It is virtually impossible to closely follow the Libby trial without relying upon the work of the blogging team assembled by Jane Hamsher and FireDogLake. Hamsher built FDL by becoming (along with her blogging partner, former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith) literally one of the country's leading experts on the Plame scandal, long providing some of the most insightful analysis, and even breaking stories, on her blog.
In order to cover the Libby trial, Hamsher rented a house in Washington, and then assembled a reporting team composed of -- as Marcy Wheeler, one of the team members, put it -- "a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, her own amazing voice, [and] a blogger who has been covering this story from Day One." And Wheeler herself became such an expert in the Plame story that she published a well-received book on the topic to coincide with the Libby trial -- Anatomy of Deceit.
The reporting produced by the FDL team has been, as one would expect, intense, comprehensive and superb. In addition to daily live-blogging of every single witness, which entails almost every question asked and answer given, as well as close-to-verbatim accounts of legal arguments between the Fitzgerald's team and Libby's lawyers, the FDL Plame experts have been providing day-by-day analysis of the legal, political and journalistic issues raised by this trial. In short, they 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.
None of this will come as a surprise to regular readers of blogs, who have long recognized the gross inaccuracy of the standard caricature of bloggers -- mostly perpetuated by journalists who perceive bloggers as hostile competitors -- as foul, reckless, drooling, wild-eyed radicals. Some of the most well-informed, independent and most sophisticated analysis and even original reporting takes place in the blogosphere. That is just undeniable fact.
It is still true, and will be for the foreseeable future, that well-funded and well-connected national journalists are vital for fulfilling critical information-gathering roles (one needs Jim Risen and his NSA sources to learn about the warrantless surveillance program, and Dana Priest and her intelligence sources to learn about secret Eastern European prisons). Bloggers cannot supplant the national press in fulfilling those functions. Nonetheless, on story after story, some of the most insightful and valuable analysis occurs in the blogosphere, and that has been true for some time.
What is new is that FDL's unprecedented "flood-the-zone" coverage of the Libby trial is forcing national journalists to acknowledge these facts. This New York Times article by Scott Shane this morning focuses on FDL's Libby coverage. The article, though patronizing in places, is nonetheless a real watershed, as it contains previously unthinkable sentences like these:
- A collective of liberal bloggers, fueled by online donations and a fanatical devotion to the intricacies of the Libby case, Firedoglake has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation. They include a former prosecutor, a current defense lawyer, a Ph.D. business consultant and a movie producer . . .
- With no audio or video feed permitted, the Firedoglake "live blog" has offered the fullest, fastest public report available. Many mainstream journalists use it to check on the trial.
- "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," [court official in charge of media coverage, Sheldon] Snook said.
Recognition of FDL's superior coverage has been seeping slowly into the press. As I noted previously, Time's Ana Marie Cox surprisingly acknowledged (while linking to FDL) that some of the most astute and insightful reporting on the Libby trial is coming from the blogosphere. And even right-wing pundits at National Review are citing FDL and its team as their principal source for news about the Libby trial.
There is a strain of thought -- for which there is ample support -- that the severe flaws in our national media institutions are far too entrenched and systemic to reform in any meaningful way, and that it therefore makes more sense to devote resources towards developing alternative means for disseminating news and analysis (as opposed to pressuring the press to change its ways). That analysis only takes one so far, since --as indicated -- large-scale news organizations will continue to be indispensable for investigation and information-gathering. But FDL's Libby coverage certainly provides encouragement, as well as an excellent model, for partially supplanting, or at least supplementing, our dysfunctional national media and for developing independent means of reporting on and analyzing key political events.