Libby Trial Day Two: About the Media
First of all, rather than do a full synopisis of the day's nitty gritty, let me refer you to the comment threads here and here, and to these articles at MSNBC, the Washington Post and the AP from today. I'll have more updates in the morning to kick off tomorrow's jury selection live blogging. I have to say, the process of watching each juror open up, each personality pop out, is a lot of fun, and often, really entertaining. I don't even have room or time to type it all up. For a flavor, check out those comment threads I link above.
As a blogger entering what is arguably the inner sanctum of Washington DC political reporting, credentialed to cover the Libby trial from inside the courtroom, I'm quite aware I'm helping blaze a new "crashing the gate" trail. In some ways, it's surreal, but then again, I feel at home in the work, though I never imagined this for myself or even aspired to do it.
Because Judge Walton does not want jurors to feel overwhelmed by the presence of the press during their questioning, only two pool reporters, rotating in shifts, are in the courtroom at any given time. The rest of us are in a separate room with closed circuit television of the proceedings. It works.
I've always known our national reporters are hardworking, diligent people who do work we in the blogosphere don't uniformly do well, even as I've offered sometimes blistering criticism. In the blogosphere, we're not trained or supported with the resources necessary to do investigative reporting, and most of us do not conceive of ourselves as reporters. I consider myself more of an analyst and commentator than a reporter, though I have broken a wee story or two, nailing down quotes in interviews, in my time. But I'm not nearly as good at getting the hard quotes right in real time as are my colleagues in the media room at the courthouse. It's not my training, and anyway, I'm not by personality that diligent with detail. I'm not bad, I'm just not. . . anal, and I mean that as a compliment.
At the same time, there's a reason why this particular gate has been crashed. We who live, write and think outside the culture of governmental Washington, in which I include the national political press, have been immune to the particular groupthink that infects our governing class, a groupthink that not only led our media establishment to marginalize all dissent in the runup to the Iraq invasion, but which also prevented our national media from seeing the Libby/Plame story as it is for quite some time. In the persons of Bob Woodward and Judith Miller, both the Washington Post and the New York Times famously and publicly shamed themselves during the course of this story, and that shame will be revisited through sworn testimony before the trial is over.
This trial, though it is narrowly about alleged perjury and obstruction of justice, functions like a Rosetta Stone to display so much of what has been wrong with our national establishment so far in this young century. More of those details will emerge – the scandalous coziness with those in authority, the institutional inability to see the world from a point of view that did not fundamentally favor the reigning GOP Washington establishment – and I won't pick apart what's left of our governing elites' remaining credibility in this post. I will say that, in many regards, members of the establishment media have begun to rediscover the storyline.
But why was that storyline ever lost? I said as I began my coverage of this voir dire process that I would inform my coverage by my perspective as one with a doctorate in psychology. Accordingly, my take is that, fundamentally, this has been a human phenomenon, as well as an institutional one, or a story of some fourth estate institutions that lost their way by fundamentally losing sight of their core missions in society, as opposed to their fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders and to their business managers. These are not bad people, for the most part (just as many bloggers are hardworking, professional people who not only throw sharp elbows, but sustain a passion for telling the truth), but these are and have been failing institutions, animated by a culture in DC that became overly enamored of the idea of its own inherent wisdom to make judgments.
We in the blogosphere have some structural advantages over my new friends, or at least, my new acquaintances, in the press room. We don't have to rush to deadline. We have time to think, to reflect, to connect the dots before writing. We're not always as good at the immediate who, what, where, and when, but we're also sometimes better at the why, precisely because we're not as close to the action. That's counterintuitive for our nation's reporters, but it seems true, at least in some very notable instances. Understanding the why helps us see the big picture of the story that closer review can conceal.
Is this a fundamental, enduring advantage? I don't know. We've certainly done better on the big picture of the Libby story and the Plame investigation. Murray Waas, who is not popular among DC insiders, has done better even on the investigative details, though some established journalists who have known him harbor powerful negative feelings about him. Still, on some major stories like the Plame investigation and the Arkansas Project before it, all of his work has really held up.
So, there I am in the press room, mostly warmly greeted, though by some, perhaps, merely cordially tolerated. My presence is something of an implicit criticism of the national media establishment: sites like this one thrived in the vacuum created by the failures of our establishment press. I don't know, and don't dare predict, what the future holds in a world where bloggers have courtroom credentials to the Libby trial and where all the establishment media outlets are rushing to establish blogs (sometimes "blogs") of their own. I can say I'm learning a lot, perhaps more than I can yet quantify or articulate from my experience in the mixing bowl, though if the result of this odd admixture is the recapturing of the storyline of what's actually happening in the use of power by government in this country, with a resulting, enduring openness to the world of voices outside of Washington, DC, then I'm more than glad to play some small part in it.
Then perhaps I can go back to putting food on my family.