Journalism

Beltway Journos Grasp at Credential Authority to Try to Keep Out Blogger Experts Like SCOTUSBlog

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Not all gatekeepers are so obvious
Credit: Mark Fischer / photo on flickr

A terrible Supreme Court decision yesterday probably hasn't gotten the attention it really deserves. That's likely because the decision wasn't made by the justices but rather by a group of journalists who have the power to decide who gets credentials to cover Congress (which in turn helps determine who gets credentials to cover the Supreme Court). The Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery, at the same time as the Supreme Court was announcing new rulings, declared that SCOTUSBlog, one of the best resources to keep track of and understand the intricacies of the rulings of our highest court, did not qualify for media credentials.

Thousands turn to SCOTUSBlog for their explanations of Supreme Court decisions. The site's publisher, Tom Goldstein, noted in his response to the committee's decision that 10,000 people were watching their liveblog of yesterday's decisions at the same time that the committee was denying the press credentials.

And the main reason the committee denied credentials for SCOTUSBlog is also the main reason why people turn to the site: It has lawyers who have argued before the court writing for them. The committee argued that SCOTUSBlog lacks editorial independence because Goldstein is both the publisher of the site and "lobbies the government" as a lawyer. It's a decision that fails to grasp how the Internet has changed how the public can avoid certain gatekeepers (or perhaps just vainly hopes to hold back the tide). Experts no longer need to be filtered through journalists in order to communicate to the public, and there are times where this can be an improvement, such as dealing with some very complicated Supreme Court decisions. Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conpsiracy (hosted at The Washington Post, which has an employee on the Standing Committee of Correspondents), criticized the choice for these reasons:

By making it possible for anyone to communicate to the world at large, the Internet makes feasible (among other things) reporting and analysis by experts in the field — not just reporters who often lack the experts' experience, education, or specialization, and not just by large mainstream media organizations that understandably lack a commitment to truly deep coverage of a particular issue.

If you're interested in the latest decisions about computer crime law, you are no longer limited in reading what reporters who know little about computer crime law have to say about it; you can also come to this blog and read Orin Kerr, the leading American expert on computer crime law. If you're interested in breaking news stories about appellate decisions, you can read appellate lawyer Howard Bashman's posts on How Appealing. If you're interested in linguistics stories in the news, you can read the linguistics professors at Language Log. If you're interested in the Supreme Court, you can read the unparalleled resources put together by SCOTUSblog, which was founded by Tom Goldstein, one of the nation's leading Supreme Court litigators.

And you can read these items without the filtering, oversimplification, and distortion that usually happen when nonexpert journalists write about technical issues — and that often happen even when the best, most knowledgeable nonexpert journalists write about such issues. Of course, you can still choose to read nonexpert journalists' stories on the subject, precisely because you value the filtering and simplification that the nonexpert journalists provide; often, that's what one wants, especially on subjects in which one has only modest interest. But sometimes, you want to go straight to someone who has decades of professional experience actually working on what he's writing about.

And of course, the 24/7 news cycle results in infamous mistakes. Everybody remembers the contradictory reports of the outcome of the Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare mandates with Fox and CNN both getting it wrong.  Does anybody remember that White House staff were watching SCOTUSBlog's live feed to get the right information?

What I find most amusing—or perhaps galling (I am often amused by things that are galling)—about the committee's decision is how it treats traditional news outlets as though they aren't huge businesses that also frequently lobby the government. Media is probably the only industry in the world where a huge chunk of its own employees simply cannot grasp that they are part of a business. Does every journalist turn in his or her credentials when a free press issue comes before the court? Don't be silly. Newspapers cover lawsuits even where the newspaper itself is a party. They simply are transparent with readers that they have a connection with the case. SCOTUSblog also indicates when a lawyer with the site has a connection with any case they're covering. It's up to the readers to decide how much weight to give that knowledge when reading the blog's analysis of a case. The same is true for traditional media outlets. Maybe that's what's scary for some journalists; that even knowing of potential biases at SCOTUSblog, some readers still see them as having better command of the information.

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  1. one of the best resources to keep track of and understand the intricacies of the rulings of our highest court, did not qualify for media credentials.

    You realize that you have your answer, nicely wrapped up in that statement.

    1. Galling — not amusing.

  2. It’s almost as though they knew they couldn’t compete on a level playing field.

  3. The media is a bunch of authoritarian cunts who want to stifle competition and monopolize political thought? I’ll go get my shocked face out of the closet.

  4. Good luck trying to hold back the tide, lamestream media.

    Yeah, we shouldn’t rely on experts to cover the Supreme Court – we should rely on journalism majors who skim an opinion and then call some interest group on their Rolodex to give a sound bite, followed by “balancing” the comment by an interest group on the other side.

    1. I don’t think journalist understand the idea of specialized knowledge, or they think it somehow doesn’t apply to them because they’re just so smart and special. These people think they can make a pencil.

    2. I really need Ezra Klein to break down the latest SCOTUS ruling. People like Volokh or Randy Barnett are just too darn confusing.

  5. Maybe that’s what’s scary for some journalists; that even knowing of potential biases at SCOTUSblog, some readers still see them as having better command of the information.

    Well, yeah. One of the great “lies” of mainstream journalism is that reporters actually have the expertise to report on, well, just about anything. Especially since science and computers and other specialized/technical stories have come to be very important to the news. Journalists, as a general rule, don’t know shit about anything. Yet somehow they’ve kept up this lie that they’re the only ones fit to convey information regarding all these things they know nothing about.

    Observant people in more technical fields have seen this appalling ignorance for a long time now. Computers and guns in particular come to mind. You pretty much can’t find a story about them that isn’t riddled with ignorance and errors.

    This is the last veil that mass media is trying to keep from being swept away, but it’s not going to work.

    1. Which gives some context to the denunciations of “false balance” – because those smart reporters with their expertise *know* which side of a dispute is right, and so it’s unfair to give all sides, they should just broadcast the correct perspective.

    2. When I was a pup, the airplane I flew was still new and generated a lot of media coverage. The local news came out to do a piece on it and a friend of mine gave them the dog and pony show. Watched the piece that night and literally half the “facts” they cited were completely wrong.

      I use that as a guide. Half of everything presented by the media is wrong. They simply DON’T CARE if the information is correct. If they make their deadline and generate controversy it’s MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

      1. My experience is that the proportion of facts that the media gets right is inversely proportional to your knowledge of the subject they are covering.

        1. The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers. ~Thomas Jefferson

      2. There’s also wrong and REALLY FUCKING WRONG. The latter seems to be the case more and more.

    3. “By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”
      ? Oscar Wilde

      1. That and the Jefferson quote above are good illustrations of how people thinking that journalists are generally trustworthy and unbiased is an anomaly of the later 20th century.

  6. The only remedy to this abuse is to set up a government agency to take the place of the Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery.

    1. A journalist shield law would have prevented this.

      1. Well, I’m always for using journalists as shields.

      2. This is actually an excellent preview of what a journalist shield law would actually do: entrench legacy journalists and penalize new voices.

  7. That’s likely because the decision wasn’t made by the justices but rather by a group of journalists who have the power to decide who gets credentials to cover Congress (which in turn helps determine who gets credentials to cover the Supreme Court).

    How in the wide, wide world of sports did they ever get this power? How can this possibly jive with the 1st Amendment?

    What pompous, fucking prigs. Worse yet, feeling the cold breath of death on their industry and pulling the wagons in a circle to stave that off.

    1. The death of the news industry is exactly what tyrannical government wants. To be a self-imposed death is every bureaucrat’s wet dream.

  8. So how is it that The Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery gets all the press credentials anyway? What if the SCOTUSBlog guys show up with a freshly minted credential from Mad Scientist’s Discount Orphans and Press Credentials?

    1. The Committee on Rules and Administration.

      1. The Committee on Committees would like a word with you…

    2. So how is it that The Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery gets all the press credentials anyway?

      Ask Julian Assange.

  9. This is disappointing. Self-policing their own ranks usually works out just fine for corrupt, insular professions with vastly inflated senses of their worth to society at large.

    1. How else can you explain why so many cops are exonerated by internal investigations?

    2. Well who else is going to do it, NutraSweet? You? No, it requires a panel of journalism experts. Only their “experts” can police themselves, but on the other hand, they are capable of policing all other professions.

      1. But Epi, if journalists are our self-appointed watchmen, then who watches the Watchmen?

        Nobody, that’s who. Because Zack Snyder is a hack.

        1. But what about people who want to see blue full-frontal nudity? Like me?

          1. Smurf-fucking shroom-raper.

            1. “No, no, Papa Smurf! Take it out! It’s too big!”

      1. But we aren’t having sex.

        1. Is that your “safe phrase”, Francisco?

            1. Dayum

    1. …I GUARD A GATE THROUGH A WALL WHICH HAS COLLAPSED IN SO MANY PLACES THAT YOU DON’T REALLY NEED TO GO THROUGH THE GATE AT ALL

      1. I AM THE NIGHTRIDER!!!

        Wait, wrong idiom, movie…everything…

          1. THE NIGHTRIDER WASN’T IN ROAD WARRIOR YOU BONEHEAD HE WAS IN MAD MAX

            Just walk away, and I’ll spare your lives.

            1. That…THING….is not the Goose…

      2. Is this some obscure rosebud pr0n reference?

  10. I still recall very clearly the instructions and viewpoint of the Ed in Chief of the college paper when I became Opinion Ed (what a GREAT job – they even PAID us!):

    She Ed: “The important thing is that we want to get a reaction to our stories.”

    *awkward silence*

    Me Ed: “Um….I thought the most important thing was that we had the correct FACTS, THEN that we got a reaction….”

    Neither of us ended up as Journalists?, which is probably a good thing for the world.

    Still – you see the mindset is already there, even in a fucking COLLEGE newspaper.

    1. What good are facts if they don’t increase sales?

      And don’t forget children’s logic – every failure of yours can be blamed on someone else. So if the history of being fucking ignorant of the stories they cover somehow winds up decreasing sales, they will blame the marketing department or the art department or anything else before they blame the shitty editors.

      And even if they DO sack the editors, the sales are lost forever so what good is getting better editors and writers going to do? It’ll take years to re-earn the trust that was lost so why bother.

      Easier to ask for subsidies than to do the hard work day-in and day-out.

  11. Also, as Francisco notes above about being interviewed re: an airplane, I distinctly remember being interviewed as a yute about playing bagpipes. How do they work, what’s some of the history of the instrument, how long did it take you to learn, where did you go for lessons.

    It was all See-Duck-Run simple. And…..

    I was misquoted, badly, AND about hald the shit was just wrong. Like, “I never said that!” wrong. Just as Francisco experienced.

    So, I’ve always felt kind of lucky being interviewed at 13 or 14 – cause I learned early on to trust nothing from the news.

    1. Um, typing skillz – “see-DICK-run” – ducks usually waddle, and it’s not all that simple for them.

      Anyhoo….as you were…

    2. My nephew covered prep sports for a newspaper for about 2 years. When I occasionally read the paper and saw one of his stories, I’d sometimes call him and say “I didn’t know about that, good story.” One particular story was about high school fishing teams – when I called him he said “The editor changed half of what I wrote so you probably have the wrong impression anyway.”

    1. I call the crazy one Bitey!

    2. There was no damn consensual biting, so he violates the guy’s liberty. WTF! Gives us a bad name and all. Why is he biting another dude though???

      I’ll effing bite you!!!! But only if u say ok……well…unless…if you try and violate my liberty then I’ll retaliate……That is in keeping with the VNAP and libertarian anarchist vampire policy.

      Libervamparchist????

      1. Is that why you can only enter a home after you’re invited?

        1. Ur smart. That’s part of the VNAP. :0)

  12. Media is probably the only industry in the world where a huge chunk of its own employees simply cannot grasp that they are part of a business.

    Church and state! Chinese wall! Journalists have no involvement in business ever ever ever ever ever! lolz

    1. (Incidentally, I’ve been told by a Chinese-American that “Chinese wall” is racist)

      1. Yeah, the SJW crowd is definitely not down with it, but you still hear it in the biz.

      2. Chinese Wall is lacist.

        Let’s get it right. For the children Chinks.

        1. *gets out and runs around car*

          1. File dlirr?

            1. +nice

        2. Dock that chink a day’s pay for sleeping on the job.

  13. The committee argued that SCOTUSBlog lacks editorial independence because Goldstein is both the publisher of the site and “lobbies the government” as a lawyer.

    So Bloomberg News will be losing their credentials, next?

    1. I wonder how many credentialed SCOTUS reporters work for organizations that have publicly supported, just to pull one issue out of thin air, a journalist shield law.

  14. Siobhan Hughes, Wall Street Journal, Chairwoman
    Peter Urban, Stephens Media, Secretary,
    Colby Itkowitz, Washington Post
    Kate Hunter, Bloomberg News
    Emily Ethridge, CQ RollCall

    ^Who? We’re supposed to get SCOTUS analysis from the “gossip on the hill” reporters? fucking christ.

    1. To be fair, we’ll get top-flight analysis on the latest styles in robes.

      1. I hear black is the trending shade.

        1. black is the new black

          1. I thought “wise Latina” was the new black?

  15. Well, yeah. One of the great “lies” of mainstream journalism is that reporters actually have the expertise to report on, well, just about anything. Especially since science and computers and other specialized/technical stories have come to be very important to the news. Journalists, as a general rule, don’t know shit about anything. Yet somehow they’ve kept up this lie that they’re the only ones fit to convey information regarding all these things they know nothing about.

    Which actually tickles me a little that it’s being wielded against lawyers, who once you stick them under a dome legislate the bejesus out of anything and everything, most of which they know nothing about. And this is from someone that enjoys the occasional read of SCOTUSblog.

    1. To be fair to lawyers, very few of them become legislators.

  16. At least in the 113th Congress…. 156 lawyers out of 435 Representatives, 55 out of 100 Senators. Of course, it’s just as depressing that 182/42 represent the numbers claiming ‘Public Service / Politics.’ http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42964.pdf

  17. Joining the Guild is a privilege not extended to mere peasants –
    the Guild has standards, not many I admit, but it has one or two that it will defend to the death (shortly approaching).

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