are, there are a number of serious issues without any kind of editing function or gatekeeping function. What does it mean to have the right to defend your reputation or to respond to what someone says?"
When asked whether the Internet should be regulated, she responded, "Any time an individual leaps so far ahead of that balance and throws the system, whatever it might be—political, economic, technological—out of balance, you've got a problem."
Jim Glassman, a former columnist at the Washington Post, now the host of TechCentralStation.com, thinks that freebooter Internet journalists are here to stay.
"It is hardly a surprise that her [campaign] tried to slough it off by saying that no 'responsible' news organization was reporting the story. [Didn't the Clintons use the same line when the original allegations about Lewinsky were coming out?] Mrs. Clinton—and everyone else in the public eye—had better start getting used to true, unmediated pluralism in the media. It's here, and they are going to have to live with it."