Bloggers Changing Court Nomination Process?
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.