Political Internet Sites Weave Tangled Web for Media Proliferation of Web Pages on Candidates Raises Ethical, Accountability
Scott Baldauf , writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Like an internet paparazzo, the man who calls himself "Jerry Politex" knows just about everything there is to know about Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
His Bush Watch Web site gathers every article ever written about the governor, from a 1967 engagement announcement to a trove of investigative pieces into Mr. Bush's business dealings. And while he doesn't make a penny for his effort, Politex gets referrals to his Web site from high places, like The New York Times and the Internet company, Yahoo!
All of this, of course, could be very bad news for Governor Bush. After all, if the affable Texas governor does decide to seek the presidency, he will have a tireless foe determined to find - and publish - his every flaw. "What I'm interested in is finding a reader who might take the information that I have and run with it," says Politex (who takes on the pseudonym to protect his, unknown, day job.) As for gathering stories, "right now I do it all by hand. That's how I walk my beat." To some, Politex might seem to be a harmless cyber-crank. But with more than 40 percent of American adults - including most journalists - using the Internet to gather information, Web sites like his Bush Watch are already changing the tone and tempo of coverage for the 2000 presidential campaign. Their proliferation is raising new questions of accuracy and accountability in newsrooms across the country and altering how campaign officials disseminate information. Journalists who grew accustomed to knowing news before their audience did now find themselves scooped on the Web. And campaign officials, who once dealt with a small pack of traditional reporters, now find they must update their methods and embrace technology or perish. "The penetration of the Internet in the market is so high, I think it's reaching a critical mass, and it's going to be a political weapon in the next election campaign," says Rosental Alves, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. "It makes available a volume of information that we have never seen before." Ethics of what to use In many ways, the 2000 election will offer the most critical test yet of how media outlets deal with the plethora of information in cyberspace - and the ethical questions that arise from it. Today, every major campaign, Democratic and Republican, has set up a Web site, complete with past speeches, future campaign stops, and chat rooms where supporters can offer feedback. In fact, Republican Steve Forbes made a bit of history by announcing his presidential candidacy during an Internet press conference. But the very nature of the Web is that it belongs to no establishment, and for every official site, there are dozens that exist to analyze - and criticize - the leading candidates. In Nashua, N.H., radio talk show host Todd Feinburg has created a site called Attitude@nh. …