- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mayhill Fowler is no longer an unknown California blogger. In the past 48 hours, she has generated international press coverage, a profile in the New York Times and sparked furious discussion among journalists, pundits and campaign strategists.

The enterprising Mrs. Fowler, 61, and her digital recording device are behind “Bittergate.”

She first reported Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s unflattering remarks about small-town folks after recording his speech during a San Francisco fundraiser April 6, then posted both transcript and audio four days later to Off the Bus, a free citizen-journalist Web site published by the Huffington Post.

“This situation clearly illuminates the fact that in the citizen blogger, amateur journalism world, the rules that govern the relationship between traditional journalists and their sources are not present. A traditional newsroom would not have allowed someone who was a campaign donor to cover that candidate,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“Mayhill Fowler had access to that fundraiser because they thought she was a supporter, not a journalist. This situation suggests that people who care about blogging and its accuracy and credibility need to think about the rules that define the line between citizen and journalist,” he said.

Mrs. Fowler, an Obama donor invited to the reporter-free fundraiser, has been both lauded for her chutzpah and condemned for substandard ethics by online peers and mainstream press alike. She says she did not hide her recorder.

“I can’t believe I would be one of the people who’s changing the world of media,” she told the Times.

Blogger busts — an online exclusive amplified in big media with serious repercussions — have emerged as an increasing threat to unwary public figures and a cautionary tale.

Trent Lott, at the time a Republican senator from Mississippi, resigned as Senate majority leader in 2002 after racially charged remarks he made at a 100th birthday party for a fellow lawmaker were reported by bloggers. In 2005, Eason Jordan, then CNN’s chief news executive, was snared by online scribes who reported his comment that American troops might have deliberately targeted journalists, made during a world financial summit in Davos, Switzerland. He resigned two weeks later.

Veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather also resigned that year after bloggers revealed he used falsified documents in a story claiming President Bush compromised his Vietnam-era military service.

For his part, Mr. Obama tossed out a comment about the current status of blue-collar people, noting, “It’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

In the aftermath, the now infamous “bitter” moment inspired hundreds of print, broadcast and online spinoffs, most of which did not credit Mrs. Fowler. The campaigns of both Democratic candidates for president traded potshots and campaign ads, all hoping to showcase the Illinois senator or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York as champions of everyday Americans. But in the aftermath, a new Gallup poll yesterday revealed that “Bittergate” itself might not resonate with those Americans.

“Obama’s support has yet to suffer following his widely reported remarks about small-town voters being ‘bitter,’ ” the survey said, revealing that Mr. Obama’s popularity remained at 51 percent both before and after the public heard about the remarks.

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