July 8, 2005

Blogs seen as powerful new tool in U.S. court fight

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Political groups preparing to battle
over the first U.S. Supreme Court nomination in 11 years have a
powerful new tool -- Internet blogs -- to spread information
quickly and influence decision makers without relying on
traditional media.

Web logs likely numbering in the dozens provide a way for
the thoughtful and the passionate to publish their views.
Politicians are taking notice as they prepare for the first
high court nomination fight since the Internet became common in
American households.

President Bush has yet to name a replacement for Sandra Day
O'Connor, who announced her retirement last week. With the
vacancy and eventual nominee comes intense debate over the
court's future.

"A key part of our strategy is reaching out to the Internet
community," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic
leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Blogs and similar forums have been around since the early
days of the Internet, but only in the last year have they begun
to have an impact on public opinion and lawmakers,
congressional staffers and bloggers said.

A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life
Project said that 7 percent of the 120 million U.S. adults who
use the Internet have created a blog or web-based diary.

Reid and other political leaders now hold conferences with
bloggers in the same way they meet with traditional press.

"I think they are instrumental in getting information out
and deconstructing spin," said Eric Ueland, chief of staff to
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.

"They are much defter and swifter than the mainstream
media," he said, adding that blogs are also "very clear in
their philosophical and ideological leanings."


Carol Darr, director of George Washington University's
Institute for politics, democracy and the Internet, said those
who read and write blogs aren't "the sad, the mad and the
lonely." Rather, research shows they tend to be people able to
influence others, she said.

Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for
Justice, a group formed to support Bush nominees, said the blog
at http:/committeeforjustice.org is aimed at journalists, other
bloggers and talk radio hosts. It also gets information to
advocacy groups and "allows them to do what they are good at,
and that is activism," he said.

Tom Goldstein said researchers at his Washington law firm
Goldstein and Howe already are poring over the background and
court decisions of potential nominees. His firm's blogs at
http:/www.scotusblog.com and http:/www.sctnomination.com/blog
strive to be non-partisan, but will offer opinions on how a
candidate may decide important cases, he said.

"If we believe this person will vote to overturn Roe v.
Wade, we will say that," he said, speaking of the ruling that
legalized abortion.

Melanie Mattson said she bought more bandwidth for her
liberal court blog at http:/judgingthefuture.net, saying she
was unsure how much more traffic to expect.

"The medium is still so new and the Internet is growing so
fast it is hard to know," she said. "Once we get a name we will
get more hits."

Steve Clemons, who publishes a political blog
http:/www.thewashingtonnote.com, says that once Bush names
someone "you are going to see the blogs go crazy" digging up
information and in many cases "outrunning" mainstream media.

Not all blogs are created equal. Many will become
"ideological echo chambers" that people read to reaffirm their
beliefs, Clemons said. Others will fuel passions on both the
right and the left sides of the political spectrum. A few will
rise above the pack and become sources of information and not
just an advocacy forum.

"If there is any momentum to this trend, you are going to
see them play a very influential role in shaping the
environment for this debate," Clemons said. His blog on John
Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador became a must read for
many congressional aides and journalists.