A few years back I complained to a state political leader that politicians seem less inclined to speak frankly about policy than in times past. My understanding of the politicians of yore was limited to what I had read and heard, but everybody has a right to indulge in nostalgia, and I was exercising it out of frustration -- probably in response to something Hillary Clinton had said about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.
The state politico blamed the Internet, Blackberries, camcorders and YouTube for the increasing vigilance of politicians to stick to their talking points. "Nobody wants to get caught in a YouTube moment," he said. Off-the-record talks with reporters or even individual voters are no longer truly off-the-record if every citizen represents the threat of a cable news flash.
But it's not just the off-the-cuff moments that the internet and the 24 hour news cycle is targeting. The increasing number of web watchdogs are providing rapid responses to misleading political statements, especially the highly strategic ones, such as TV ads and press releases.
Politifact Wisconsin has done a great job so far analyzing some of the claims by candidates this year. Other fact-checkers are developing --it seems to be becoming a popular journalistic pastime. The goal, in addition to informing the public, should be that one day, politicians will increasingly calculate that misleading statements bear a greater disadvantage than advantage to their political careers.
This trend accompanies a decline in traditional print media, especially local publications, which threatens the classic watchdog role of journalism. Maybe internet watchdogs aren't making politics more honest; they're simply making up the ground that journalism has lost in the past few years.