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The New Web Slingers
Politcal bloggers scoop the mainstream media on Plamegate
By TIM DICKINSON, RollingStone
Clearly, it was the wrong moment to declare war on the blogosphere. Barely a week before the New York Times went public with its baffling account of ex-star reporter Judith Miller's unholy entanglement with vice-presidential aide "Scooter" Libby, the paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, proclaimed that Weblogs do nothing more than "recycle and chew on the news." Pride, as ever, goeth before the fall.
Caught flat-footed on the CIA-leak story, the Times saw its lunch handed to it by the new blogging elite. Leading the charge were the upstart gumshoes of RawStory.com, the pundits of the Huffington Post and a rear guard of Internet editorialists, all taking the Gray Lady to task for failing to practice the very "journalism of verification" that Keller claimed set the Times apart.
Bloggers now routinely break the major stories of the day. And their reports are getting sucked into the twenty-four-hour news cycle. "They're looking for scraps, rumors," says MSNBC Countdown host Keith Olbermann. "They'll spend hours that I don't have to go digging." According to John Byrne, the twenty-four-year-old whiz behind the Raw Story, "Bloggers go where the mainstream media fears to tread."
Here is a roundup of the bloggers who've led the media pack on Plamegate.
The Raw Story
"Drudge makes shit up. We make every effort not to make shit up," says RawStory.com's Byrne. An Oberlin grad who launched Raw Story to escape the drudgery of freelancing for The Boston Globe, Byrne took a job at his father's medical office to support his blog ambition. Having founded two alternative pubs in college, Byrne runs his site on a tight budget: "We spend $250 a month -- it's incredibly cheap."
Hoping to establish a counterweight to the conservatism of the Drudge Report, Byrne started Raw Story in February 2004. The site is now breaking news the old-fashioned way -- with paid reporters. The investment has yielded a pack of Plamegate exclusives: Raw Story was first to report that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was seeking to indict Libby for obstruction of justice and that Fitzgerald had "flipped" two vice-presidential aides to cooperate.
"People talk to us because we're not the mainstream," Byrne says. "Sources who haven't been treated well by, say, The Washington Post -- they come to us." Readers, too, are tuning in, at up to 500,000 a day.
The Washington Note
"I used to be a Democrat, and then I was a Republican," says Steve Clemons. "Now I don't like either party -- they're structurally corrupt." Most bloggers parrot Beltway buzz. Clemons has his own primary sources -- at the top of the Washington food chain.
A former director of the Nixon Center who also once advised Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., on foreign policy, Clemons is today a senior fellow of the "radically centrist" New America Foundation. But having worked both sides of the aisle, and having organized one-of-a-kind D.C. conferences -- like one in which he brought "everybody from Madeleine Albright to John Ashcroft to George Soros to Tom Clancy" together in the same room -- Clemons has a peerless network of sources who dish to him regularly.
As a result, TWN scooped everyone on the number of Fitzgerald's indictments. But true to form, that wasn't even Clemons' biggest coup of the week. That would be coaxing Colin Powell's ex-chief of staff Larry Wilkerson into speaking out against the Cheney-Rumsfeld "cabal."
The Huffington Post
Founded in May as an online soapbox for the leading lights of the left -- from Cindy Sheehan to Larry David -- HuffingtonPost.com scored big when Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC's senior political analyst, unmasked Karl Rove as Time magazine's super-secret source on the site. But the blogger who's truly made HufPo a must-read is its founder: populist pundit Arianna Huffington.
Huffington's unflinching commentaries forced the media -- including the Times -- to rewrite their Miller story line. "When I started blogging about her," she says, "there was a consensus: Judy Miller was a hero, a martyr who went to jail to protect the First Amendment." Huffington wasn't buying. A hiking trip with Miller in 2002 convinced her that the reporter was a "true believer" in the Bush agenda who'd "traded in her press pass for an all-access pass."
Fed juicy details by disgruntled Times staffers, Huffington not only opined, she broke news -- of John Bolton's jail-cell visit and Miller's (still-contested) million-dollar book deal. By lavishing her acid wit on "Miss Run Amok" and the Times execs who failed to rein in her deeply compromised WMD reporting, Huffington reframed Miller's jail time not as a noble act but as a self-serving PR stunt. Today, Miller is a pariah, and even Bill Keller is calling her a liar.