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Context of 'Early January, 2007: Bloggers Win Access to Cover Libby Trial'

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US District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, presiding over the grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), rejects arguments that the First Amendment protects reporters from either Time or NBC News from testifying in the investigation. Hogan cites the 1972 Supreme Court case, Branzberg v. Hayes, in his ruling. In Branzberg, the Court ruled that “we cannot accept the argument that the public interest in possible future news about crime… must take precedence over the public interest in pursuing and prosecuting those crimes.” Hogan finds Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see May 21, 2004) in contempt of court. He also finds Time itself in contempt, and fines the magazine $1,000 a day until Cooper complies with a subpoena for his testimony. The ruling was written on July 20, but only issued today. “The information requested,” Hogan explains in his decision, “is very limited, all available means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt.” Cooper’s employer, Time magazine, will appeal Hogan’s ruling, but many believe the appeals court will not overturn it. “I think we’re going to have a head-on confrontation here,” says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I think Matt Cooper is going to jail.” Cooper’s lawyer Floyd Abrams says: “[Cooper’s] story was essentially critical of the administration for leaking information designed to focus the public away from what Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband] was saying was true and toward personal things. That sort of story, about potential government misuse of power, is precisely the sort of thing that is impossible to do without the benefit of confidential sources.” [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] NBC reporter Tim Russert, also subpoenaed, did not contest the subpoena; the press learns today that he has already testified before the grand jury (see August 7, 2004 and August 9, 2004). Observers believe that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is preparing to use Hogan’s ruling to compel the testimony of two other reporters, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Walter Pincus (see August 9, 2004). One defense lawyer involved in the case says Hogan’s ruling gives Fitzgerald significant leverage to compel testimony from Novak and Pincus. “This is now open season on these reporters,” he says. The court’s ruling establishes unequivocally that “in a grand jury context, reporters don’t have a privilege.” NBC News president Neal Shapiro says, “Compelling reporters to reveal their newsgathering to government investigators is, in our view, contrary to the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press.” Dalglish says Fitzgerald should be focusing on prying information from Bush administration officials rather than reporters. Referring to administration officials, Dalglish says, “You just can’t tell me none of the people appearing before the grand jury knows who the leaker was.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Neal Shapiro, Joseph C. Wilson, Floyd Abrams, Bush administration (43), Lucy Dalglish, NBC News, Time magazine, Matthew Cooper, Walter Pincus, Tim Russert, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Thomas Hogan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Thomas Hogan holds New York Times reporter Judith Miller in contempt for refusing to answer a subpoena from the grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see August 12, 2004 and After). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 11/19/2009] Hogan orders Miller jailed for up to 18 months after she informs him she will not answer questions from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald about her conversations with officials. In turn, Hogan says Miller has no special right as a reporter to defy a subpoena in a criminal investigation. Hogan rules that he is satisfied Fitzgerald has exhausted other avenues of determining key information about the Plame Wilson identity leak, and that his questioning of journalists is a last resort rather than a “fishing expedition,” as the Times has argued. “The special counsel has made a limited, deferential approach to the press in this matter,” Hogan says. He goes on to note that journalists’ promise to protect their sources is outweighed by the government’s duty to investigate a serious crime. In a 1972 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect reporters called before a criminal grand jury. “We have a classic confrontation between conflicting interests,” Hogan says. Miller remains free on bond while the Times appeals his decision. After the ruling, Miller tells a group of reporters: “It’s really frightening when journalists can be put in jail for doing their job effectively. This is about all journalists and about all government officials who provide information on the promise of confidentiality. Without that, they won’t come forward, and the public won’t be informed.” Times executive editor Bill Keller says he is disturbed that Bush administration officials had been asked by their superiors in this case to sign waivers of confidentiality agreements with reporters (see January 2-5, 2004). “This is going to become all the rage in corporate and government circles,” he says. “It’s really spooky.” [CBS News, 10/7/2004; Washington Post, 10/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Bill Keller, Thomas Hogan, Bush administration (43), Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

MBA president Robert Cox.MBA president Robert Cox. [Source: Washington Post]The US District Court for the District of Columbia awards two seats for bloggers among the journalists who will cover the Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007). It is the first time bloggers have been granted this level of access to such a high-profile government court case. The two seats are among the 100 set aside for the media in the courtroom; well over 100 media personnel are expected to descend on the court before the trial starts; the court has set up an “overflow room” for the reporters, cameramen, and other personnel who are not able to get into the courtroom proper. The Media Bloggers Association (MBA) won the right to allow two of its members into the court, and the two seats will rotate among selected members. MBA president Robert Cox says the trial, and the involvement of bloggers covering it, could “catalyze” the association’s efforts to win respect and access for bloggers in federal and state courthouses. Thomas Kunkel of the University of Maryland School of Journalism says: “The Internet today is like the American West in the 1880s. It’s wild, it’s crazy, and everybody’s got a gun. There are no rules yet.” Cox hopes that the bloggers’ participation in the trial coverage may act to codify and legitimize bloggers’ news coverage. Sheldon Snook, an administrative assistant to Judge Thomas Hogan (see August 9, 2004 and October 7, 2004), says, “Bloggers can bring a depth of reporting that some traditional media organizations aren’t able to achieve because of space and time limitations.” Snook also notes that some bloggers bring a welcome expertise in legal or government matters to their reporting. Cox says the bloggers who the MBA will allow into the courtroom will be diverse in nature, with differing political outlooks and from different parts of the nation. “The history of where blogging is going to go is not defined. It could go in a very positive direction or it could go in a very negative direction,” Cox says. “We have to do more than just sit on our hands and see what happens.” [Washington Post, 1/11/2007] The liberal political blog FireDogLake (FDL) is also sending a team of bloggers to cover the trial, separately from MBA. Author Marcy Wheeler, who has covered the Libby investigation for FDL and an affiliated blog, The Next Hurrah, will be part of the FDL team, as will former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith. The FDL bloggers intend to sublet an apartment in Washington, where they will live and work as roommates during the legal proceedings. One FDL member will cover the trial from inside the courtroom, while others will work in the overflow room or via the Internet from the apartment. [Christy Hardin Smith, 1/3/2007; Jeralyn Merritt, 1/11/2007]

Entity Tags: Media Bloggers Association, Christy Hardin Smith, FireDogLake, Marcy Wheeler, The Next Hurrah, Robert Cox, Sheldon Snook, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Thomas Kunkel, US District Court for the District of Columbia

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Reggie Walton issues orders as to courtroom decorum for the upcoming Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007). The judicial order establishes a second “overflow room” (see Early January, 2007) for journalists, bloggers, and others to use to disseminate and correlate information during the proceedings. Walton prohibits the media from interviewing any of the trial participants or the jury. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/10/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Reggie B. Walton, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

An artist’s sketch of some of the proceedings in the Libby trial.An artist’s sketch of some of the proceedings in the Libby trial. [Source: Art Lien / Court Artist (.com)]A jury of nine men and three women, along with four alternates, is seated in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial, selected from an original jury pool of 60 prospects. The jury seating takes days longer than expected, in part because the Libby defense team works to block any jurors who state any disapproval of the Bush administration or its conduct of the Iraq war. Jurors are asked if they had ever applied for a job at the CIA, or know anyone who works for the agency. Some are asked if they know the meaning of the word “covert.” One prospective juror says: “A lot of what the CIA does is overtly covert.… My father was a Methodist minister. He didn’t run in those circles.” US District Judge Reggie Walton asks the potential jurors: “Mr. Libby is the former chief of staff and national security adviser of Vice President Cheney. Do any of you have feelings or opinions about the Bush administration or any of its policies or actions, whether positive or negative, that might affect your ability to give a former member of the Bush administration a fair trial?” Defense lawyer Theodore Wells tells one prospective juror, “There is a real possibility Vice President Cheney will be sitting in that chair,” indicating the witness stand. One potential juror responds, “I don’t have the highest opinion of him.” He continues that he has read a lot about the CIA leak case on Internet blogs and in the newspaper, and calls it “standard Washington politics.” After one potential juror tells the court that she voted for President Bush, Fitzgerald tells Walton that he is concerned the questions are getting too political. In the absence of the jurors, Fitzgerald says, “Now we’re finding out how people voted.” Defense lawyers say that because they intend to call Cheney to testify on Libby’s behalf (see December 19, 2006), they don’t want jurors who already dislike or distrust Cheney. [ABC News, 1/16/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Counsel’s opening statements take place a week after the jury members begin taking their places (see January 23, 2007 and January 23, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Reggie B. Walton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Theodore Wells, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher, writing for her blog’s coverage of the Libby trial.FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher, writing for her blog’s coverage of the Libby trial. [Source: Michael Temchine / New York Times]The New York Times publishes a profile of some of the bloggers covering the Lewis Libby trial. The article, by Times reporter Scott Shane, focuses on the team of six writers and researchers who work on a volunteer basis for FireDogLake (FDL), a liberal blog owned by movie producer and author Jane Hamsher. According to Shane, “FireDogLake has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation,” including “a former prosecutor [Christy Hardin Smith], a current defense lawyer [Jeralyn Merritt, who also writes for her own blog, TalkLeft], a Ph.D. business consultant [Marcy Wheeler, who has written a book, Anatomy of Deceit, on the subject],” a blogger who has covered the issue since Valerie Plame Wilson’s outing (the pseudonymous “Swopa”), an acknowleged expert on the Iraq/Niger uranium claims (the pseudonymous “eRiposte”), and Hamsher, “all of whom lodge at a Washington apartment rented for the duration of the trial.” Their work is so intensive and the bloggers so well-versed in the intricacies of the trial and its surrounding issues that “[m]any mainstream journalists use [FDL’s live coverage] to check on the trial.”
'Coming of Age' for Bloggers - Shane writes: “For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media” (see Early January, 2007). Robert A. Cox of the Media Bloggers Association says, “My goal is to get judges to think of bloggers as citizen journalists who should get the same protections as other journalists get.” Left-leaning bloggers such as those from FDL routinely disparage Libby and other Bush administration members in their writings, Shane notes, while right-wing blogs covering the trial, such as American Thinker, have targeted prosecution witnesses such as Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007) for their criticism. Sheldon Snook, the court official in charge of the news media, says the decision to admit bloggers (five to 10 out of the 100 or so reporters present on busy trial days) has worked out well. Snook tells Shane, “It seems they can provide legal analysis and a level of detail that might not be of interest to the general public but certainly has an audience.” Shane observes that “the Libby trial bloggers are a throwback to a journalistic style of decades ago, when many reporters made no pretense of political neutrality. Compared with the sober, neutral drudges of the establishment press, the bloggers are class clowns and crusaders, satirists and scolds.” Wheeler says covering the trial alongside mainstream reporters has confirmed some of her skepticism about mainstream journalism. “It’s shown me the degree to which journalists work together to define the story,” she says. “[O]nce the narrative is set on a story, there’s no deviating from it.” Hamsher, who is battling breast cancer, says of blogging, “There’s a snarky, get-under-the-surface-of-things quality to it that’s really me.” (The Times later notes that the FDL and other bloggers are not the first to cover a federal trial; anti-tobacco activist Gene Borio covered the trial of the federal government’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry in 2004.) [Marcy Wheeler, 2/8/2007; New York Times, 2/15/2007]
Countered 'Involved' Mainstream Media - In a contemporaneous interview with US News and World Report, Hamsher says of the mainstream coverage: “The media was having difficulty covering it because they were so involved in it. When the investigation started, Karl Rove’s attorney start[ed] putting out all this stuff. And every day the story would change and the blogosphere would document that. We had thousands of people showing up at our site and pointing out that the stories were never consistent. This story had so much information, and so many articles were written that it enabled the blogosphere to take in all of this information. And a cadre of professional people—not kids in their underwear—came together, compared notes, and developed a narrative of the story that was a pushback to the one that was being generated by the powers that be.… Our work on this particular topic has done a lot to defeat the notion that bloggers are fact free.” [Christy Hardin Smith, 2/15/2007] Salon’s progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald calls FDL’s trial coverage “intense, comprehensive, and superb.… [T]hey have produced coverage of this clearly significant event—one which has provided rare insight into the inner workings of the Beltway political and journalistic elite—that simply never is, and perhaps cannot be, matched by even our largest national media outlets.” He notes that even conservative news outlets such as the National Review have relied on FDL’s “liveblogging” of the trial for their reporting. [Salon, 2/15/2007] Shortly before the article comes out, Wheeler posts: “[T]he importance of having this story be told from a blogger’s perspective… is because there is so much about it the mainstream media cannot comfortably report. This story strikes at the core reasons why there are bloggers, why so many readers and writers have decided to invest their time in citizen driven media.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/8/2007]
Presiding Judge Treats Bloggers as Professionals - Smith writes: “For the record, Judge Walton’s entire staff and all the folks at the courthouse have been wonderful throughout the entire process. From the first day forward, our whole team of bloggers were treated like every other professional covering the case—there was no distinction made, no patronizing attitude, just the same treatment for all of us. The amount of work that has gone into covering this case has been astronomical—the live blogging, the courtroom observations, the late night analysis, all the IMs [instant messages] and phone calls to cross-check details—you name it. But so worth it, still, to get the entire story out and not just blurbs and bits. And I cannot thank Judge Walton and his staff enough for giving us this opportunity. Truly.”
Error in Reporting Corrected - Smith corrects an error in Shane’s reporting, noting that the Media Bloggers Association did not negotiate their media passes to gain admittance to the courtroom; that was done largely by Hamsher and the other FDL contributors, with assistance from author and fellow blogger Arianna Huffington. [Christy Hardin Smith, 2/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), American Thinker, Robert Cox, Scott Shane, Sheldon Snook, Arianna Huffington, New York Times, “Swopa”, “eRiposte”, National Review, Reggie B. Walton, Marcy Wheeler, Media Bloggers Association, FireDogLake, Gene Borio, Glenn Greenwald, Christy Hardin Smith, Jeralyn Merritt, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jane Hamsher

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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