War Stories: The Causes and Consequences of Public Views of War

By Matthew A. Baum; Tim J. Groeling | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 8
Barbarians inside the Gates
PARTISAN NEW MEDIA AND THE POLARIZATION
OF AMERICAN POLITICAL DISCOURSE

IN AUGUST 2007, the FBI asked media organizations in Seattle, Washington, to assist in identifying two men who were seen behaving unusually aboard several ferries in the area. The FBI asked the news outlets to publicize descriptions of the men, including photographs taken by suspicious ferry employees. The Seattle Post- Intelligencer published an article noting the FBI's search, but refused to include either physical descriptions or photographs of the men. This refusal ignited a firestorm of criticism. In response, the paper's managing editor acknowledged the controversy but dismissed its significance, commenting: “I understand that people have a hard time with the concept that we get to decide what is news and what isn't, and what is fair and what isn't” (McCumber 2007).

Less than a decade earlier John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems, famously stated, “What people have not grasped is that the Internet will change everything” (Friedman 1998). While the impact of digital communication on the conduct of twenty- first- century political campaigning and governance became even more evident during the 2008 presidential election, the Internet's impact as a communication medium often seems hidden in plain sight.1 Indeed, many traditional journalists—like the man

1Examples of the former include the literatures on online deliberative democracy (e.g.,
Price and Cappella 2002; Fishkin and Laslett 2003), collective action (e.g., Groeling 1999;
Lupia and Sin 2003; Bimber, Flanagin, and Stahl 2005), online campaigning (e.g., Bimber
and Davis 2003; Hindman 2005; Trammell et al. 2006), and “e- governance” (e.g., Allen
2000; Fountain 2001; Chadwick 2003; Anttiroiko 2004). One area where fundamental
changes are clearly evident is political fundraising, which the Internet does appear to have
revolutionized. In his 2000 primary race against George W. Bush, Senator John McCain
(R- AZ) raised over $2 million in online contributions in the three days following his upset
victory in the New Hampshire primary (Romano 2003). In 2003, Howard Dean shocked
the Democratic field and seized an early lead in the nomination race by raising more than
$3 million online in only three months. In 2008, Barack Obama's campaign shattered fund-
raising records in both the primary and the general election. In the first three months of
2007, he pulled in nearly $25 million, $8 million of which came from online donors (Salant
2008). In the second quarter of 2007, over 100,000 online donors helped Barack Obama
outpace frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton's fundraising by almost $10 million (Wilson
2007). His total fundraising for the entire election was more than $650 million, collected

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