Matt Drudge, blog-father of the Web publishing movement known as blogging, stuck out his rumor-mongering neck and called the presidential election for George W. Bush ahead of the more restrained old-media pack on election night.
"Bush wins," proclaimed the Drudge Report Web site at 1 a.m. yesterday.
Never mind that 11 hours earlier, Drudge had been among the many Web pundits to publish leaked exit poll data favoring Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry and suggesting the opposite outcome was imminent. "Kerry in striking distance -- with small lead -- in Florida and Ohio," his site declared Tuesday afternoon.
So it went on election night as thousands of Internet publications jumped mouse-first into live punditry, proving themselves to be an increasingly prominent force in the topsy-turvy world of politics. Traffic on Web logs -- blogs for short -- and other political sites skyrocketed on Election Day, creating online audiences rivaling those of traditional media organizations. The Drudge Report pulled nearly 1 million visitors Tuesday -- about 30,000 more than the New York Times on the Web, which drew 944,000 people, according to researchers at ComScore Media Metrix.
Blogspot.com, which hosts thousands of popular Web journals, pulled 330,000 readers while some blogs written live from campaign headquarters by laptop-toting volunteers drew tens of thousands of visitors apiece, ComScore's analysis found. Not all the Web hosts could handle the traffic, rendering many blogs inaccessible for minutes or hours throughout the evening.
Delaware law student and ad salesman Ken Weeks, 28, chronicled the Delaware GOP celebration from a hotel in Christiana using his laptop and the hotel's wireless Internet connection. He took note when the losing gubernatorial candidate arrived in the ballroom. "I'm glued to the TV in the lounge with my computer, a beer and a handful of cheese cubes," he wrote on his Blogolution.com site.
D.C.'s gossipy Wonkette.com was inaccessible at times because it had difficulty handling the traffic, but the glitches did not appear to dampen the spirits of its author, Ana Marie Cox, who posted political quips until 3 a.m. from underneath the skating rink in Manhattan's "Democracy Plaza" (Rockefeller Center) in what she called the "NBC blogger's café."
"It was like being denied your lithium prescription," Cox said of her blog-a-thon. She posted exit poll data that "a little birdie told us" and then later backtracked, posting that she had "this weird feeling" about the data.
Cox said she finally returned to her Doubletree Inn hotel room at 5 a.m. and caught four hours of sleep before getting up and blogging again. She was among a handful of Web pundits NBC invited to spend the evening near the network's election war room so anchor Tom Brokaw could interview them about the Internet's widening role in the 2004 election.
Cox said traditional media waxed hot and cold on Web authors, with some commentators seeming impressed that Web logs were among the first to call many races and to give the public a peek at exit polls that traditional media organizations had agreed to keep private. But their attitude seemed to shift, she said, when exit polls in several swing states turned out to be wrong. "All of a sudden blogs were back to being the pajama-clad amateurs," she said, chuckling.