The idea of kicking California Gov. Gray Davis out of office in a special recall election seemed a bit bizarre only months ago. Add in a massive list of 135 candidates who qualified to run to replace him -- including a child actor and porn magnate -- and it's gotten downright surreal. And the addition of action-hero actor Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken things up to another plane of unreality altogether.
But now that the recall is a reality, it has brought with it a media feeding frenzy that includes California, national and international outlets. Leave it to the Web to become the primary place to follow the fast-moving recall news, check in on opinionated insider Weblogs, and of course get all your knock-off recall merchandise (mainly of Arnold). Again, the Net showcases the best -- and worst -- of human nature.
With a compressed campaign schedule, the media has little time to tell every story in print or on TV. And the candidates have been hard-pressed to keep voters or volunteers informed. That's where the Web comes in to help media outlets, pundits and candidates stay clued in to every twist and turn of this 24-hour recall news cycle.
We decided it would be a good time -- a little less than a month before the election -- to give out awards for news sites, blogs, candidates and any other flashing online objects that have made the Net a go-to medium for recall research -- and ridiculousness.
Best Organized Mainstream News Package: Los Angeles Times
Most major newspapers in California have created special packages on the recall, including recent stories, photos, online government resources, etc. Even national outlets such as Washingtonpost.com, NYTimes.com and CNN.com have special recall sections. But two newspaper sites stand a cut above: MercuryNews.com and LATimes.com. While the Mercury News recall section likely has more links and information, it goes too far. The page goes on...and on...and on, with polls, links to legal documents and even the inclusion of Larry Flynt, Gary Coleman and porn star Mary Carey as "major players."
LATimes.com provides almost as much information in a much more digestible format. Top stories are played up, and background details are organized in sections such as Legal Issues, Recall Q&A and Commentary. The candidate profiles include every single candidate, with quotes and photos from almost all of them. Better yet is a series called "In Their Own Words," where a reporter delves into public interviews and speeches to find candidates' takes on issues, including the elusive positions of Schwarzenegger. Add in video from the recent debate, an e-mail newsletter and a large volume of editorials and you have a top-notch, must-see hub for the recall.
Most Sly Product Tie-In: CandidateCamera.com
At first glance, CandidateCamera.com appears to be a cute experiment in participatory journalism. Each of the 100-plus candidates got a digital camera, and is supposed to supply one photo per day -- the only stipulation being that they shot the photo, or were the subject of the photo. So far, fewer than half of the candidates have supplied photos, and a handful -- including Arianna Huffington -- declined to participate at all. Gov. Davis has sent a couple shots in, and Gary Coleman has the cliched "too short" shot outside of CNN's studios. While it wasn't apparent initially, CandidateCamera.com is really an elaborate promotion for Gateway's digital cameras, which were given to each candidate. Still, with a little time, and a whole lot more photos from the citizen candidates, this site could provide one of the more personal photomontages of the everyone's-a-candidate recall election.
Best Deep, Daily Snapshot of News: Rough & Tumble
While every news site has a good archive of its own news, where can you get all the news in one place? Your best bet is Rough & Tumble, a godsend for news junkies -- and political insiders -- who want a free clipping service of every bit of mainstream news on the recall. Run by longtime political reporter and consultant Jack Kavanagh from Sacramento, Rough & Tumble includes a headline, blurb and link for each story, with a list that seems to go on forever -- and that's just for the last two days! It's another California politics site that has struck gold with the recall. Just count all the candidates' ads splattered all over the home page. If every niche needs its online gatekeeper, Kavanagh is the man for the recall.
Quickest Online Exploitation Angle: Arnold T-Shirt Spam
There's something deep down in the American psyche that sees a media event and instantly grasps a way to cash in on it. Thus, when Arnold joined the recall fray, it didn't take long for online merchants to start hawking unofficial T-shirts with apropos movie promos of Arnold from "Total Recall." The first into my spam-stuffed in-box was from Arnold-2003.com, with clever taglines like "Hasta la Vista, Davis" and "The Govenator." But it wasn't the last. The ultimate sales middleman online, CafePress.com, was featuring a raft of recall-related T-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers, with Arnold shops getting top billing. Though there have been no public moves by Schwarzenegger's campaign to squash the unofficial sites, SoCal blogger Justin Levine notes that there is a "right to publicity" law in California to protect his image from bootleggers. But Levine says the law might become irrelevant when celebrities and politics mix.
Best Political Blog, Journalism Division: Daniel Weintraub's California Insider
The timing for Sacramento Bee political columnist Daniel Weintraub to start California Insider couldn't have been better. Just as he was gearing up his Weblog in the spring, the recall hit, and he's been the most colorful daily read on the subject, with delicious details missing from most mainstream reports. He recently included the full transcript of a Schwarzenegger spinmeister at work, while busting Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante for his ignorance on how the California budget really works. There's only one nagging problem with his blog, at least for Democrats. Because Weintraub is a columnist, and a fiscally conservative one at that, his overall tenor is pro-Arnold and pro-recall. His harshest vitriol is usually reserved for Gov. Davis and Bustamante. Weintraub recently had to include an entry defending his record on the blog, and listing all the times he criticized Arnold. Fair enough, but be forewarned that this columnist plays by somewhat partisan rules.
Best Political Blog, Candidate Division: Georgy for Governor Blog
Ahem. I know you're thinking that this award has something to do with candidate Georgy Russell selling thong underwear on her site. You can give me more credit than than, right? Right? Anyhow, the 26-year-old software engineer deserves kudos for doing something the other candidates haven't: getting personal with a well-written Weblog. She explains her differences with Arianna Huffington, lists her schedule of events and media appearances (surprisingly plentiful), and raised the money she needed to get on the ballot online. OK, the BBC interview with Russell called her a "young thing," but her blog showed she even has some media criticism chops. "The recall coverage in California has given the press unseen opportunities to cover politics," she wrote. "...What we end up with is something for almost everyone in the land of recall entertainment, but not much in the way of the nitty-gritty in terms of candidates' political plans."
The "South Park" Multimedia Pass-Around Award: Hybrid vs. Hummer
The Web is awash in recall humor, usually related to "Ahnuld" running for governor, "Ahnuld's freewheeling daze" as a bodybuilder, and "Ahnuld" avoiding the debates and issues. Leave it to columnist/gadfly Arianna Huffington's campaign to go one step further, and create a Flash movie that shows Huffington out-zooming Arnold in her hybrid car vs. his gas-guzzling Hummer. No matter your politics, there's something gut-wrenchingly funny seeing Arnold say, "I'm pro-environment," then run over trees, schools and children in his Hummer. (Remember, it's only a cartoon.) Arianna's campaign has already made hay with an L.A. Times story on the cartoon, and a claim of getting 100,000 people to view it with e-mail pass-arounds -- the same way the "South Park" duo got their start. The downside for Huffington? Arnold could exact his animated revenge a thousand different ways, and he has the Hollywood special effects industry on his side.
Best of the Rest
A detailed tally on how much money the candidates have raised, and who gave it to them.
Slate Explainer: How Will the Recall Work?
Q&A explaining the difficult questions, such as, "What happens if Davis resigns?"
CalVoter.org's Special Recall Election Voter Guide
Nonpartisan, nonprofit's guide to news sites, government sites, finance statements and other online resources.
Garrett Gruener Joins Debate Virtually
Maverick candidate gives his own debate answers in real time online outside the first debate.
Drudge: Bodybuilder War: Former Mr. Universe Unloads on Arnold; ABC Holds Interview
The inevitable dirt unearthed by Drudge on alleged racist comments from Schwarzenegger's past.
The Condor: California Recall
Weblog by former Sacramento Bee and UPI reporter David Jensen, written while hanging out on his sailboat in Mexico.
Funny Arnold Schwarzenegger Pictures
An assortment of doctored images, mainly from Arnold's movies updated for the campaign.