During the 2008 election, independent Huffington Post citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler made national news through breaking the news of controversial comments by then-Senator Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton. Fowler was at a private fundraiser for Obama when Obama commented that the job loses that plague small-town Americans have made them “bitter” and led them to “cling to guns or religion”, one of Obama’s biggest gaffes of the campaign. Fowler caught Clinton calling Vanity Fair writer Tom Purdum “sleazy”, “dishonest”, “slimy” and a “scumbag”.
Fowler was part of the Huffington Post’s “Off the Bus” initiative, which aimed to offer citizen journalists the chance to write about candidates and their campaigns. Her reporting of Obama’s “bitter” comments was at an event that was closed to mainstream journalists, and Clinton’s comments were captured when Fowler asked him to react to the “hatchet job” story published about him in Vanity Fair. “Of course he had no idea I was a journalist,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “He just thought we were all average, ordinary Americans who had come to see him. And, of course, in one sense, that is what I am.” She was criticized by Salon staff writer Alex Koppelman for crossing lines by not identifying herself as a reporter.
Despite the fame of a couple of her stories from the election, Fowler is no longer nearly as influential as she was once. A 2010 review of her e-book in the Los Angeles Times described her as the “most famous citizen journalist in the world” but noted after her notoriety she had had a “rough ride”. The review notes, “Her former editors, after the campaign ended, unfriended her on Facebook and moved on. Nobody is much interested now in paying her to pursue her new craft.”
In 2010, Fowler stopped writing for the Huffington Post. In a post on her personal blog, Fowler wrote, “I want to paid for my time and effort – or at a minimum, to get a little remuneration in return for the money I spend myself in order to do original reportage.” She went on to write that she believed her work was as good as the work HuffPost’s paid reporters were producing and more influential. Fowler, now in her late 60s, is “semi-retired”, continuing to write occasionally on her personal blog. Fowler is an interesting example of an independent journalist who gained notoriety on the campaign trail.