Democrats' Convention Pool: Is It All Wet?

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By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Forget the row over RFK, the latest superdelegate tally or Saturday's sure-to-be contentious meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

With the Democratic National Convention less than three months away, and with Web pundits playing an even bigger role during the four-day event, a whole other drama is chewing up the blogosphere -- and the often unmentioned Afrosphere.

A small taste of the commentary:

"OK, folks, black bloggers to the back of the bus," read one post on the African American Political Pundit, one of the more prominent national black blogs. A posting on Georgia Politics Unfiltered, a state blog, read: "Jim Crow raises his ugly head . . . at the Democratic Convention."

The protracted primary has been like a bottomless glass to thirsty national and local bloggers -- so much to blog about! -- and about 400 of them have applied to attend the convention. Although four years ago the credentialing of 30 bloggers in a single pool was a historic event, this August there are two blogger pools: a State Blogger Corps and a General Blogger Pool.

The State Corps is considered the more elite; its 55 bloggers will have floor access all four days, sit next to their state delegations and be hooked up to the Internet. Those not chosen for the State Corps are competing for spots in the General Pool, which will have rotating floor access. The State Corps list was announced nearly two weeks ago; the General Pool list, DNC officials say, will be released this week.

Natalie Wyeth, spokeswoman for the convention committee, says criteria for selecting State Corps bloggers were readership, online ratings and focus on local and state politics. The General Pool will also be selected on the basis of readership and online ratings, she adds, with an emphasis on bloggers covering "national politics to niche issues of interest to specific communities."

Race was not a factor in the selection of the State Corps, Wyeth repeatedly says.

But, to the frustration of black bloggers, the list appears to be mostly white -- during a primary race in which black voters turned out in droves in Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi. And, they add, this pool is for coverage of a convention that might very well see the first African American presidential nominee.

In other words, this constitutes convention drama and, rightly or wrongly, people are getting called out, e-mails are being exchanged, accountability is being demanded. Francis L. Holland, one of the vocal black bloggers, sent e-mails to DNC officials asking that 15 black-operated blogs be added to the State Corps. "There is nothing 'Democratic' about an all-white Democratic National Convention floor blogging corps," he wrote in an e-mail. Holland is also asking for the inclusion of 15 Latino-operated blogs.

L.N. Rock, a Silver Spring-based information technology professional and founder of the African American Political Pundit blog, likens this "black shut-out" in the State Corps to an "I'm sick-and-tired-of-being-sick-and-tired" Fannie Lou Hamer moment. The civil rights activist and Mississippian challenged her state's all-white delegation at the 1964 Democratic convention.

"This is all very puzzling to me -- and to a lot of black bloggers," says Rock, who didn't apply for the State Corps because he blogs about national issues. "The Democratic National Committee says it wants to be inclusive. It wants to have a big tent. And then this? What were they thinking?"

It's a complicated -- and sensitive -- issue. For all its openness and accessibility, the Web can be a segregated, isolated place. You read what you want to read, you link on what you want to link on. Take Hollywood gossip. There's PerezHilton.com, the reigning king of celeb dish, but there's also TheYBF.com, short for Young, Black &Fabulous, one of the must-click-on black celeb sites.

In the growing political Web, many of the most popular liberal blogs -- save for DailyKos, created by Markos "Kos" Moulitsas ZĂșniga, whose heritage is in part Latino -- are run by white men, as was evident at last year's YearlyKos blogapalooza, the gathering of the who's who of the netroots crowd. It's not because the blogosphere is racist, bloggers say, but because, at about five years old, it is still evolving.

D. Yobachi Boswell, a black blogger in Nashville, applied for the State Corps pool but didn't make it. He says he doesn't have a problem with the Tennessee blogger who was chosen, KnoxViews.com. He hadn't heard of it before -- "Our spheres of blogging don't collide," he says -- and he can't name another black-operated blog in his state besides his own, BlackPerspective.net.

"This is a historic moment," Boswell says. "Everyone wants a part of it."

He's waiting to see if he gets into the General Pool.


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