Political blogs have been getting a bad rap in newspapers for years, but they're rapidly coming of age and they're already making an impact in campaigns throughout Illinois this year.
Take Peoria, for example, which probably has more political bloggers per capita than anywhere else in the state.
Peoria's daily newspaper has had an annoying habit over the years of only publicizing positive stories about one of its favorite local politicians, state Representative Aaron Schock. The paper's coverage has bordered on the nauseating, and it continued even after Schock decided to run for United State Congress.
In his official congressional announcement speech, Schock proposed selling nuclear missiles to Taiwan if China refused to cooperate with US efforts to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb. Amazingly enough, that proposal wasn't covered at all in Peoria until after a Springfield reporter, Bernie Schoenburg, happened to read Schock's announcement.
The Peoria paper continued to gloss over the story, but local and statewide bloggers quickly jumped into the fray, discovering, for instance, that the missiles Schock wanted to sell Taiwan were all destroyed years ago because of a treaty signed by Schock's professed conservative hero, former President Ronald Reagan.
While Schock refused to back down, bloggers kept digging. They found that Schock had voted against a bill in the state Legislature to put economic pressure on Iran's energy business - the driving force behind Iran's nuclear ambitions - through state pension fund divestment, even though Schock voted for a similar divestment bill for Sudan.
Larry Handlin at ArchPundit.com pointed out that Schock's nuke idea would violate international law. A commenter at my blog noted that Schock's proposal was scarily similar to the Soviet Union's attempt to put nukes in Cuba (which very nearly triggered a nuclear holocaust). Billy Dennis, who led the charge on Schock at his Peoria Pundit blog, discovered that the Chinese government had helped Schock pay for a trip to that country a few years ago.
It wasn't until Schock abandoned his goofy proposal that the Peoria paper finally acknowledged almost all of the concerns raised by the bloggers.
Blogs are having a different impact in Congressman Dan Lipinski's district. Lipinski is a conservative Democrat whose father, former Congressman Bill Lipinski, engineered an unconscionable free ride to Washington, DC for his kid, who hadn't even lived in Illinois for years.
Lipinski has strong opposition from Mark Pera in the upcoming Democratic primary. Pera's cause is being championed by liberal Democratic blogs all over the country, so every local story that trashes Lipinski is put in front of hundreds of thousands of eyeballs that otherwise wouldn't see them. As a result, Daily Southtown columnist Kristen McQueary now has a whole lot more fans than she did before the campaign season began. That coverage, in turn, has raised big campaign bucks for Pera when highlighted by the national blogs.
Congressional campaigns aren't the only races being impacted by blogs. A blogger in Lake County ("Team America") was the first to report concerns about state Sen. Terry Link's nominating petitions. Apparently, a couple of dead people "signed" the petitions, as did one of Link's former Republican opponents. Oops. The seriousness of the situation was overstated, but the local media picked up the story almost right away.
Bloggers in Illinois and even nationally are expressing interest in Daniel Biss' campaign for the Illinois House. Biss faces an uphill race in a district represented by popular Republican incumbent state Rep. Beth Coulson, but he's raising a ton of cash because he has paid so much attention to online media.
Quite a few Chicago bloggers have been aggressively advocating for a financial bailout of the Chicago Transit Authority. Much of their reporting and analysis has been far superior to anything produced by the "mainstream" Chicago media.
Some newspapers have gotten into the act. Lynn Sweet's blog at the Chicago Sun-Times is a treasurer trove of information about the presidential campaign that you won't find in the paper. Even the Chicago Tribune has bloggers now, and they're not doing a bad job.
Nobody really knows where this is all leading, but it's obvious that if you want to know "the rest of the story" about any issue, big or small, you have to go online.
Come over to my blog this week (thecapitolfaxblog.com) and I'll show you the links to all the blogs mentioned above, and more.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.