Transcript: Internet Influence on 2004 Campaigns

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 31, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

GREGG JARRETT: Howard Dean's support grew and exploded through the Internet. Other candidates and even the president are catching on with Web logs, blogs for short.

Joining me now from Boston to talk about the influence of blogs on campaigns, Christopher Lydon (search) of the Web site And the question is, how has the Internet changed politics? And what say you about it?

CHRISTOPHER LYDON, BOPNEWS.COM: Gregg, I think it's a complete and for the most part, enormously healthy change. I think it's turned politics inside out or maybe right side up.

Where should we start listing it? It has lifted the cloud of money, first of all, that has to be said. Howard Dean (search) is raising something like $30 million so far from something like 300,000 people, average $100 per. It's 10 times the normal number that contribute to a presidential campaign. None of them are owed anything. It's a much bigger reform than McCain-Feingold (search), in my opinion, as a practical measure.

Secondly, I think it's restored optimism to American politics, which always, as Ronald Reagan will tell you, drives winning campaigns. It has restored the individual citizen voice, plain folk who are engaging in this thing.

I think we have to say it has virtually nominated Howard Dean past the sort of Senate show horses... oddly enough, Wesley Clark (search) was the strongest as a candidate when it was only the bloggers drafting him. The professionals arriving, the Clinton imprint were setbacks to Wesley Clark.

JARRETT: Some people, though, Chris — let me stop you there — say it is a bit of a myth. Let me quote the story, I am sure you saw it, in USA Today, a couple of days ago.

LYDON: Yes, I did.

JARRETT: Here is what they said, “They call themselves bloggers. Their mission: to remake political journalism and, quite possible, democracy itself. The plan: to run an end around big media by becoming publishers on the Internet."

But the fact of the matter is, Chris, bloggers really have a small audience compared to conventional media, don't they? So it's really only a fraction of what is out there? The evening television broadcasts, ABC, CBS, NBC, still exceed 30 million viewers. Even The New York Times exceeds ...

LYDON: And way down, Greg, as you know, they're shrinking, they're shrinking in energy. They're shrinking in credibility, they're not the right demographic.

You know, I an not going to tell FOX about what makes sizzle on the air, but the snap and the crackle in the news business... I've been in it and watching it for a long time, is in that blogosphere. People speaking in their own voices is a very big difference. There is an amateurishness, yes, about it.

JARRETT: Well, there's a lot of gossip, Chris. It is ideologically driven in many cases.

LYDON: No, I wouldn't say that.

JARRETT: You don't think so.

LYDON: No, I don't think so.

JARRETT: I don't see fair and balanced blogs out there.

LYDON: It's not left-right, Gregg. It's about space. It's about the First Amendment. It's about a kind of old American exercise of speaking in your own voice. I feel the spirit. I am always saying of Ralph Waldo Emerson (search), born 200 years ago, Mr. Self-reliant, Mr. TrustTheySelf, speak in your own voice, follow the gleam in your own mind. That has a power that commercial media cannot ever have.

JARRETT: But, Chris, there are too many blogs out there. How do you sort it all through? There are millions of blogs, right?

LYDON: There are millions, but the beauty of it, Gregg, is that they sort themselves in a certain way. It's a word of mouth. This is hot. And the other point about blogs besides giving individual voice to people is that they link.

So I see what you have written and I say, “That is interesting” and I pass it on to my jury, in effect. They pass it on to theirs. It makes its own hierarchy. In a certain sense, it's an almost guaranteed process in which cream rises to the top. Interesting stuff gets attention. It is not driven by celebrity. It is not driven by commerce. It's driven by — I mean, let's be straight. It's driven by ideas and the power of language.

JARRETT: Christopher Lydon, you have given us a lot to think about and we appreciate your ideas. I'm afraid we're out of time. Thanks for being with us.

LYDON: Thank you, Gregg.

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