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Without Blogs, Where Would The Foley Story Be?

(AP / CBS)
Blogs might not be making traditional news outlets obsolete, but the unfolding scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley has demonstrated that they are playing a pretty significant role in advancing stories. In this case especially, it was a mainstream outlet's blog post that set in motion what is becoming one of the most explosive political sagas of the midterm election season.

While the initial "overly friendly" e-mails between Foley and a former congressional page first appeared on an anonymous blog, stopsexpredators.blogspot.com, ABC News' Brian Ross later reported them not on television, but on his blog at ABCNews.com, The Blotter.

And it was the initial blog post that ended up significantly advancing the story—once it was posted, other former pages contacted Ross and shared several overtly sexual instant messages from Foley that led to his resignation. (More messages continue to surface and be posted on Ross' blog.)

Howard Kurtz reported yesterday that Ross "says the Internet made the story possible, because on Thursday he posted a story on his ABC Web page, the Blotter, after obtaining one milder e-mail that Foley had sent a 16-year-old page, asking for a picture. Within two hours, former pages had e-mailed Ross and provided the salacious messages. The only question then, says Ross, was 'whether this could be authenticated.'"

As several newspaper editors have now attested, they too had the contents of the initial "over-friendly" e-mails. As far as the editors of the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald were concerned, their contents did not warrant a newspaper story.

The New York Times today provides an anatomy of the story, noting that The St. Petersburg Times received its first tip on the e-mail messages late last year and "the editors decided it was 'friendly chit-chat,' with nothing overtly sexual, but nonetheless assigned two reporters to find out more, according to an editor's note."

"The reporters tracked down the teenager, but he refused to let them use his name in a story. They found a second page who had corresponded with Mr. Foley and was willing to let them use his name but said he did not have a problem with the messages, undercutting the premise.

When the newspaper asked Mr. Foley about the messages, he 'insisted he was merely trying to be friendly,' Scott Montgomery, the newspaper's government and politics editor, wrote Saturday in a note to readers."

The editor of The Herald, Tom Fiedler, also said that the initial e-mails didn't warrant a story.
"'We determined after discussion among several senior editors, including myself, that the content of the messages was too ambiguous to lead to a news story,' Mr. Fiedler was quoted in his paper as saying.

Then, in June, the reports resurfaced on Capitol Hill, where a neighborhood resident struck up a conversation in a bar with someone who had provided the e-mail messages. He said he passed them on to several news outlets. The resident, who said he was not affiliated with either party and was motivated by concern for the teenager, would talk only on condition of anonymity.

No one acted on the information until last week, and even then, it was a Web site that first posted the exchange.

The obvious question is whether this story would have advanced at all if it hadn't been posted on a blog, where the editorial bar is clearly lower. The newspaper editors said the initial e-mails didn't warrant a news article. It seems they didn't warrant a story on an ABC News broadcast. But they were fair game for Ross' blog--which ended up generating information from other pages about Foley that was far more incriminating. If this information had come about before networks had news blogs, we might not even be hearing about it. Blogs might not be replacing journalism – but they have certainly changed the rules of the game.
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