Tuesday, March 11, 2008

David Perlmutter's "Blogwars"

David D. Perlmutter is professor and associate dean for graduate studies and research at the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, University of Kansas.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, Blogwars: The New Political Battleground, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Blogwars catches the action in the middle of one of the most interesting — to me anyway — instances of what I call blogthroughs. These are events that showed the true powers and potentials of interactive media like weblogs and allowed bloggers to nimbly outpace (and even embarrass) so-called "big" media. Some background: earlier in the book, I talked about how blogs have often been accused by traditional media and traditional journalists of being a bunch of hotheaded amateurs screaming at each other. (Think beer-sodden fans in the bleachers yelling advice to pro-baseball players on the field). On Election Day 2004 when bloggers outed exit polls early, allegedly showing John Kerry's imminent victory in the presidential race, the big media backlash was fierce. But I spend part of a chapter (the home of p. 99) showing that blogs were hardly the villains of the great exit poll controversy of 2004. In fact, one particular blog, Mark Blumenthal's mysterypollster was instrumental in explaining the nuances, complexities and limitations of reporting exit polls while voting was still going on. Page 99 picks up when I'm talking about the fact that blogs were simply reporting what was already known commonly during elections to reporters in Washington. Except, this time, the leaks were going to the general public. Blogwars is an investigation of many such blogthroughs, from the Howard Dean campaign through Obama's early rise to prominence and preeminence.

Page 99, Blogwars:

Then there is the open-source argument [about outing exit polls]. Kos himself said that his site was essentially just putting the numbers out there, letting the public see the same thing that politicians and journalistic and academic elites were already being leaked, and that open access was “all that matters.”68 Indeed, around every presidential election, those who know anybody in campaigns or parties can call and ask, “Heard anything from the exit polls?” Now, legally, exit polls are owned by the news organizations that pay for them. But too many people are privy to the incoming results for them to be kept secret until after polls close, although reforms instituted in 2006 almost achieved this goal.* The difference on November 2, 2004, was that blogs existed to “out” leaks to lots of folks who had no acquaintances among the media or political elite. Maybe instead of blaming bloggers for being ignorant about what polling numbers mean, we should do a better job of educating everyone, including CNN commentators, about what polling numbers mean. Plenty of influential bloggers, such as Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, were denying the validity of the exit polls, at least the early ones, and Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds simply refused to publish them. Probably most important, the single wisest statement made about exit polls, which within hours propagated throughout the bloglands, was by a blogger himself, who was anything but an amateur. If you consider the circumstances of his posting — what might be ranked now among the ten or so “posts that shook the world” — he qualifies as a blog hero.

Mark Blumenthal’s Mystery Pollster site was only two months old at the time, but he conscientiously explained to the blog nation that early exit polls are not meaningful and should not cause anyone to gloat…

*The exit polling company in fact kept its staff compilers sequestered and claims that no leaks came from its organization. If that was the case, the leaks came, as they traditionally do, from the news groups receiving the data feed. According to one of the exit poll directors I interviewed: “In 2006 we instituted a ‘quarantine room’ in which only two people from each NEP member (twelve people total) were given restricted access to the early exit poll numbers before 5 p.m. EDT. The people in the ‘Q-room’ were required to give up all means of outside communication — cell phones, BlackBerries. As a result, no leaked data reached the Internet in 2006 until 5:30 p.m., just thirty minutes before the first polls started closing in Kentucky and Indiana.”
Read more about Blogwars at the Oxford University Press website.

Learn more about David Perlmutter and his work at his faculty webpage, at PolicyByBlog, and at the blog of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas, which he edits.

--Marshal Zeringue