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Is the Future Bright for Progressive Media?

A new book highlights how progressive media has achieved more influence than ever before. But there's still work to be done.

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Despite the loss, the powerful role of the blogosphere was now getting attention. "Lamont, a millionaire with little political experience, catapulted from anonymity to become a front-running Senate candidate with the help of a new political phenomenon: bloggers," wrote Michael M. Grynbaum for the Boston Globe , on the day of the primary. "Political analysts say that the network of Internet commentators -- some from as far away as California -- channeled voter anger against veteran incumbent Senator Joseph I. Lieberman and his support for the Iraq war into a huge boost for Lamont, drawing national attention to the race. Lamont's strong challenge underscores the blogosphere's emergence as a new political power base, observers say."

The campaign's initial success and the resulting press coverage were both validations and shocks for the FDL crew. "We just weren't ready for prime time. We'd been toiling [on] the edges, not thinking we were having any impact, but because it was the right thing to do . . . and all of a sudden we get shoved out into the mainstream. It was a real adjustment," says Hamsher. "[FDL blogger] Pachacutec compared the blog at the time to kids in the back of the room screaming, being the bad kids and throwing spitballs because nobody was paying any attention to us and that's how we [got] attention. And then all of a sudden, as our influence started to increase, we had to write in such a way that people took us seriously, but not lose the authentic personal voice that made people trust us and want to come and read us in the first place." 

And then came the Libby trial. Before the trial even began, FDL put out a call across multiple blogs in September 2006, hoping to raise $65,000 to help publish Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy by Marcy Wheeler. 

Wheeler had been tirelessly reporting and blogging at both FDL and Daily Kos about the complicity of the mainstream press in the outing of Plame. Hamsher and Markos Moulitsas commissioned Wheeler to turn her blogging and analysis into a book for their newly founded co-venture, Vaster Media. They wanted the book out in time for the start of the Libby trial, only months away. The call for funds raised $29,000.

Firedoglake's coverage of the Libby trial fueled the site's popularity and growth. By 2007, FDL had a team of almost twenty part-time bloggers in addition to Hamsher and Smith. By 2008, it had become known as one of the top progressive blogs in the country. Hamsher claims that in October 2008, they had approximately 4.5 million page views.

One of Hamsher's proudest moments of 2008 came when FDL organized their audience to respond to a story by AP reporter Nedra Pickler, who reported on how Republican operatives were raising questions about Senator Barack Obama's patriotism. Wrote Eric Boehlert in his "Media Matters" column:

What prompted the organized outpouring of angst last week against the AP was when the website Firedoglake took action, embraced a new organizing tool, tapped into a wellspring of enthusiasm for Obama, and pointed angry readers not in the direction of the AP itself, but toward their local newspaper clients. . . . The results, according to FDL, as of March 3: 14,252 letters sent to 649 different newspapers located in all 50 states, and from 1,735 ZIP codes. That included more than 1,500 letters to the New York Times , 1,400 to both USA Today and the Washington Post -- not to mention 52 to the Denver Post and 21 to the Florida Times-Union .