The Online Press Finds Its Political Voice

Tracking politics as it's practiced on the Web.
June 16 2000 11:30 PM

The Online Press Finds Its Political Voice

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Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000. 

Give Jake Tapper credit: He wanted to follow Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign.

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Not many reporters do these days. Eight long years after Buchanan first rattled George Bush and four years after stealing New Hampshire from Bob Dole, Buchanan's current ambitions are far more modest: Grab the Reform Party nomination and maybe steal some votes from George W. Bush.

Last week, Tapper, a political correspondent at Salon.com, tried to attend two Buchanan fund-raising events, only to be informed by Buchanan fund-raiser John O'Kelly that he wasn't welcome.

"We've had enough coverage from Salon.com," Tapper says he was told by O'Kelly, who was listed on Buchanan's GoPatGo2000 Web site as a contact. Tapper says O'Kelly told him, "I checked out the Web site, and I wasn't impressed."

The incident, which Tapper recounted in Salon under the headline "Salon Banned by Buchananite" on June 13, seemed to resurrect the problems that online publications have faced in establishing their journalistic credentials. And even though a cluster of stand-alone Internet publications—Slate, Voter.com, and Salon among them—are covering the political season, Tapper's shutout harked back to the troubles Web publications have had getting a seat on the bus.

But does the Tapper incident suggest persistent bias against the online media, or could it be just another growing pain in the development of a new form of political reporting?

Web coverage is very different from what political campaigns are used to. It's often caustic, unbridled, and intentionally nonconformist. Sure, there have always been feisty newspaper columnists, and the National Review and The Nation trade in polemics. But the unchecked new agenda—Dan Savage trying to infect Gary Bauer with a cold—has made gonzo part of the story.

That's what Tapper figures scared off O'Kelly. "I don't think it had anything to do with us being online," he says. "I think it's because we write tough stuff on Buchanan."

Buchanan press spokesman Brian Doherty—whose former job was working at Fox News for Matt Drudge's now-canceled show—agrees that he has no problem with Salon, per se. Although he says he is mystified as to why Salon "insists on writing coverage like that," Doherty says he's happy to take Tapper's calls. Fund-raisers aside, Salon "has not been shut out," he insists.

Indeed, as the Net news outfits try to define their role, the major campaigns are welcoming them. Both the Gore and Bush campaigns issue a daily barrage of e-mail messages to reporters and have no problem allotting seats on their planes for Web reporters.

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