Yesterday, Fox News featured the Sunlight Foundation as their "Power Player of the Week" on the morning news show with Chris Wallace. And while we certainly appreciate their attention, and their showcasing our Watchdogging 101 tutorial, as well as a glimpse at a number of the databases that we funded (I was embarrassed that the databases shown were not clearly identified as those we funded at the Center for Responsive Politics) they really missed the core of what Sunlight is about. They left too much on the editing room floor.
What I told Wallace was that corruption is endemic to our political system. What's new — and what Sunlight has recognized — is that the Internet has created new opportunities for the public to hold Congress accountable. While we think the exposure of what Congress does and who it does it for via databases and mashups that put two and two together will stop some bad things from happening, the Internet is a new tool that a public, angry over corruption, can use to both understand and participate in holding lawmakers accountable. I made clear that we want to create more citizen muckrakers using tutorials like Watchdogging 101, wikis like Congresspedia, and distributed journalism tools like Congress As Family Business, as well as through the kind of grants we make.
I told him that Congress can't hide from the Internet and if lawmakers refuse to come into the 21st century in terms of filing information on line in searchable data streams that we will see to it that it that everything gets digitized anyway., and that we will make sure it gets put on the Internet in ways that citizens will understand. I pointed him to the earmarks work of the Sunlight Labs, our Popup Politicians widget, and Sunlight Seekr Ajax widget that allows for text searches across data sites as examples of how to reach out to citizens in ways that they can easily digest the information.
Meanwhile, the attention we got apparently crashed our servers. We got back up and running pretty fast (thanks to our ever diligent team), but we apologize for your inconvenience if you experienced any.
Update and Reply to All: Lots of comments on this blog post, probably more than on any other post I've written in the last year, so thanks for that. I really appreciated your comments and it made me want to explain a bit more.
The piece gave Sunlight terrific exposure — as many pointed out — money couldn't buy the millions of eyeballs that the site got as a result. More than 500 of you signed up to get regular communications from us; many dozen wrote back to me personally (after I sent a 'welcome' letter) praising Fox for airing a program and exposing them to the wonderful work we do. We are grateful. My frustration with the piece had a little to do with the fact that it was a Fox report, let me be clear about that. Even five minutes on TV (and that's a lot of time!) couldn't tell the whole story of why Sunlight does and why we do it.
Let's just chalk it up to TV being a frustration under any circumstance.