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Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

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Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

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Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

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One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

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Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

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Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

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The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

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Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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July 2, 2005

The Production of Innocence and News of a Vacancy on the Court

In the last election, 121 million votes were cast, and each one of those people could (in theory) be influenced by a media campaign. On the coming nomination, 100 United States Senators vote. Can they be influenced in the same way? The press is saying: yeah, they can. But it cannot be so.

Reading the news coverage of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement, I noticed something strange about one theme in it. Almost every article told us how “the armies of ideological activists from both sides,” (Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times) having anticipated this moment for years, were ready for their biggest battle ever, a kind of apotheosis of the culture wars.

In the Washington Post (Charles Babington and Mike Allen) we were told how “after preparing for months for a battle to replace Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, conservative and liberal groups were caught by surprise yesterday and immediately began reworking their strategies for a fight that they believe will be even more ferocious and carry higher stakes.”

In the Los Angeles Times (David G. Savage) the news was similar: “Activists on the right and left were preparing for what could be an epic summerlong battle over her successor.”

On the front page of Saturday’s New York Times, “advocates on the left and the right” were agreeing that because the ideological balance of the court was up for grabs, the coming struggle would be immense. “Advocacy groups bought advertising on television and the Internet, and issued millions of e-mail alerts, waves of direct-mail fund-raising appeals and pre-emptive blasts at those viewed by the groups as either obstructionist Democrats or extremist Republicans.” By midday Friday, Robin Toner wrote, “nothing less than a national political campaign had begun.”

Both the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal noted that big business was ready to join the battle. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers said they were ready to “consider endorsement of President Bush’s nominee and, if necessary, to launch a campaign on the candidate’s behalf,” wrote Tom Hamburger in the L.A Times. “If the nominee is controversial, then we can make a judgment that we want to activate our vast grass-roots network, engage our lobbying power and there could be paid media as well,” said Stan Anderson, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce.

This kind of observation (Tom Hamburger) was typical:

The Republican-oriented Progress for America pledged to spend $18 million on the Supreme Court vacancy campaign. A spokeswoman for the organization, Jessica Boulanger, said the group had “operatives in 21 states across the country who are working aggressively at the grass-roots level.” Within 45 minutes of O’Connor’s resignation, “we had our Web ads sent to 8.7 million Americans,” Boulanger said.

Meanwhile, the liberal People for the American Way will “definitely be spending millions of dollars” if necessary to fight an objectionable nominee, vice president Elliot Mincberg said. The National Abortion Rights Action League transformed its website Friday so that visitors could donate time and money to a Supreme Court vacancy campaign.

Or, as one blogger (Dale Franks) put it: “You realize, of course, that this means war.”

I do, I do. But the strange thing is that in all this talk of war and the epic showdown ahead no one tries to explain exactly how the Web ads sent to 8.7 million Americans in Progress for America’s data banks, or the e-mail alerts to 800,000 activists sent within 15 minutes of the announcement by the abortion rights group Naral Pro-Choice America, or the TV ads MoveOn began running in five states yesterday (all reported in today’s coverage) were supposed to make any difference at all in the eventual outcome.

There is, after all, a big difference between a national political campaign and a Supreme Court nomination. In the last election, 121 million votes were cast, and each one of those people could (in theory) be influenced by a media campaign. In the Supreme Court nomination, 100 United States Senators vote. Can they be influenced in the same way?

The only mention I found of this was a lonely sentence at the end of the Washington Post’s coverage of the big screaming battle ahead: “All the time and money spent on campaigns may have little influence on the outcome, said several senators, because they and their colleagues see a Supreme Court vote as a deeply personal and principled decision.”

Like I said, strange. There are preparations for all-out war and no one thinks there won’t be one, but at the same time no one even bothers to explain how this war is supposed to work. In a presidential election, we at least have a theory. The voters are the target, the messages are designed to frighten or outrage or motivate them, and if it works more voters will on election day pick your guy. Political choice and the media campaign connect in a way we can roughly grasp.

In the Supreme Court selection, the voters will again be the target, the messages will again be designed to frighten or outrage or motivate them, and if it works… then what? What is the person successfully frightened, outraged or motivated in Peoria supposed to do? Call Arlen Specter’s office with demands? He doesn’t even represent Peoria!

No, there’s a disconnect there. Reaching for her cliché gun, Robin Toner can say “nothing less than a national political campaign had begun,” but she has no idea how it’s supposed to work, either. Everyone parades around as if this mobilization of opposing armies makes perfect political sense, when in fact “all the time and money spent on campaigns may have little influence on the outcome.”

Why does this go on? One reason is that activist groups, by opposing each other, use each other for mutual self-definition. They too don’t know how their e-mail blasts and TV ads are supposed to work. Like spammers, they just send the stuff out. What they know is that the other side will be sending e-mail blasts and running TV ads. Spam must meet spam. From the Washington Post:

The Independent Women’s Forum, which is conservative but does not take a position on abortion, announced that it will work closely with the pro-Bush coalition to put women on television who will portray the president’s choice as mainstream. “We know NOW [the National Organization for Women] will be everywhere,” said Barbara Comstock, a consultant and legal strategist for the group. “They have been crying wolf for 20 years, and we’re going to counter them.”

How do the leaders of the Independent Women’s Forum know that the president’s choice for the Supreme Court is “mainstream” before he’s even made it? They don’t. What they know is “NOW will be everywhere” and so we must be everywhere too. There’s a logic there, but it has nothing to do with influencing the nomination.

“There is now a completely unified right and a completely unified left,” said conservative activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “Both teams will be at full strength, and the court nominations will be an incredible test of that strength.”

He sounded quite happy about it. We test your strength, you test ours. No matter what happens, we both know how strong we are because we warred. Let the games begin!

For journalists conditions of ideological warfare among mobilized groups are ideal in meeting a tacit demand placed on all their routines: help out with the production of innocence. This isn’t preached in J-school, or discussed in newsrooms; and it forms no conscious part of the journalist’s self-image. But it is real, a factor shaping the news.

By the production of innocence I mean ways of reporting the news that try to advertise or “prove” to us that the press is neutral in its descriptions, a non-partisan presenter of facts, a non-factor and non-actor in events. Innocence means reporters are recorders, without stake or interest in the matter at hand.

This basic message—innocent because uninvolved—isn’t something you say once, in a professional code of conduct. It has to be said many many times a day in the very course of writing and reporting the news. The genre known as He said, she said is perhaps the most familiar example. The production of innocence is one reason you make that phone call and “get the other side” before you run with a damaging story.

The truth and its damages may in certain settings have two sides; and you may, if you’re very lucky, “get” the other one by making that obligatory call, but most of the time what results from appying this newsroom rule is not a truth with all necessary sides, but a particular claim of innocence that means a lot to journalists: good, we got the other side. We are being just. And this of course is way better than not making the call.

In the alchemy of these things (very akin to magical thinking) “We called you for your reaction” is supposed to prove: We’re not on anyone’s side, see? And my point is that along with the production of a truthful, honest and compelling report, the reporters I have quoted here are continuously engaged in another ritual: advertising their own innocence, which is necessary if people are going to accept the final product as news cured of views.

Obviously this is more important than ever when the “innocence” of journalists is under continuous question in the culture wars themselves, and where the news media must contend with heavily politicized charges of bias.

The journalists heard here, or in that NPR report this morning, tend to favor descriptions of political life that are a.) true, in that verifiable facts correspond to the story; and b.) convenient for the production of their own innocence. “In Battle to Confirm a New Justice, Both Sides Get Troops Ready Again” (NYT) is perfect. One side loads up, now the other. And they’re both coming after you, with rival truth claims! But luckily we’re not involved! (So who’s telling the truth, them or us?)

That’s happiness, if you’re a news story.

Meanwhile, I do think “the armies of ideological activists from both sides” now gearing up for the battle royale are embarking not on a rational exercise in political persuasion—a battle for hearts and minds in proper terms—but an absurd and wasteful media campaign that will probably have little effect on the nomination itself, yet serve perfectly the purposes of those for whom culture war is way of life.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Matthew Sheffield at his blog Virtual Scratchpad:

Jay Rosen is dismayed at all the back-and-forth from all the interest groups, and at the press for using the whole fight as another means to try and portray its political neutrality. I agree, though I wonder, might Jay be doing the very same thing by decrying both the interest groups and the press?

This needs a fuller response, but on the narrow question of “doing the same thing…” No, not the same thing. I am not trying to prove myself a faithful inhabitant of non-ideological space, or give you the view from nowhere. Because whatever reputation and wavering cloud of readers I have online, the site’s authority with them does not depend on any claim of mine to have no position or stake in the political conflicts and cultural struggles of the day.

On the contrary, I am quite painfully aware that I have a (losing) dog in all these fights. I hope in the end the right loses and has to compromise, and the hard right loses hardest. See? There goes my in-between-ness, my formal neutrality. Do I care? No, because the trust-building system for PressThink was not built on such an expensive premise as powered-by-objectivity has proven to be for the press. Trust works differently for a weblog.

Of course, PressThink (5,000 to 10,000 readers, except during a blitz) is a micro-media sized trust system; the LA Times is built to mega scale: big as the Los Angeles basin and beyond. Whereas giant capture-all trust systems used to confer mega advantages in credibility, today they make Big Media mega-vulnerable to attacks on the premise of having no position.

See my transparency post: Questions and Answers About PressThink. Sheffield would agree, I think, that there is nothing equivalent for the Los Angeles Times. Take a look at this page for example. Under Journalistic Excellence, where a curious reader might hope to find some statement of what excellence in their way of doing journalism is… the site offers us a list of prizes. And for the authority system in that newsroom, a list of prizes is excellence, displayed for all to see.

Michael of ReadingA1 in the comments:

There’s a kind of disdain expressed in the “armies of ideological activists” formula: a disdain for ideology, and for activism—an unthought conviction that the reporter who calls a plague on both houses (as if both “sides” in this upcoming fight could really be thought of as symetrically positioned, when one of them has not just the President’s ear but his short hairs) is demonstrating thereby an intellectual and moral superiority that inheres in being a journalist. Almost nobody else in the world buys this fiction any more, of course: but it seems still to be ingrained in the practice and the self-conception of the Richard Stevensons.

I think he’s right that there’s a conceit there that’s gotten out of hand. See his post, Nasty Partisans, at ReadingA1:

Because, in Journo World, nobody actually creates “nasty partisan battles,” or even especially puts the nasty in them (all partisan battles are nasty by virtue of being partisan, it’s a rhetorical given): they’re merely a feature of the landscape. (Treating such things as if they were geological deposits rather than the product of human agency seems to be pretty much exactly and only what “objectivity” means in contemporary American journalism.)

Balloon Juice’s John Cole e-mails: “The only thing all this heated rhetoric is going to do is to aid the activist groups on both sides of the aisle in some very public self-actualization.”

“Look, I agree - it’s unbelievably essential. But just because it’s essential we win doesn’t mean we have the ability to win.” Barry Deutsch, who goes by Ampersand at Alas (a blog), puts the case for Nomination Realism (my term):

Let’s not fool ourselves - O’Connor’s replacement will be a loyal conservative, anti-Roe and predictably right-wing in all of her or his opinions. There is no way we can prevent this outcome. Knowing this, it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about letter-writing or fund-raising based on trying to influence who replaces O’Connor. Wouldn’t it be better to reserve our energy for campaigns that aren’t completely, utterly hopeless?

Alas, a title: Supreme Court Appointment: We’ve Already Lost.

Marketing consultant Johnnie Moore comments on this post: “I think there’s a moral here for marketers too. It’s very easy to get sucked into positioning wars in which the focus is on the perceived competitor. What results is that whay you have to say gets squeezed out in favour of negating the opposition, and the customer’s needs and interests get forgotten. That mistake of defining ourselves by the other is a great way to stay in conflict with people.”

Finally, this post makes a kossack (liza) think hard about culture war.

Posted by Jay Rosen at July 2, 2005 3:46 PM   Print


How's about that? Great minds think alike: I just posted about the Stevenson and Toner articles at Reading A1. And while I like the notion of the "production of innocence," I think the full story is a bit less, er, innocent than that. There's a kind of disdain expressed in the "armies of ideological activists" formula: a disdain for ideology, and for activism—an unthought conviction that the reporter who calls a plague on both houses (as if both "sides" in this upcoming fight could really be thought of as symetrically positioned, when one of them has not just the President's ear but his short hairs) is demonstrating thereby an intellectual and moral superiority that inheres in being a journalist. Almost nobody else in the world buys this fiction any more, of course: but it seems still to be ingrained in the practice and the self-conception of the Richard Stevensons.

This kind of rote journalistic anti-politics is not just slovenly: it degrades media discussion of politics. You've noted one in your own post—journalists who, because they can believe themselves innocent of political taint, are able to absolve themselves from offering any realistic consideration of how politics works.

Oddly, the conclusion of your own post suffers from just this kind of unwillingness to think clearly about nuts and bolts: you're practicing another version of the "plague on both houses" routine. You've keyed off of your own disdain for "ideological activists" to assume—and it's not a very cogent assumption at that—that the coming "campaign" will be absurd, wasteful, and serve no other purpose than to justify the occupations of people who live the culture wars. Come on, Jay: the nomination battle is going to be fought out in the Senate. Do you really think that Senators, some proportion of whom are up for reelection next year, are immune to pressure from mobilized interest groups? Many of whom represent substantial pools of donors and activists? That it's irrational for people—the many, many people—who have some stake in the outcome of the Supreme Court fight to express themselves, and get some leverage in doing so, either directly in the fight itself or in subsequent battles, where they might legitimize themselves by applying pressure in this one? (No political fight is carried on in entire isolation, after all.) How hard is any of this to account for? How does this not represent a legitimate, meaningful political exercise in a representative democracy?

Posted by: Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 2, 2005 6:30 PM | Permalink

Getting the press to cover the big picture, culture war as culture war, would be a dramatic step up in common sense and practicality. I'll be interested to see who can manage to break from the script.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at July 2, 2005 6:30 PM | Permalink

We were going to devote two blocks in the 4 p.m. show to the Supreme Court, but a missing white girl was discovered with a sex offender. That story then dominated the whole day.

There was also a big concert with a news peg today that enabled us to show rock stars with full natural sound, so that was in every show one or more times.

The profit motive always pushes market journalism from public service toward customer service. We get revenues by getting ratings or circulation that drive our advertising rates. To keep those eyeballs we must cater to the interests of those who are choosing us in a competitive environment. If we bore them, they will drop us and go elsewhere. Their freedom is the curse against our highest ideals.

This isn't new. I don't believe that the media are now worse than ever before. Most people have always cared more about sensational crime and celebrities than how the government really works, and the press has always been better at covering the first two. I spent a whole summer working at Waffle House and I didn't hear one word about politics, but I heard a lot about crime and celebrities, sports and weather, plus jobs and families.

I am not a student of the press, but I have certainly noticed in reading journalism from previous eras that it promoted ideologies that I find completely appalling today. The readers liked those ideas. The notion of racial equality is new, for example, unless you are reading something like The Crisis, which is published by the NAACP, and that only goes back to 1910. As the current craze for selected missing female coverage attests, the mainstream media still demonstrate racism today, but the situation is at least far better than it used to be.

Most people will always prefer entertainment to learning. Education has to be mandated or children will play. Serious news only becomes compelling to the masses when there is a national disaster.

The die-hard news junkies of 2005 are citizens who are convinced that our civilization is about to collapse. They are trying to pick a Supreme Court justice right now, and they will find it very frustrating because that process is controlled by a few elites.

Although I write for TV, I don't watch it very much any more. I get my information about the world from my computer. I use lists, chat rooms and the Web to tell me all about the culture war, the international war, and some of my personal interests. I can access for-profit media, governments, nonprofits, and people online who type in English. Despite all the many problems, I would say that the best of mainstream journalism, most of it for-profit, is usually the source I trust most. I confess I really like the CIA World Factbook. I also think that as a middle class American today I have free access to more information than anyone who died before I was born could have ever predicted. This is a golden age for journalism at the same time as our profession is in the trash.

I have a job giving voluntary customers what they want and I hope they also read, but in a free country what they do is not up to me. That is how it should be.

Posted by: Gareth Fenley at July 3, 2005 1:26 AM | Permalink

I am receiving threat messages to my personal safety from B.B.C, please help me
read in my Blog:

Posted by: Afghan LORD at July 3, 2005 3:24 AM | Permalink


It's been a long time, so my memory ain't perfect. But in 1987, when the liberals blocked Bork, part of the reason was a host of white Democratic Senators from the South who had been elected in 1986 thanks, in part, to a surge in black voter registration stimulated both by foundation investments and the Jesse Jackson 1984 campaign, felt pressure from their constituents to swing against Bork.

The advocacy groups aren't aiming to get their members to just send letters to Specter; they want to convince Senators who may be vulnerable in their next election that how they vote on this nominee could affect their re-election prospects. That's why this isn't just a shadow play.

Posted by: Micah Sifry at July 3, 2005 8:49 AM | Permalink

The coming battle over the Supreme Court is less about who replaces O'Connor, and more about future elections --- and how a Federal institution that was supposed to be immune to the vagaries of politics and ideologies is about to be swamped by them.

And while the media concentrates on the "far right" inspired culture war thats all about abortion and gay rights, what they will be ignoring is the far more pernicious reality that what we are watching is a war on the culture of jurisprudence, and the traditional relationship between the branches of government.

The very idea that one would nominate and confirm a judge with the purpose of overturning standing Supreme Court precedent is anathema to our system of government, and the stability of our laws and institutions. It is, in fact, an act that is revolutionary and radical --- but the media coverage will be all about "abortion" and "gay rights" and other nonsense.

We are about to enter an era where we no longer elect officials to write and administer our laws --- instead, we will be electing them to put ideologically driven judges on the courts who will "rewrite" existing laws to our liking without regard to standing precedent. Black will suddenly become white, up will be down, and no one will know what the law really is because it all depends on who controls the courts at any given point in time --- and if you wait a bit, the law will change anyway.

It would be nice if the media would explain this to people.... but I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: ami1 [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 3, 2005 9:20 AM | Permalink

Unfortunately ami1, the press would have to explain facts unpleasant to the left such as the non-existence of a Constitutional right to abortion. You can look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls. The Supreme Court just made this "right" up out of whole cloth, and in my view ignited the culture wars. In fact, one of the Justices (can't remember who) now says that the Roe v. Wade was one of the worst modern court decisions.

I assume ami1 either wasn't alive during the great liberal court activist period of the 60's and 70's or just doesn't know history, because if he/she did, he/she would know that exactly the things he/she is saying were said by the right-wing at that time, especially the "ideological driven judges will 'rewite' existing laws" bit. Oooh, the irony!

Personally, I plan on not giving a damn. I figure we survived a liberal Supreme Court (although I'm not sure on balance if it hurt or helped the country) and we'll survive a more conservative court, if that's how it shakes out. This will be a natural corrective, long overdue in my view. It would be nice to have a moderate, non-living-constitution type judge, but that's probably asking too much.

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 3, 2005 11:33 AM | Permalink

But Jay, the battle roy-al is what's its all about. Let the fun begin.

Meanwhile, what about this for an Independence Day send off:

Freedom's Just Another Word...

Posted by: fast2write [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 3, 2005 5:54 PM | Permalink

Jay, I just included you in a July 4 blog. I started out writing about how the media are doing a terrible job covering the war but my criticism also goes out to the coverage of the Supreme Court.
You might also like my letter to Robert Novak.

Posted by: Scott Butki at July 3, 2005 8:47 PM | Permalink

Jay, what is the difference between the "heavily politicized charges of bias" in the link and The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow.?

Was your previous essay a heavily politicized charge of bias? Was it a political statement by you?

Posted by: Sisyphus at July 4, 2005 1:06 AM | Permalink

The complete Agar interview with Rumsfeld.

Posted by: Sisyphus at July 4, 2005 1:10 AM | Permalink

Honestly, Kilgore: the notion that the Supreme Court "ignited" the culture wars with Roe v. Wade is just about the stupidest thing you've ever signed on to. I don't know how old you are or how much US history you've read — I'm old enough to remember "Impeach Earl Warren" billboards — but culture wars have been part and parcel of this country since before it was a country, and the Supreme Court has been "making up" Constitutional rights from whole cloth since Marbury v Madison.

Abortion is only among the most recent incarnations of a cultural clash, and relative to some others before it — the actual shooting war of the 1860's, the labor rights conflicts in the late 19th century and on up through the first half of the twentieth, and the Civil Rights movement among them — it has to this point been one of the milder ones.

Among the instances where ami1 is right and you're wrong is that we're in one of the relatively rare periods during our history when the concept of an independent judiciary is under overt attack from another branch of government (both branches, in this case). After Roosevelt's unsuccessful attempt to pack the court, most presidents until now have attempted to steer something at least vaguely resembling a middle course with respect to the judiciary — Orrin Hatch noted in his memoir that he suggested both of the Supreme Court justices appointed by Clinton while Hatch was the ranking member of the judiciary committee; I seriously doubt we'll hear anything similar from Leahy with respect to Bush — and most legislators have done the same: Reagan and Bush I had relatively little difficulty getting the vast majority of their judiciary nominees confirmed despite facing Democratic majorities, and if any Congressional leaders in recent history have publicly threatened judges or wished violence upon them as Tom DeLay and Jon Cornyn, respectively, have done, I don't recall it. And nor do I recall any previous Congress legislating the removal of an individual case from a state court to a federal one.

It's worth noting, I think, that what conservatives and reactionaries often refer to as "creating" new rights is generally referred to by the courts as "recognizing" them. Brown v Board of Education, for instance, didn't "create" the right of Negroes to attend the same schools as the pigmentationally challenged: it recognized that right and gave it the force of law. Roe v Wade didn't "create" a right to privacy or a woman's right to control her own biological processes: it recognized that right and gave it the force of law.

Jay, I think Micah and ami1 have the "war" pegged pretty well. It's aimed at motivating the party bases and creating issues heading into the next election, and it's also aimed at providing the senators with graphic illustrations of the amount of money and the numbers of supporters the various groups can raise and mobilize. It really is the same as the electoral process, just one degree separated and with the twist that senators aren't being threatened with an opponent from the other party, or at least not only with that, but with the prospect of an opponent from within their own; i.e., if you don't vote the way we want you to, we'll give our tens of millions of dollars and bodies to your opponent in the primaries. Even for senators with safe seats, that's an exhausting prospect.

Senators are always at liberty to and most often do describe their votes as "a deeply personal and principled decision;" they'll say the same about highway appropriations, and I'm sure for some of them it's sometimes true. It's also a sure thing that a good half of them will be seen afterward reaching for explanations of why they abandoned their deeply personal principles come roll call time or wishing what they know now had been tattooed on the inside of their eyelids (instead of just being widely available outside their skulls) then.

In the context of the awfulness of the press, I don't find the coverage particularly awful. A lot of reporters are actually excited by the story and so are providing a bit more in the way of historical context, which is a major leap forward from the way most stories not involving vanished telegenic white females are handled. Yes, there already is and will be a lot more stupid coverage, but we're already seeing that it won't be all stupid.

Gareth, I may be wrong but I'm pretty sure that saturation coverage of missing white chicks has been shown to hurt ratings. Not that anyone can afford to ignore the Circus Circus stories altogether, but Ted Turner demonstrated pretty convincingly before he sold CNN that there's an audience for hard news, and CNN is demonstrating pretty convincingly now that abandoning it isn't the secret to news channel success.

Posted by: weldon berger at July 4, 2005 2:30 AM | Permalink

Tim asks: "what is the difference between the 'heavily politicized charges of bias' in the link and The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow?"

The difference is that Rumsfeld said the news from Iraq is too negative. He thinks this is a wonderful way to discuss war coverage-- I don't. "Too negative" is a politicized charge because it helps activate the culture war, in part by suggesting the press is "against" the war and the troops, and by providing an explanation for declining public support (negative news is to blame.)

That attitude in turn leads to things like this, as reported today by Fox News (and discussed by Scott at Scoop Stories.)

WASHINGTON — A contingent of conservatives talk radio hosts is headed to Iraq this month on a mission to report "the truth" about the war: American troops are winning, despite headlines to the contrary...
Mark Williams, talk show host for KFBK in Sacramento and a member of the delegation, said the group will report "what we see and what we are told," but their collective feeling is that there is mostly good.

"We believe that the emphasis has been placed on the negative and if Americans knew what really was going on over there they would have an entirely different picture," said Williams.

"We are Americans first and journalists second, as opposed to the crop of 'pinkos' that tell us on the news every night that America is going to hell in a hand basket," he said.

But I would add that not everything Rumsfeld said is incompatible with what I wrote.

"Was your previous essay a heavily politicized charge of bias?" Tim asks. No, I don't think so.

"Was it a political statement by you?" Yeah, sure, somewhere it probably was. I think doing press criticism is inherently political act.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 4, 2005 11:27 AM | Permalink

Some brave pollies are already breaking away from the mainstream media script and judging by the latest assessment by the Congress Online the virtual political world is half full:

How Congress Uses Blogs
As an emerging technology, it's interesting to observe the first stages of blogging on the Hill and contemplate its potential. This special edition highlights the new and innovative ways (by Hill standards, at least) that Members are using blogs and how a few politicians off the Hill are using them, as well.

'Few Members of Congress have taken the plunge and created blogs to communicate with constituents. Their hesitance is understandable given the unfiltered nature of blogs and the high workload demands already placed on Members and their staff. As an emerging technology, however, it's interesting to observe the first stages of blogging on the Hill and contemplate its potential.'
Congress Online Special Edition July 2004 (41st): The Blow-by-Blow Blog

The Fifth Estate Observers: DelaBlogger, Blue States of Mind and So this is mass communication?

PS: Happy Birthday Amerika ;-)

Posted by: Jozef Imrich at July 4, 2005 12:08 PM | Permalink

Weldon: "a good half of them will be seen afterward reaching for explanations of why they abandoned their deeply personal principles come roll call time or wishing what they know now had been tattooed on the inside of their eyelids (instead of just being widely available outside their skulls) then."

*clap clap clap*

Posted by: Lisa Williams at July 4, 2005 3:34 PM | Permalink

Roe v Wade didn't "create" a right to privacy or a woman's right to control her own biological processes: it recognized that right and gave it the force of law.

Roe v Wade simply isn't that easy, and it did "create" something. It created a class of unborn human beings who have been deprived of ALL their civil rights. The issue will never go away, and SCOTUS should never have voted to hear it the first time. It should have been decided state by state and through the legislative process.

By both deliberate design and unfortunate accident SCOTUS is now inhabited by a majority of justices who do not find themselves lacking in integrity or consistency when they 'selectively' interpret the Constitution and violate the Bill of Rights to promote alleged social agendas. (Kelo v New London)

Scared of more Scalias and Thomases?

You bet your ass too many people with radical or corrupt business agendas are. Scalias don't find mystical revelations and emanations in the Bill of Rights. Strict constructionalists like their textual basis. Thomases have no problem re-examing "bad law", disregarding stare decisis when apppropriate. I could see Dred Scott and Brown v Board of Education profoundly affecting the legal philosophy of a Clarence Thomas in a way that no white person, regarless of how progressive, can ever possibly understand. It would not surprise me that he might identify with the smallest minority, the minority of one individual..who might also happen to be temporarily in utero.

Unfortunately there is not going to be a real war on this appointment. There may be staged one, but I doubt Bush will nominate anyone of the stature of a Scalia or a Thomas. The average American, the one who quietly pulls the wagon in this country, couldn't possibly be that fortunate.

Posted by: notyou at July 4, 2005 7:44 PM | Permalink

Hey weldon,

Orrin Hatch noted in his memoir that he suggested both of the Supreme Court justices appointed by Clinton while Hatch was the ranking member of the judiciary committee; I seriously doubt we'll hear anything similar from Leahy with respect to Bush.

Orrin Hatch, a conservative, gave president Clinton 2 names - Ginsburgh and Breyer, both liberals. They were both nominated in their turn and confirmed with no threat of filibuster. Apparently, Orrin Hatch holds the strange opinion that liberal presidents should be able to appoint liberal judges, and conservative presidents (especially presidents elected by a public with full knowledge that there would likely be supreme court vacancies this term) should be able to appoint conservative judges.

For us to hear something similar from Leahy, he would have to give president Bush the names of 2 conservative jusges. I think you are right: that will never happen.

Posted by: Jeff Hartley at July 4, 2005 10:39 PM | Permalink

Berger: Thanks for noticing "the stupidist thing" I've ever "signed on to". Like the jocks say, I'm taking it to a higher level. I also need to thank you for reminding me how literal some commenters can be in a venue like PressThink where we all don't sing from the same hymnal.You are quite correct---the culture wars didn't start with Rove v. Wade. I should have said that the CURRENT culture war began with Roe v. Wade. But that's just my view.

Also, Alas is correct in his/her assessment. I live in a blue state with two Democrat Senators. One is a certified moonbat, and it's too soon to tell about the other. But at any rate, I won't be getting a vote for Justice. Democrats and their special interest groups should pour money into winning Congressional seats and/or the Presidency and not pour moolah into a once-in-a-lifetime Supreme Court slot. However, I have no e×pectations that NARAL, NOW, NAACP and other Dem special interest (or culture conservatives, either) will heed this---evidently, they have money to burn on a lost cause. Maybe we should look at the upside of this as "good for the economy"----media outlets are making out like bandits courtesy of Soros, et al.---it's what keeps our country strong!

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 5, 2005 1:55 PM | Permalink

Steve L. -- Regarding the Cooper/Miller case. How is the prosecutor abusing his power? You don't even know the nature of his case or who or what he's pursuing. So that's an absurd statement.

Regarding the same law on source protection applying to all--yes, it should. I agree. However, at the Federal level, no law exists. The Supreme Court has ruled by default that there is no Constitutional source protection privilege, which isn't to say there couldn't be a legislated one if "the people" (ie., legislature) chooses to create it by statute. So your (our) mission would be to convince enough legislators to pass that law (as of course some states have). In the meantime, civil disobedience may or may not be warranted, but I would tend to think it isn't in this case.

Also your comments to Trout in the last thread reveal again you are a "get Bush" guy, regardless of fact or circumstance. Jay chastised me for rejecting some arguments because I attributed them to "get Bush" itis. I feel not so bad now, seeing that I was more or less on the mark.

Posted by: Lee Kane at July 5, 2005 2:11 PM | Permalink

Kilgore, forgive me for thinking you meant what you said. Even in your more contemporary model, though, Roe v Wade hardly represents the onset of any conflict between libertines and moralists or harlots and saints or murderers and lambs or whatever the two sides here are.

Jeff: The point is that Leahy will never get the opportunity Hatch did because Bush suffers no compulsion to consult with the minority. I guarantee you Democrats have a list of at least a dozen competent and well-respected mainstream conservative jurists they would happily sign on to, and they will be publicly, pathetically grateful in the unlikely event they enjoy the opportunity to do so.

Notyou: I'm sure Clarence Thomas does have his own unique response to Dred Scott and Brown. Unless you're contending that there are no African Americans who support abortion rights, it's one of those observations that doesn't mean a lot with respect to the issue.

Posted by: weldon berger at July 5, 2005 4:02 PM | Permalink


>i>I guarantee you Democrats have a list of at least a dozen competent and well-respected mainstream conservative jurists they would happily sign on to, and they will be publicly, pathetically grateful in the unlikely event they enjoy the opportunity to do so.

That's intriguing. I wonder if there is a good reason why the democrats are keeping the "dozen competent and well-respected mainstream conservative jurists" they are willing to confirm a secret? Why wait for Bush? Why not release the list to the press today?

Posted by: Jeff Hartley at July 5, 2005 4:27 PM | Permalink

Well, jeff, the Democrats have certainly had their chance. In Newsday today, Chas. Shumer said, among other things, that "I don't like ideologues on the bench" (I suppose he meant ideologues who don't agree with him), that he wants someone "who will interpret the law, not make it" (who knew Chuck was an originalist?), and that he had "no litmus test" (except the Sacred Rite of Abortion, of course).

Still, when asked what nominee might meet his requirements, "Shumer declined to discuss any specific possible nominees". Gee, I wonder why? Maybe 'cause there ain't none.

Hey Berger, spill your guts, let's see who these conservative nominees are who Chuck, and that "moderate" Ted Kennedy, who warned in yesterday's WaPo against "litmus tests", would approve. Inquiring minds want to know!

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 5, 2005 5:33 PM | Permalink

Fair enough: I'll see what I can find out. As to why Democrats wouldn't want to come out with a list now, the answer is obvious: the candidates would be the immediate targets of a smear campaign from the radical right.

Posted by: weldon berger at July 5, 2005 6:24 PM | Permalink

Lee --
"Get Bush" ? Come on. I don't even believe Bush is in charge. But that's another story.
As for the Pearlstine-Cooper-Miller fiasco, you're right. Neither I (nor anyone else) knows the nature of Fitzgerald's case, or who or what he's pursuing.
Especially given his actions of today, in which he cast aside the hapless Pearlstine's peace offering and demanded grand jury testimony by Matt Cooper and harsh prison conditions for Cooper and Miller to coerce cooperation.
Which really pisses me off -- since you and I, as taxpayers, are paying the bill for this clown's tinfoil hat.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 5, 2005 9:01 PM | Permalink

To answer Jay's question, the activists will be playing the roles they played in a few of the past nomination battles. Lani Guinier, Robert Bork, and Clarence Thomas were activist-driven battles (only the last of which did the activists lose) in which no-holds-barred character attacks and hostile scrutiny took over the nominating process. I would not argue that these battles had no effect on the votes in the Senate, and in fact were responsible for framing the bloody battle that looms before us now. It is the inevitable result of expanding judicial power in a closely divided republic. If you win in the Supreme Court ideological contest, you win big. That is why the activists are mobilizing like Eisenhower preparing for the Normandy invasion.

Posted by: Brian at July 5, 2005 11:03 PM | Permalink

Whoops, of course Guinier was not a SC nominee, but the battle over her appointment employed similar tactics.

Posted by: Brian at July 5, 2005 11:06 PM | Permalink

For those interested, I discussed the Matt Cooper and Judith Miller prosecution on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show today. Click here to listen (mp3 file.)

Offtopic: Can anyone think of a reason why PressThink is not on Technorati's list of Top 100 Blogs when according to Technorati it has 2,323 links from 1,277 sites, which should mean a rank around 75? Not that I am complaining...

And... coming next: Orville Schell, dean of the J-School at University of California, Berkeley, replies to my earlier post: Deep Throat, J-School and Newsroom Religion.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 6, 2005 12:57 AM | Permalink

I don't get the mystery posed in your item. Liberal and conservative activists are trying to generate hundreds of thousands of emails and phone calls by frightened, outraged and motivated voters to wavering senators on the brink of a close vote.

Offtopic: Can anyone think of a reason why PressThink is not on Technorati's list of Top 100 Blogs when according to Technorati it has 2,323 links from 1,277 sites, which should mean a rank around 75?


Posted by: Christopher Fotos at July 6, 2005 10:29 AM | Permalink

For more decades than I care to say, I’ve worked in a part of the world that is subject to persistent drought AND regular flooding. When it rains here, it’s a bastard. And each rainy season takes us, cameras and notebooks in tow, to count the dead, the flood-ruined homes and acres of Texas geography awash in rivers gone mad.

Once, a old woman stopped her efforts to shovel mud from what once was her kitchen to speak to reporters. We’re just a story to you, she said. A headline. “But there’s people living out here,” she said. “And they’re hurting.” And she was right. In our fashion, we’d gone out to get the story and missed it entirely. All those lives ‘out here’ involved a lot more than flooded roads and a water line up to the light fixture.

I think about that now, reading the commentary to this blog. How everything is reduced to the political essence of Left/Right.

The media are grievously wrong, not because they have grown lazy, careless or too scared of the future. Our brethren on the Right insist it must be because they are partners with the Left in cabal to twist the nobility of conservatism and George Bush into lies. Oh, the Left has its moments too, arguing the rightward drift of the media as they kowtow to Bush and his toadies when they mean the press hasn’t beat up on the White House to their satisfaction.

Rove calls the Left coddlers of terrorists and the Right nods approvingly. Despite there are leftists and Democrats in the list of dead from Iraq and tally of those killed Sept. 11.
Santorum intones that the Catholic Churches priest-sex scandal largely falls on…wait for it…liberal cultural values. Ignoring the theme of personal responsibility and the sexual scandals of more than a few conservatives. Some here suggests that American culture has gone straight to hell and we can blame it on the liberals and Roe v. Wade. Proof again that opinions are like navels: we all have them.

What gets left out of this over-simplification is that there are a lot of people living out here. Conservatives who are thoughtful and kind and generous to the poor. Liberals who believe in God and country and are willing to fight for their beliefs. And people who don’t really give a shit about political labels but simply want to work, buy homes, raise their kids and enjoy their families.

How nice it would be to discuss the problems facing journalism (and it’s more likely to happen here than in most blogs) without relying on oversimplification. The more we shout out the labels, the more we’re going to believe they’re true.

Sorry. Had to get it off my chest.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 6, 2005 1:02 PM | Permalink

Bravo Dave! Really. (it's what I love about this place)

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 6, 2005 1:35 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Kilgore.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 6, 2005 11:57 PM | Permalink

Once, a old woman stopped her efforts to shovel mud from what once was her kitchen to speak to reporters. We’re just a story to you, she said. A headline. “But there’s people living out here,” she said. “And they’re hurting.” And she was right.

That she was right is another reason "the production of innocence" is so important to journalists.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 7, 2005 12:21 AM | Permalink

Point taken, Jay. But the dynamic gets weirder. For the journalism really kicks in the moment you're confronted with the humans in the story.

Take the horror unfolding now in London. CNN is looping scene after scene of the human costs of a terrorist attack. But the talking heads are focusing on policy/reaction/supposition as a press conference looms.

Which do you think has the most impact on the viewer?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 7, 2005 12:21 PM | Permalink

From the Intro