Navigating The Blogosphere This Election Season This week, the Web has lit up with reports and rumors about Republican vice presidential pick Sarah Palin's family. But how can you separate fact from biased fiction online? NPR's Tony Cox talks with a special group of bloggers: Shay Riley, Richard Ivory, and Lenny McAllister.
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Navigating The Blogosphere This Election Season

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Navigating The Blogosphere This Election Season

Navigating The Blogosphere This Election Season

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TONY COX, host:

Now on to our Bloggers' Roundtable. The Republican National Convention is well underway, as we know. Last night, the Republicans touted John McCain's military record and threw their support behind Governor Sarah Palin. For more on the action in the Twin Cities, we now have Shay Riley of the blog Booker Rising, Richard Ivory, founder of the blog Hip-Hop Republican, and Lenny McAllister, political contributor for Fox News Rising. He also blogs at Hip-Hop Republican and The Root. Welcome everybody to News & Notes.

Ms. SHAY RILEY (Blogger, Booker Rising): Hello.

Mr. RICHARD IVORY (Blogger, Hip-Hop Republican): Hello, it's good to be here.

Mr. LENNY MCALLISTER (Blogger, Hip-Hop Republican & The Root): Good afternoon.

COX: Nice to have you. We're - the blogosphere has been really crazy this week, and everybody is talking about it both in positive as well as negative terms, particularly as it relates to Sarah Palin. There does not seem to be much middle ground on the opinions of her. People either hate her or love her, and many have begun to express their feelings via the Internet with reports like these two that we're about to play for you from CNN. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of CNN Report)

Unidentified Woman: I have never been this excited about politics in my life. I'm so pleased that John McCain has asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Not only does this lock in Hillary Clinton's supporters, but we now have our foot in the door of Alaska and drilling. Many people don't think that this has helped him, but John McCain has made a great decision.

Unidentified Man: Shame on you, John McCain. No, not for choosing a woman, but for thinking America is stupid. It's pretty clear that this is nothing more than a political game. All this is is a gimmick. John McCain wants to take disenfranchised Clinton voters and bring them to his side, because he wants them to think one woman is as good as the next.

COX: Setting aside the content of what they say, Lenny, it seems as if the Internet, the blogosphere, has particularly been energized as this as evidenced of the high number of responses that are pouring in.

Mr. MCALLISTER: Yes it has. And part of that is because Sarah Palin is a younger politician. She's new on the scene, she's done some things that have been - have reformed the Alaskan government and the Alaskan political landscape. She is somebody that relates to the technology era. She's somebody that would probably blog herself if she wasn't running a state. Therefore, younger bloggers, people between 20 and 45, can relate to her. And subsequently, either defend her vehemently or rail on her vehemently.

COX: You know, Shay, I'm wondering whether or not the Republicans, or Democrats for that matter, could have anticipated that the issue over motherhood and sex and abstinence and contraception and family values could have been the hot button issue on the Internet that it seems to be turning out to be?

Ms. RILEY: I don't think either party anticipated that at all. You know, I think people were expecting a more traditional vice-presidential pick, or at least someone with a higher national profile. So you know, everybody was kind of taken aback. But I think that the Sarah Palin pick, you know, has the potential to be a game changing pick, you know, particularly for swing voters such as myself. You know, because we don't know much about her, but she intrigues us in different ways. So it'll just be interesting to see what she says tonight as well.

COX: Now you're all bloggers, so let me ask each of you, beginning with you, Richard, to get information about Sarah Palin, where do you go? And I don't mean the specific sites, but do you go primarily to the Web? Do you read newspapers? Do you watch television? Listen to the radio? Where are you getting the bulk of your information about her?

Mr. IVORY: Well, when I first started to do some research on her, I went to Wikipedia. And also I also go to liberal blogs and occasionally some Republican blogs. But I try to go to liberal blogs because they will tend to give you the information that I think more conservative blogs will not give you. So to just basically have more of a balanced view of who she is, I try to - usually go to Wikipedia, I usually go to a couple of other biography, like to the Alaska, we go to the state website and just try to figure out who she is, where she's from, a little bit about her background.

COX: So every place you go you do exclusively on the Net?

Mr. IVORY: Exclusively on the Net, yes.

COX: What about you, Lenny?

Mr. MCALLISTER: I hit every resource I possibly can. But what I do is, per resource, I know there's a certain filter that I have to apply. For example, if I'm going to look at one network versus another, one may lean more left, one may lean more right. One newspaper may lean more left, may lean more right. That gives me the different perspectives that are out there that allows me to make my own decision.

You talk to some people about, for example, the issue with her teenage pregnancy, and to some - to me, for example, this is going to be something that allows her to connect to a portion of America that's struggling with these type of issues. Another segment of America thinks that she's a - it's a shame that she's running for the vice presidency while this is going on. But to hear both sides helps me create my own opinion using my life experiences and their opinions to come to something that's solid.

COX: Shay Riley, do you think that the Internet is driving the discussion about this and everyone else is reacting to it?

Ms. RILEY: Oh, definitely, in terms of the photos that have come out, you know, featuring Bristol Palin drinking, the issues of whether or not she was previously pregnant last year, you know, all of the different stories and innuendo that are going around. I would say definitely the web is driving a lot of this. And I think that was why Governor Palin felt the need to come forward about it just days after her VP announcement, was because of what was going on in the blogosphere.

COX: How much concern do you have - and we're going to continue this after we take a break. But I want to just broach the subject with you first. How much concern do you have about the information that you read on the Internet in terms of whether or not it's accurate, or whether or not it is part of a larger political agenda? Really briefly, Richard, what's your initial thought when you see things?

Mr. IVORY: Well, initially when I see anything on the Internet, there's always caution and suspicion. I think that over time, though, usually those things are shown to be false or inaccurate. So while there's an initial hesitancy to put that information up or to promote it, usually what I do is I wait a little bit and I watch to see how accurate it is before I do put it on the site.

COX: Well the other two of you who are joining the conversation with us, hold on, I'm going to come back. We want to talk about this more, because it's really at the heart of the issue. We'll be back right after this break.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: This is News & Notes, I'm Tony Cox. We're back with our Bloggers' Roundtable. Joining me, Shay Riley of the blog Booker Rising, Richard Ivory, founder of the blog Hip-Hop Republican, and Lenny McAllister, who is a contributor to Hip-Hop Republican and The Root.

OK, we were talking before the break about trying to find out how accurate and the veracity of things that are said on the Net. Let me come to you, Shay, because journalists generally try to find, or are expected to find, three independent sources before they can publish or put something out for the general consumption. On the Web, there seems to be no rules whatsoever. So how do you determine if something is real, is accurate and is worth repeating in your blog?

Ms. RILEY: Well, first of all, I would probably take issue with some of the tenets of modern journalism, you know, that presumes objectivity, because I would argue that in a lot of media today, there's a lot of subjectivity that's, you know, that's posing as objectivity. A lot of editorial content posing as news.

But besides that point, you know, I prefer things to be up front. So I like, you know, people who just put their biases up front. So that's much pretty much what I look for. And then along with that, do they have the statistics and the background information to back up their argument? So that's pretty much what I look for, more so than the traditional get your three sources.

COX: So someone says something on a blog that you read about Sarah Palin or Barack Obama, to that extent. If it sounds right to you, you don't go beyond that to go to other sources to sort of verify it or to cross-check it?

Ms. RILEY: Well, no, I mean, as I said, the person has to have, you know, background statistics and other argumentation to back up their argument. They just can't make up a wild claim, you know, in my mind. And, you know, without any backup, you know, statistics. And I do look at a broad range of news and blogs, although I'd look exclusively online to get that balance.

COX: Well let me pursue that with you just a little bit fartherm, if I may. And that's, if someone puts a statistic in a story and they cite the source for the statistic, is that satisfactory do you think for you as a blogger, or do you need to go and verify from another source that number or that statistic?

Ms. RILEY: Oh no, I actually go to the actual original source of the statistic. So if it's a Gallup poll, I'll go to the Gallup website to, you know, to verify that. Or if it's, you know, an AP poll or what have you.

COX: All right, that's the question that I was asking. Lenny, how much of a problem is this on the blog in terms of just plain old bad information being put out there and then exponentially distributed globally by people who really don't care about whether or not it's accurate?

Mr. MCALLISTER: It depends on the arena. For example, we've been discussing politics, and everybody for the most part has an opinion and has an angle. So when you're going to a political blog, you pretty much know - and Shay touched on this previously - where a person's biases and their allegiances lie. So from there you're always going to have that filter to look through. You can start piecing together where they're trying to go. And if you're a regular reader of the blog, you also have an understanding as to where the bread crumbs have been leading to for a while.

So even the application of statistics, while accurate, may be misapplied. But if you're able to see the biases, you're able to understand, well, this is the argument he's trying to make, and then from there you can take the next step to say, this is accurate or this is inaccurate, it's misapplied or oh, that makes a lot of sense.

The thing that I enjoy about the blogosphere, both contributing and reading, is more often than not, that bias is put up front. The more emotional the writer is, the easier it is to see that. And when you start getting into the gray area is where you start finding where mainstream media starts blending into the blogosphere, where there's subjectivity there, but there's enough objectivity where you don't see the difference as clearly.

COX: They're a little bit more professional at obfuscating the facts, is what you're saying.

Mr. MCALLISTER: Exactly.

COX: All right. Let me shift the gears a little bit to ask you this. Barack Obama made great use of the Internet to raise money and to build his base. The Republicans have started to use it as well. Who do you think is using it the most effectively so far, Richard?

Mr. IVORY: Well, I mean, all hands down, it's Barack Obama. His social networking applications in his website, his ability to bring on the Google people, I think, early on in this campaign was phenomenal. And in many ways, the best measurement of this is to take a look at the McCain website now, and you'll see that some of the applications that he's put onto the site, for instance, McCain Space was launched two weeks ago. And that is somewhat very similar to some of the applications that you see - social networking applications that you see in the Barack Obama website. So what you're seeing is that McCain is actually responding to some of the things that Barack has done. So in many ways, that's proof that Barack Obama definitely has a better impact in that particular area.

COX: In what ways, Shay Riley, would you say that the web is not being used as effectively as it might be, by either the Republicans or the Democrats?

Ms. RILEY: That's a good question. You know, I think that both candidates could use more of the chat aspect. I mean, where regular citizens, so to speak, could, you know, ask them questions and they respond in real-time to those questions. I haven't seen that at all, actually. I think that would be a key application that they could do, where they go directly to, you know, voters, as apposed to having that middle man factor, which is the media.

COX: I got about 15 seconds for you, Lenny, to give your thoughts on that same question.

Mr. MCALLISTER: I think Shay has it very much on point. Both campaigns have surrogate speakers, why couldn't a surrogate speaker jump on the web, be in a chat room, be available for a certain amount of time, and then you can have guest appearances by each candidate to do the same. Then they could take it to the media and make a big deal out of it. It would reach out, and it would replace knocking door-to-door in the election cycle.

COX: Thank you very much. It was an enlightening conversation, I'm sure, for the audience. Shay Riley blogs at her site, Booker Rising. Richard Ivory is the founder of the blog Hip-Hop Republican, and Lenny McAllister is a political contributor for Fox News Rising, and blogs for Hip-Hop Republican and the Root. They spoke with us from our NPR special convention studios in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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