Following the Democratic National Convention last August, New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote a piece in which he captured the profound transformation taking place in the media over the course of the 2008 election.
It is a telling sign that CBS News didn't invest in the usual sky box for its anchor, Katie Couric, in Denver. It is equally telling that CNN consistently beat ABC and CBS in last week's Nielsen ratings, and NBC as well by week's end. But now that media are being transformed at a speed comparable to the ever-doubling power of microchips, cable's ascendancy could also be as short-lived as, say, the reign of AOL. Andrew Rasiej, the founder of Personal Democracy Forum, which monitors the intersection of politics and technology, points out that when networks judge their success by who got the biggest share of the television audience, "they are still counting horses while the world has moved on to counting locomotives." The Web, in its infinite iterations, is eroding all 20th-century media.
The Obama campaign has long been on board those digital locomotives. Its ability to tell its story under the radar of the mainstream press in part accounts for why the Obama surge has been so often underestimated. Even now we're uncertain of its size. The extraordinary TV viewership for Obama on Thursday night, larger than the Olympics opening ceremony, this year's Oscars or any "American Idol" finale, may only be a count of the horses. The Obama campaign's full reach online -- for viewers as well as fund-raising and organizational networking -- remains unknown.