Blogging the Scooter Libby Trial

A New York Times profile of bloggers at the Scooter Libby trial, especially the FireDogLake gang, includes a discussion of the Media Bloggers Association’s role and the larger implications for blogger-mainstream media relations:

For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media, said Robert A. Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association. Mr. Cox negotiated access for the bloggers. “My goal is to get judges to think of bloggers as citizen journalists who should get the same protections as other journalists get,” Mr. Cox said.


Sheldon L. Snook, the court official in charge of the news media, said the decision to admit bloggers — 5 to 10 of about 100 reporters present on busy trial days — has worked out well. “It seems they can provide legal analysis and a level of detail that might not be of interest to the general public but certainly has an audience,” Mr. Snook said.

Even as they exploit the newest technologies, the Libby trial bloggers are a throwback to a journalistic style of decades ago, when many reporters made no pretense of political neutrality. Compared with the sober, neutral drudges of the establishment press, the bloggers are class clowns and crusaders, satirists and scolds.
“They’re putting in a lot more opinion and a lot more color than the traditional reporters,” said Mr. Cox, adding that the bloggers were challenging “the theory of objective journalism.”


In the courthouse, the old- and new-media groups have mixed warily at times. Mainstream reporters have shushed the bloggers when their sarcastic comments on the testimony drowned out the audio feed. But traditional reporters have also called on the bloggers on occasion to check a quote or an obscure detail from the investigation.

Some bloggers at the trial have seen their skepticism about mainstream reporting confirmed. “It’s shown me the degree to which journalists work together to define the story,” said Marcy Wheeler, author of a book on the case, “Anatomy of Deceit,” and the woman usually in the Firedoglake live-blogger seat. Ms. Wheeler, a business consultant from Michigan who writes under the nom-de-blog “emptywheel,” believes that some trial revelations have been underplayed in the conventional media because “once the narrative is set on a story, there’s no deviating from it.”

Marcy was there throughout the trial, while the MBA delegates were only there a few days each. Like her, though, I found the exercise shed a lot of light on how the mainstream press operates and the day-to-day grind of reporting. For the most part, I was impressed with their work ethic and diligence in verifying seemingly minor facts. But, yes, as with any reporting on events I’ve attended live, the reporting occasionally varied wildly from my own observations.

And, not to be too defensive, plenty of the regular reporters were chatterboxes, too. People who cover these things day in and day out are quite naturally going to form opinions and, in the ease of a press room, going to spout off. The difference is that the bloggers and other opinion journalists have the freedom to express their views openly whereas mainstream reporters have to pretend to be objective even while their own interpretation naturally colors their writing.

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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.