Inside Media: Politics and the Internet

October 19, 2008

Guest: Jose Antonio Vargas

Over the summer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas got an exclusive look inside Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters while researching "Triple O,' short for Obama’s online operation. A plum assignment for most reporters — it’s all in a day’s work for Vargas.

For two years, he has covered the convergence of the Internet and politics for The Washington Post. Aside from learning how the Obama camp uses the Web to communicate to voters, Vargas spent two weeks "trying to figure out who really edits Wikipedia.' He even scored an interview with Phillip de Vellis, who created the infamous YouTube ad portraying Sen. Hillary Clinton as a personal computer and Obama as a Mac.

The Web, according to Vargas, is rich with information about the 2008 election.
"If you want to find out what John McCain or Obama’s stance is on any given issue, go online and drown in the information. If you really want to figure out what’s true and what’s not, Google it,' he said.

Within the last year the Internet has driven much of the political coverage — some of it good, bad and hilarious.

Vargas noted that the video in which Rev. Jeremiah Wright condemns America hit the Web and then landed "all over cable news.' In addition, Obama’s 37-minute speech on race remains the most viewed YouTube video posted by a candidate. Actress and comedian Tina Fey’s impersonations of Gov. Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live' have also become a real hit.

"On nbcnews.com alone, the Fey/Palin videos have been viewed 12 million times,' Vargas added.

While it appears the Web is outpacing television as the source for news and information, Vargas said, "The press as we know it has been governed by images and sound bites. I think we’re transitioning away from the era of sound bites, but is it a good thing?'

He added, "I think the more information, the better.'

"The way we interact with news has fundamentally changed,' Vargas said. "People want to talk back. People want to feel as if they’re represented.'

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