The Internet and the Political Process: 16 Years Later
NEWS ANALYSIS: Sixteen years after I wrote the first book on the Internet and politics, I went back for a look at how things have changed. I wasn't encouraged.During the thick of the 1996 presidential campaign, I followed the candidates and their communications staffs around the country reporting on their use of the then-nascent World Wide Web. I also followed smaller campaigns and the activities of pressure groups. I reported for a different publication in those days, but my efforts eventually resulted in a book, Politics on the Nets that described how political groups, especially the major candidates and parties, were taking advantage of the Internet. What I found then was that groups that didn't have a lot of money had great Websites. I also found that a few groups and parties from all parts of the political spectrum were reaping the benefits of this new medium. Particularly notable were Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who was in a tough re-election battle, and the National Rifle Association, which was trying to get its message out despite a news media culture that it perceived was against it. The groups that either had plenty of money, or didn't feel threatened, really didn't bother. Then-President Bill Clinton had a static Web page that was nearly as boring as mine.
Since that time, the Web has become a major medium that can't be ignored, and it isn't. President Barack Obama has an attractive Website that has a lot to look at (if you scroll down far enough), a lot of cool Java features and a place to donate money, which has become ubiquitous these days. On the other hand, former Massachusetts governor and Republican nominee Mitt Romney has an attractive Website that has a lot to look at (if you click on the right buttons), cool Java features and a place to donate money. Both are mostly red, white and blue.