Blogging the Scooter Libby Trial

Jay Rosen has a long homage to those who blogged the Scooter Libby trial, most notably the Firedoglake gang.

As a critic who follows the fortunes of the American press, and writes about its collapse under Bush, I found it extremely painful to sit on the sidelines for this event. But as compensation I had the pleasure of watching Firedoglake, a group blog, emerge as the best site for primary, tell-me-what-happened-today coverage of the trial.

The political press supplemented FDL quite well, I thought.

If I had time, I went to Memeorandum and sampled all of it. If I didn’t have time, I read Firedoglake and the Washington Post’s team of Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig. It wasn’t a secret. Maybe 200,000 readers knew. If you wanted to keep up with the trial, and needed something approaching a live transcript, with analytical nuance, legal expertise, courthouse color, and recognizably human voices, Firedoglake was your best bet.

Now, if you wanted neutral reporting, FDL wasn’t for you. Then again, neither were any of the blogs. On balance, though, Marcy Wheeler, Christy Hardin Smith, and the others on the FDL team simultaneously provided a great public service and demonstrated what bloggers can add to news coverage.

Thanks to Robert Cox‘s efforts, several of us from the Media Bloggers Association provided coverage and analysis of the trial. On balance, I think, we added something worthwhile: real-time commentary, different points of view, and some good old fashioned snark.

Rosen is right, though, that the FDL gang provided something unique. Wheeler and Smith, especially, provided in-depth expertise about the trial. Wheeler wrote a book about the case and Hardin is a former attorney and prosecutor, so she knows more about the legal end of this than almost any journalist or blogger. Further, there was probably no website or media organization more obsessed with the Valerie Plame affair than FDL, which meant they brought an encyclopedic knowledge of the trivia of the case to bear.

When the blogosphere broke open RatherGate, it was through a combination of two things that the mainstream press seldom has: obsession and expertise. There are people out there who simply care more about things like Dan Rather, Scooter Libby, Valerie Plame, or just about any other topic that you can think up than anyone working for any press venue. Similarly, there are people out there who know a whole lot more about the nuances of 1960s era typefaces, perjury law, FISA, or what have you than any working journalist could possibly be expected to know. The combination of these things give citizen journalists a powerful advantage.

Because bloggers don’t have to even pretend to be unbiased or interested in “all the news that’s fit to print,” I wouldn’t want to rely on any one blog for my news, or even my commentary. Collectively, though, blogs add an enormous amount of information and insight to the process.

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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. Wyatt Earp says:

    Brilliant. Bloggers are in no way “fair and balanced” – at least for the most part – and it is always good to check out both sides of an issue.

    Of course, if more people actually understood what the Libby trial was about, there wouldn’t be such an uproar about the entire event – from both the right and the left.