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Amateur Campaign Blogger Scoops the Pros

Mayhill Fowler has made her unobtrusive presence felt.
Mayhill Fowler has made her unobtrusive presence felt. (Thor Swift - Thor Swift For The Washington Po)
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Last week, when Bill Clinton was making one of his final stops in Milbank, S.D., Fowler decided she would ask him to pass on an interview request to his wife.

The hot story at the moment was a Vanity Fair article, by Todd Purdum, that examined Clinton's fast-paced lifestyle and raised questions about whether he had more than a friendship with a series of women. The Clinton camp had denounced the piece, and Purdum had responded that the personal questions had been raised not by Republicans but by unnamed current and former Clinton advisers.

When Clinton reached across the rope line to shake Fowler's hand, she dropped the business card intended for his wife. Instead, still clutching her digital tape recorder, Fowler blurted out the question about the Vanity Fair piece. She did not identify herself as a blogger. "If it hadn't been such a chaotic scene, of course I would have," she says. "But there wasn't a chance to."

Once again, Fowler hesitated. "I wasn't really intending to put out the entire audio of the speech," she says. That changed after a conversation with Michel. Asked about the final decision, she says: "My name's on the piece and I'm going to have to live with it."

Mary Katherine Ham, a conservative blogger, says that while she would insist on identifying herself, "politicians need to learn that anyone can break news, and citizens who run into you -- even if you're not writing for the Huffington Post -- can post it anywhere."

In an e-mail, Fowler says she has come to realize that her presence "flummoxes some longtime journalists -- because suddenly here I am, unpaid but as a consequence with much more freedom to find out what's going on out there, and writing for a new and encroaching media that is a Wild Wild West of lawlessness." But she has also had to reexamine her own beliefs.

"Over time, I've become more like a traditional journalist," Mayhill says. "I'm now much more skeptical and much more distanced."

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