Court Nominee In the Eye of the Blogger Swarm

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 21, 2005

At 1:27 a.m. yesterday, the Guerilla Women of Tennessee weighed in on President Bush's Supreme Court nominee.

"John Roberts: Married to Anti-Choice Org VP," the group's Web site blared. Another site, A Liberal Dose, asked: "Why does John G. Roberts Hate Our Soldiers?"

And Feministing.com made no attempt at subtlety: "Why John Roberts Sucks."

The lightning-quick attacks came after 50 top liberal bloggers held a 45-minute conference call Tuesday night. "On the left, we've always talked about the need to have an echo chamber," says John Aravosis, a Washington lawyer and gay rights activist who writes at Americablog.com. "We believe the right has a whole media network, from talk radio to Fox News to Matt Drudge. The left doesn't have that because the left doesn't play well with others."

This is the first Supreme Court nomination of the Internet age, meaning that liberal and conservative opinion-mongers are already blanketing cyberspace with arguments, facts, taunts, polemics, gossip and electronic links to raw data, hoping to rally the faithful and influence the mainstream media coverage.

The conference call was arranged by BlogPAC, a political action committee that got some of its members on the phone with Sen. Ted Kennedy on the day that Sandra Day O'Connor announced she was leaving the court. The group has also held calls with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and the liberal organizations involved in the nomination battle, including MoveOn, Alliance for Justice, NARAL and People for the American Way.

Kennedy "reached out to them directly to convey the impact that this decision will have on hundreds of millions of Americans, whose last line of defense for their freedoms and liberties is the Supreme Court," says Laura Capps, the senator's spokeswoman.

Such coordination seems to defy the image of bloggers as iconoclastic lone rangers, pounding the keyboards in their bedrooms and basements without regard to interest-group politics. Bloggers, after all, come from all walks of life, building a following on the strength of their words and ability to draw attention from other Web diarists. They have also proven to be a formidable fundraising force, raising $80,000 on Tuesday for a Democratic candidate in a special House election in Ohio.

The purpose of Tuesday night's call was "to agree on where we want to work as a swarm and divide that from where we want to work individually," says Bob Brigham, a San Francisco political activist who runs BlogPAC. (Its founders include Aravosis and Markos Moulitsas, who runs the popular site Daily Kos.) A swarm, in online lingo, is when legions of bloggers jump on the same issue, as when conservative Web sites attacked Dan Rather's CBS report on President Bush's National Guard record.

"We dumped a ton of opposition research on Roberts" after the call, Brigham says. The bloggers also agreed during that discussion to keep hammering on Karl Rove and the CIA leak story.

On the Roberts nomination, though, not all left-wing bloggers are marching in lockstep. Moulitsas wrote that while Roberts has only two years of judicial experience, "I'm willing to hear the guy out. We're not going to get a Ginsburg, but I'd be happy with an O'Connor-style moderate conservative. For all we know (and for all the religious-right knows), Roberts might be that sort of guy."

Jeralyn Merritt, a Denver defense lawyer who writes the TalkLeft blog, told readers that "it's too soon to start opposing Judge John G. Roberts. Most of us knew nothing about him. . . . I don't think it helps that liberal groups are coming out swinging so soon."


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