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How Obama Won: The Rise of Web 2.0

In election '08, the ascendance of new media changed the rules of the game and smoothed Obama's path to victory.

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"What's different this year is that the entire political and media establishment has finally woken up to the fact that the internet is now a major player in the world of politics and our democracy," said Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of the TechPresident blog and annual Personal Democracy Forum. "We are watching a conversion of our politics from the 20th century to the 21st."

How did sites with names like Politico and FiveThirtyEight and Eschaton and Crooks and Liars and AlterNet collectively come to rival the three television networks in influence, even if partly by influencing the networks themselves? It's been more than thirty-five years since "The Boys on the Bus" were anointed and celebrated. Now Huffington Post's "Off the Bus" site often made headlines with on-the-scene bulletins and audio/video snippets from some 3000 contributors. It was there that Mayhill Fowler's two major scoops in the campaign were posted.

Defending her second one -- on Bill Clinton's "sleazy" attack on Todd Purdum of Vanity Fair captured along a rope line in South Dakota -- Jay Rosen, who runs that section of the Huff Post site, said, "Professional reporters are going to have to decide whether they want to view citizen journalists as unfair competition, which is one option, or as extending the news net to places that pro reporters can't, won't or don't go, which is another -- and I think a better -- way to look at it."

I would argue that videos featuring Bill, not Hillary, Clinton led to the true turning point in the primary race, when on three separate occasions he was caught making what some took to be "racial" remarks and/or losing his temper with voters or reporters -- all in informal settings captured by amateurs or small town reporters and then beamed to millions. Countless Democrats, and particularly African-Americans, who had always revered the Clintons, switched to Obama in the space of a week or two. Even if they still liked Hill they did not want another four or eight years of Bill. Obama won eleven primaries in a row and the race was all but over.

Early in the final Obama-McCain showdown, the number one campaign charge from the Democrats was that the Republican wanted to stay in Iraq "for 100 years." What was the source for this? An amateur video of McCain making a remark to that effect at a small campaign gathering months earlier, spread widely on the Web -- in the usual fashion, first by liberal bloggers, then by the Obama campaign itself. Soon it turned up frequently on network and cable TV shows and even in Democratic commercials.

From the GOP side, Rev. Wright's Greatest YouTube Hits perhaps peaked too early, quickly grew stale and were not utilized widely in the fall until the final days of the campaign . Some Republicans lamented that McCain was getting killed on the Web -- and he didn't help his image any when he admitted that he was still an internet neophyte. In June, when Obama passed the magic barrier of one million Facebook friends -- a measure that didn't exist four years ago -- it was noted that McCain only had 150,000.

And we haven't even mentioned Obama Girl.

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In the autumn, the turning point for the entire campaign might have come when McCain's gamble, picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, was undermined by the CBS interview with her by Katie Couric and the Saturday Night Live parodies starring Tina Fey. Yes, they were generated in the mainstream but they gained tens of millions of additional viewers online in the days that followed.

 
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