Election Night 2006
An Evening in the Life of the American Media
After emerging as a force in the 2004 presidential election—and showing up some mainstream media mistakes on election night—bloggers were raring to go Nov. 7.
They were anticipating several issues. There was the impact of the Iraq war, anticipated ballot box debacles related to new technology, absentee mania and early allegations of voter fraud. Add to that, of course, were problems in the Exit Poll to watch for—and early exit poll leaks to publish. CNN had even “hired” a handful of bloggers to gather in one place for the night. If you have seen your new rival, CNN reasoned, hire them to come to your party.
So what role did the bloggers play?
Less than might have been anticipated. There was unexpected calm at most polling places. The exit poll didn’t leak. The blow dried TV thugs didn’t blow any calls. There weren’t even too many ghastly rhetorical gaffes to talk about by anchors or their MSM guests.
Beyond personal musings, the bloggers on the night were caught shy of material. Doing little in the way of original reporting, strapped to their keyboards, the strengths of the blogs—being a clearing house for leaks, monitoring gaps and errors in the mainstream press, and annotating the offerings elsewhere online—did not come to the fore this night.
We monitored six top-rated, self-contained blogs: Instapundit, Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish and Wonkette, and the Huffington Post (offering several blogs) and Drudge Report, (in addition to those on network and cable Web sites) from 2 p.m. through 11:30 p.m. EST. In addition, we monitored four political Web sites, described in the next section.
The Daily Kos, ranked 2nd in popularity by Technorati and run by 36 year-old Markos Moulitsas Zúniga out of Berkeley, Calif. would spend much of the day sharing information he learned from the mainstream press, and lacing it with some of his own opinions. For those who wanted to follow the election via internet, it would amount to a pretty straightforward and up-to-the-minute rundown of results.
In the early afternoon Kos was railing about voting machines. “. . . not only do they damage the integrity of our democracy, but they give losing campaigns an excuse to grandstand . . .”
By early evening, he was sharing what he had learned from trolling the Web, mainly the MSM. Headlined “House Update or “Senate Races Thread followed by a number. The posts were long lists of the called races along with whether it was a pick-up or hold. Within these, Kos linked to separate pages on his blog for key races by region and by house. The race tallies were updated every few minutes throughout the night. Users, though, had to put faith in Kos because these margins appeared with no sourcing information whatsoever.
Some of these were also fairly stream of consciousness. “Woo hoo! Hall wins NY-19” at 9:58 PST, and “MO is looking great, and MT is looking good.”
And there was plenty that was just self-referential. “Say hello to Sen. Claire McCaskill!” And as the day comes to a close, Kos ends with, “I’m seeing double. Literally. Long, long night.”
In the end, it was news, second hand and unattributed, but filtered through the very genuine consciousness of an excited liberal.
Wonkette, the self-styled “D.C. Gossip Page” now edited by Alex Pareene, is often more concerned with offering wit and sarcasm than news. It would set out this day to collect exit poll leaks, word of voter fraud and machine breakdowns. As time wore on, it would become increasingly frustrated they didn’t materialize.
“Send Us Leaked Exit Poll Reports!,” it would call out at 2 p.m. EST “You will see and hear the secret information, and you must send it to Wonkette. Send your info from a Yahoo or Gmail account. You don’t want to get killed!” and then, “We want your best disenfranchisement stories! There’s already to ‘ol name-switching going on, but that’s standard fare by now . . .”
As it waited, Wonkette filled in with comedic headlines: “Don Sherwood Nearly Strangles Voting Machine: Our favorite mistress-strangling Pennsylvania congressman went to his polling place today and, like most old people, had no idea how to cast his vote. . . .”
By early evening, Wonkette, was getting frankly pretty ticked off that no one was leaking it any exit poll data. Well, “You ***** didn’t send us any stolen exit polls. We even went on “Talk of the Nation” with Arrianna to specifically demand exit poll leaks. And what do we get?”
At around 7 p.m., it offered a list of race margins but prefaced it with the qualifier: “We have no ***** idea if this is accurate, our guess is “not very.” And later “In Case You’re Foolish Enough to Check us for ‘Real’ News.”
At 10 p.m., Wonkette managed to find a mistake on the Fox Web site. “FNC [Fox News] just projected that Bob Casey [D] has defeated incumbent George Allen for the Virginia Senate seat. In addition, our sources tell us that Jeb Bush just won reelection to the Senate from North Dakota. They’re drunker ‘en we are!”
Wonkette ended the day with “CBS Relying on Data Way More Accurate Than Exit Polls.” And with photos of two HI winners wearing leis, confirms “The candidate with leis always win. Charlie Cook said that. Also, big gold chains.”
Glenn Reynolds, the conservative Tennessee law professor who manages Instapundit, has a more serious minded agenda than several bloggers monitored. He was invited to the CNN blog party but had had to decline because of family obligations. (CNN supplied him with a “mac-mini-based Webcam” so he could join remotely but technical mishaps at CNN made that impossible.)
Blogging from his own home, Reynolds spent the early afternoon hours letting his readers know where he thought they could go for good, alternative information throughout the night. Pajamas Media has “loads of election coverage,” he posted at 3:05 and at 3:32 p.m., N.Z. Bear “has set up an election results tracking page that very cool,” and “John Fund offers an hour-by-hour guide.”
Thus early on, at least, Instapundit was less a destination than a traffic advisor.
By 5 p.m., Reynolds had posted links to Bill Bradley’s report from Schwarzenegger headquarters, the Wall Street Journal’s round up of the blogs, blogging at U.S. News, reader’s posts, new data at RealClearPolitics, “Malkin on Fox on the blogosphere,” and “a round up of bloggers predictions, from Wizbang.” Reynolds did a little commentary himself, such as the post at 9:05 criticizing Bill Kristol’s diagrams on Fox News, but mostly stuck to his role as information filter.
“No matter who wins tonight, Nick Gillespie tells Richard Miniter that America will probably lose;” he would post around 10 p.m. “Mark Steyn is liveblogging the elections;” “Over at milblogs, Greyhawk is blogging the Iraq-war record of candidates . . .”
Reynolds, incidentally, never was able to make a virtual presence on CNN because of their technical problems. Nor was he able to watch any of Pipeline, and his personal issues with it are part of the post. “I think the problem’s on their end,” he writes.
Just after midnight EST, Reynolds posted Jim Lindgren’s projection of a Webb victory in Virginia and then wrapped up the night with a link to observations on the night from National Review Online blogger John Podhorestz:
On The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan, the iconoclastic self-described conservative this night would offer readers personal insights or juicy tidbits when possible—primarily through reports from mainstream media. But early on, he seemed more interested in sharing his feelings about taking in the day.
He began the afternoon with a long excerpt from Leonard Cohen’s song “Democracy,” (as well as a Utube video of Don Henley singing it) which “captures all my hopes for today.” That was followed at 4:07 P.M. by “The Quote of the Day III” from Thomas Merton’s book, Contemplative Prayer.
Around 7 p.m., Sullivan was linking readers to an exit poll story from ABCNews.com at 6:48 EST and one about the mood of voters from the AP at 6:56. The first race figures come in at 7:03 from the New York Observer’s blog, The Politicker, with the apt qualifier “Early exit polls are the least reliable. But if they pan out, it’s a bloodbath.”
At 8:27: “I Just heard Michael Barone say about Indiana that (from memory): “The Republican turnout machine may have worked very well but some of their voters may not have voted Republican.’ . . Wouldn’t it be heavenly if Karl Rove turned out large numbers of voters who went on to vote Democratic or Independent?”
By 10, Sullivan and other readers celebrated the Santorum defeat with such guest posts as “’Man, Santorum looks like he really needs some meth to throw away’” and “’As much as I loathe Rich Santorum’s positions, it is heartbreaking to watch his teenage son cry behind him curing the concession speech.”’
The Drudge Report
And what of Matt Drudge, the now senior conservative Web source for leaks and rumors, who has the ability to dramatically drive traffic to any site to which he links?
Drudge this night served primarily as a quick reference portal for those who wanted links to stories or sites that would give them information about the day, but he offered nothing that citizens could not have accessed on their own from the mainstream press, and less in the way of links to news than they might have gotten from aggregators.
At 6:30 he posted two links to preliminary exit poll data. At 7 p.m. he linked to CNN and MSNBC projections. At 7:30 there was a good find—Rolling Allen and Webb results with link to the Virginia board of elections to learn more. Unfortunately, though, the link was slow and by 8 pm., perhaps because he was driving so much traffic there, he had to pull it down. After that, he stuck to posting totals from that race, and links to cable.
Beyond that, Drudge linked to the latest AP story from political reporter David Espo, but this was far less than one might have gotten from a site such as Yahoo or Google.
In short, Drudge’s skill at trolling the Web, finding good stuff and linking to it efficiently for people, appears to be pressured on an evening when many sites with more resources and flexibility at creating specialized pages are focused on the same task.
The lone wolf nature of some of these blogs may be at some disadvantage when everyone is looking in the same palace, at the same thing, especially on a night when the official results are the story.
If most blogs are one person’s view of the world, The Huffington Post, a liberal California-based site, is a kind of celebrity election night cocktail party.
The site has two components—a home page of news aggregated from wire services and a separate page of blogs from various contributors.
The news home page—which would open the afternoon with a story about Bush’s legacy, pieces on voting machine problems, predictions by Bob Novak and video linking George Allen’s senate campaign to voter intimidation—remained fairly static throughout the evening. Much of it, such as a link to a blog post about conservative Laura Ingraham telling voters to tie up the Democratic voting help lines—was designed to monitor or embarrass conservatives.
The blog page, filled with contributions from well-known mostly but not exclusively liberal voices, would be a combination of things that ranged from the nasty to the more creative. Much of it seemed marked by haste.
From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., there was little activity. When it did come more to life, at 5:30 EST—earlier than most other blogs—visitors could grab some preliminary Senate exit poll margins, pulled “(With a Grain of Salt)” from swingstateproject.com along with a color-coded map of poll closing times across the country. That was followed by a long post from Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, about Richard Pombo’s re-election campaign for the House seat in Pleasanton, C.A. and the Sierra Club’s efforts there, as well as voting debacles in Ohio and New Mexico. Pope signed off with, “My final plea: Remember your great aunt in Nevada? The one who always means to vote but is a bit forgetful? Give her a call to remind her.”
The heaviest blogging of the night came from animation writer and producer Bob Cesca who wrote in inside lingo that was at times much harsher and personal than anything one might find in the far more polite MSM. At 8:40 p.m. EST he posted, "Let’s Play ‘Find a Job for Katherine Harris.’"
Huffington herself weighed in with “However the night goes, one thing you’re definitely not going to want to miss: Katherine Harris’s concession speech. We predict it will become an instant YouTube classic. . . .”
At 10 p.m., Author Danielle Crittenden, another frequent contributor that night, scripted most posts as memos from Tony Snow to President Bush. Typical were such remarks as “Did someone change the channel up there from Fox to MSNBC? I understand your concern right now (and am sorry it’s past your bedtime!) . . . .”
Huffington’s posts veered wildly with her different personas. Sometimes she sounded like a nasty gossip columnist. “On CNN, the rotund Bill Bennett and the Gaunt James Carville are looking like the political punditry equivalent of Laurel and Hardy – or the Before and After pics of a gastric bypass surgery ad.”
At other times, she was a political insider, such as when she posted about her congratulatory phone conversation with Sherrod Brown. She told him, she reported, “how great it is to have an economic populist who both understands what’s the matter with Kansas and is unambiguously against the war in Iraq. . .”