Journalists have descended en masse upon the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., to cover the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff. But as the usual assortment of newspaper reporters and network correspondents clamor for their seats this week, bloggers join the ranks of journalists in the courthouse.
For the first time in the admittedly brief history of the blogosphere, the U.S. District Court in Washington has given the Media Bloggers Association two press credentials. A rotating cast of association members claims those seats each day, posting commentary about the trial.
In Place of Television
Bloggers are allowed to sit in the nearby press room and relay their posts via a wireless Internet connection. Given that no cameras, video, or audio equipment are allowed in the courtroom, play-by-plays posted on some blogs offer an alternative perspective on the trial. The bloggers insist that the posts not be read as transcripts. After all, they're not court reporters. Instead, they call the updates "liveblogs."
"Liveblog" commentaries can be snarky. ("Now she's got a pissed look on her face," the writers of Fire Dog Lake noted when describing former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on the stand). But they also play it straight. For example, on Media Is A Plural, Rory O'Connor offers a dry account of each step in the trial:
"Defense then refers to Cooper's notes of his conversation with Libby. First, Libby gave him the full on the record statement about the Niger/uranium story. It noted that the VP was unaware of Wilson's trip until long after it happened."
Journalists On Journalists
Robert Cox was the first blogger to cover the trial during jury selection. He's also the president of the Media Bloggers Association. That's the non-partisan, 1,000-member organization that worked to secure the press credentials. After two years of wrangling with judicial officials across the country, the association finally won the chance to prove what blogs and bloggers can contribute beyond traditional journalism. And this case, in particular, is an interesting battleground to debate the role of blogs in journalism, since many of the witnesses in the trial are, in fact, journalists.
John Dickerson is covering the trial for Slate. He's also a potential witness but hasn't been subpoened. On his trial blog, he shared his surprise at hearing his own name mentioned during testimony:
"I was at the Scooter Libby trial to cover it, and all of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of the case. In his testimony today, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told the courtroom—which included me—that when I was a White House correspondent for Time magazine, he had told me that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
"Everyone had heard about Robert Novak, Matt Cooper, and Judith Miller, the reporters who had received the Valerie Plame leak. But now Ari was saying I was in that club, too."
In his Web articles, Dickerson denies having been told about Valerie Plame Wilson. Clarice Feldman, who currently holds one of the press credentials being shared by the bloggers, recounts the moment on Just One Minute. In one post, Feldman wonders how Ari Fleischer's testimony about Dickerson and David Gregory (who, like Tim Russert, works for NBC News) might affect the outcome of the trial.
"Dickerson denied the story absolutely. If he admitted it, his two written accounts would impeach that admission. But if Gregory confirms the Fleischer account, it becomes harder to believe Russert's fuzzy denial that he had no knowledge of the Wilson-Plame-CIA account. Either way, flaws in Fitzgerald's case are exposed."
Journalists On Journalists On Journalists
The writers at Fire Dog Lake keep their site updated throughout the day, offering a playful mix of colorful details and inane minutiae — such as this commentary, when reporter Judith Miller took the stand.
"Judy back. Looks like she's doing breathing exercises, pouring herself water. Got out of chair and is now back. Gets more water. Thanks person who brings more. Looking around cautiously. Closes eyes. Breathes. Breathes out. Looking straight foward. Head darts nervously. Staring forward. Shifts in chair. Looks toward Libby's team? Looks towawrd lawyers. Adjusts blouse. Looks at lawyers again."
This particular post inspired yet another popular blog, Wonkette, to question the utility of having bloggers in the courtroom.