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Live-Blogging the Debates

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It was just before 8:25 P.M. on January 22, 2007, when the rhetoric at the Cow Palace in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina took a nasty turn.  Competing Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama traded barbs in one of the most adversarial exchanges of their respective campaigns, a vituperative back and forth that exposed a mutual contempt the two front-runners had yet to reveal. 

The feud, which commenced with Clinton’s criticism of Obama’s recent description of Ronald Reagan as a “transformative” figure, quickly unraveled into cheap shot after cheap shot.  Mr. Obama declared that while he was working as a community organizer, Mrs. Clinton “was a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart.”

Clinton responded by alleging that Obama had formerly been legal counsel to “slumlord” Antoin Rezko, a Chicago businessman who recently pleaded not guilty to federal influence-peddling and bank fraud charges.

In an electoral cycle that had been mostly free of malicious rhetoric, such mudslinging was obvious fodder for the upcoming news cycle.  But, before the debate had ended, political pundits, media analysts, and everyday Joe’s were already weighing in on the exchange.

By 8:30 P.M—five minutes after the spat—New York Times writer Katharine Q. Seelye had already described the incident in depth on the Times’ political blog, the Caucus, in an entry entitled, “It’s On.”

“Mr. Obama is REALLY irritated about ‘a set of assertions made by Senator Clinton as well as her husband that are not factually accurate,’ ” Seelye wrote, adding “This whole thing suddenly spins out of control.  This is a slugfest that is spiraling downward.”

Simultaneously, the snarky DC- Gossip blog, Wonkette , was also marveling at the rabid exchange that had just taken place, in its live blog entitled, “The Palmetto Shuffle II”

This is actually hilarious. People are hooting and hollering, there are catcalls, Barry and Hillary are snarling and yelling at each other, nobody even knows what the f*ck they’re talking about, but it’s hilarious,” commented columnist Ken Layne.

Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin had a much terser evaluation of the exchange. “I think Hillary’s head is going to explode,” she wrote in her live-blog.

In addition to the analysis by the respective columnists, hundreds of readers spouted off their views on the debate while the action was still unfolding on comment threads.  During the debate, the New York Times live-blog generated 552 comments, while Wonkette and Michelle generated 253 and 293 comments respectively.

A recent byproduct of the success of social media in political discourse, the live-blog has become a ubiquitous feature of debate coverage. Although most political events are conducive to live-blogging—Malakin recently live-blogged a day and a half Senate debate, which she entitled “Senate Sleep-Over”—the debates, with their constant stream of political rhetoric, may be the best suited event for such a format.

Currently, major media outlets such as The USA Today, The New York Times, ABC News, CBS News, and others use live-blogs to incite political dialogue while the debates progress. 

Additionally, many sites that aren’t politically focused have begun to utilize live-blogging as a forum for live, political discussion.

The social networking giant Facebook co-sponsored a January 5th New Hampshire debate alongside ABC News. While doing so, Facebook highlighted its U.S. Politics application, which allows users to give political feedback, participate in polls, show support for their favorite candidates, and enter into debates with their friends or strangers.

Other social networking websites without a political focus are jumping on the trend of synchronous, political dialogue as well., which describes itself as “a social networking website for those touched or affected by disabilities,” held its first live-blog during the CNN Democratic and Republican debates on January 30th and 31st.

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Dan Lawton is a freelance writer interested in a unreasonably wide range of political issues. For more of his columns, check out his blog Politics&Funk
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