Blogs put real-time spin on debate coverage

As voters await Thursday's key presidential debate, Web loggers and e-mail commentators get ready to fire off their perspectives.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jim Hu
covers home broadband services and the Net's portal giants.
Jim Hu
3 min read
Besides the usual fare of major media commentary, bloggers across the political spectrum will be busy posting their views during Thursday night's debate between President Bush and challenger John Kerry.

In fact, more than 20 popular Web loggers plan to assemble at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, to fire off perspectives in real time during the debate. The group, attending the Gnomedex blogging conference, will post commentaries while cross-referencing each others' blog sites through RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, feeds.

RSS lets online publishers automatically send Web content to subscribers, giving readers a powerful tool to compile news on the fly from several sources at once. This is one way to give people real-time perspectives as the candidates present their platforms and issues.

"The fact that we got a handful of (bloggers) in same room, it takes the idea of political blogging to a whole different level," said Chris Pirillo, who runs his own Web log on technology called Lockergnome.com

Pirillo said the participating bloggers represent all points along the political spectrum, and that none of them are affiliated with a campaign.

The gathering at Gnomedex illustrates the growing popularity of blogs and other individual expression on the Web. Political campaigns from both sides have courted bloggers as a way to reach Internet audiences far and wide, while providing a separate voice outside the mainstream media.

In fact, both the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer reserved areas in their press boxes for political bloggers. Campaigns for Bush and Kerry have posted their own blogs as a way to provide news updates and to hammer out the issues surrounding their platforms.

While many bloggers will react to the debate in real time, some online publications plan to take a slower approach in order to expose factual errors from both candidates. FactCheck.org, an offshoot of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, will send its 40,000 e-mail subscribers a list of mistakes and corrections that may have arisen during the debate.

"We will listen for things we know or suspect are bogus, out of context or misleading," said Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org. "We post on our Web site, and then we'll e-mail to those who've asked to get these things."

Both campaigns are making use of e-mail as well. The Bush-Cheney campaign is urging supporters to log on to an e-mail service called "Debate the Facts" that will send out immediate rebuttals against Kerry's talking points.

"Live, during the presidential debate we will set the record straight with text and video, enabling voters to see how Kerry is playing politics with the most important issues facing our nation," the site reads.

The Democrats are taking a less direct approach. E-mails from the Democratic National Committee are asking people to vote in online news polls, to call into radio talk shows, and write to the editors of local papers to commend Kerry's performance.

"We all know what happened in 2000," read a DNC e-mail endorsed by Chairman Terry McAuliffe. "Al Gore won the first debate on the issues, but Republicans stole the post-debate spin. We are not going to let that happen again, and you will play a big role."