Bloggers Changing Court Nomination Process?

Bloggers, on your mark (USAT)

Right-wing Internet bloggers dogged Dan Rather in “Memogate” so effectively that it might have cost him his anchor chair at CBS News. Left-wing bloggers discredited Ed Klein’s book, The Truth About Hillary, so fiercely that even Clinton haters called the book a hatchet job. There are plenty of other examples of how bloggers on both sides of the political aisle, when aroused, have sunk their teeth into an issue or person in the news.


No matter whom President Bush nominates to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court or whether Bush must replace her and ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who says he has no plans to step down, nominees are going to be fair game for bloggers.

This is a first; the Internet was in its infancy and bloggers weren’t around the last time there was an opening on the high court. That was in 1994, when Stephen Breyer was nominated by President Clinton and later confirmed to the court. Gone are the days when it would usually take disparaging information from an insider to derail a judge’s nomination. “It used to be catch as catch can,” says Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson. “But now with the Internet, we’re in an environment where all the world’s knowledge is available and can be brought to bear on an appointment. It democratizes the appointment process and brings the maximum number of human minds into the process.”

Conservative bloggers predict that their liberal brethren will launch an all-out assault if the nominee leans to the right. “The working assumption is that they can slime him if nothing else,” says Kevin Aylward of Wizbang, one of the bloggers who led the charge against Rather and his story questioning Bush’s military service. Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine says bloggers, armed with the vast information capabilities of the Web, will do what reporters in traditional media have always done: dig up a nominee’s controversial opinions. “There are only so many reporters in the world. There are countless bloggers.” Jarvis notes that liberal bloggers such as Arianna Huffington and outlets such as Daily Kos are helping to set the spin by saying they’ll “hold their noses and say they’d take (presidential counselor) Alberto Gonzales over other likely choices, in part because Gonzales would irritate the right-wingers who irritate them.”

Just a few years ago, partisan bloggers “were Internet-based virtual nomads lacking standing or credibility until the Republicans and Democrats gave them standing and legitimacy with accreditation at their national conventions, so they reap what they sowed,” says Tom McPhail, a communications professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He says that “given bloggers’ track record of being negative, this gives a clear structural advantage to court nominees that have already survived federal hearings or media scrutiny, like current or former Cabinet members or senators.” “No fact checkers, no editors, no professional rules of the road will make the nominee a high-profile blogger catch – unless they were a hermit for their careers, which is highly unlikely or they would not even make the short list.”

To paraphrase Rush Limbaugh, we don’t need fact checkers–we are the fact checkers.

The advantages blogs have over the rest of the media in this sort of enterprise are twofold. First, our collective knowledge is far superior. While the average reporter for a major publication is more informed and better educated than the average blogger, the sheer numbers in the Blogosphere work to our advantage. There are scores of law professors and others with immense expertise on this subject with blogs. Second, we operate in real time. While a lot of erroneous material and outrageous charges will no doubt be posted on blogs, the nature of the blog swarm is that these will be quickly teased out and the truth corrected.

Kevin Aylward, quoted above, has more at Wizbang. Jeff Jarvis hasn’t weighed in yet at BuzzMachine, but almost certainly will.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Just Me says:

    I totally agree on the benefit of collective knowledge. Especially given the number of lawyers and poli sci people in the blogsphere-they can generally parse news/events quickly and more effectively than a reporter with a journalism degree can.

  2. Jim Rhoads (vnjagvet) says:

    “Average reporter more informed and better educated than average blogger” (orwordstothateffect)

    Than you? than Insty? Schramm and the No Left Turns guys? Prof Bainbridge? Volokh, et al? Althouse? Roger Simon? Beldar? Drezner? Dauber? Belgrade? Wretchard? Jarvis? Pejman? J. Goldberg?

    Please. I’ll put this gang’s education, erudition and wealth of information up against the pundits on the major news networks and even the vaunted reporters on the NYT and Post, Time and NWeek.

    Do you disagree?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Jim: There are some very bright people in the blogosphere and some very bright ones in the mainstream press. There are higher barriers to entry to getting a job with a newspaper or magazine though, than starting a blog.

    Certainly, the average PhD or lawyer blogger is more knowledgeable about the issues they specialize in than any but the very best beat reporters for the best papers. But we can’t compare just the cream of the crop bloggers to the average reporter and have a meaningful comparison.

  4. Jim Rhoads (vnjagvet) says:

    You are right about that, James, but I think I get more and better information about most of the major issues by checking out the aforementioned “cream of the crop” on the blogosphere (and links where appropriate) than I get from reading the NYT or WAPO or “weekly news mags” as I used to do from (roughly) 1956-1998.

    The WSJ, and some of the NYT feature articles are exceptions.