Spun Silly

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 21, 2005; 8:39 AM

Did the Bush team put out misinformation on that crazy Tuesday to steer reporters away from John Roberts?

We can't answer the question definitively because the journalists involved have a Matt Cooper problem -- they promised their sources anonymity, regardless of motive. But I can tell you that some of them are ticked and feeling misled.

It all could be very innocent -- the typical Beltway gossip game where reporters trade information with supposedly wired sources who don't really know but like to give the impression that they do. Then the media types blurt what they've gleaned on television and online and -- d'oh ! -- look silly when they're wrong.

Why would the Bushies have bothered? The deafening buzz that the president had picked Edith Clement for the high court had a bunch of reporters preparing pieces on her instead of researching the legal record of the not-much-buzzed-about John Roberts. Plus, the head fake preserved the element of surprise for Bush's prime-time announcement.

Consider: The reporters in question relied on outside Republican advisers who work closely with the White House. These advisers, at least one of whom is said to feel used, were saying it was Clement. But the administration had asked Roberts to return from London for a possible announcement the day before , on Monday. Maybe the president was just keeping his options open. But at some point Tuesday Clement got an official call saying her services would not be required -- and Bush offered Roberts the job at 12:35 -- yet the it's-Clement-chatter continued until late in the afternoon. All this may have been terribly unfair to her.

An alternate theory is that Bush, for some reason, changed his mind that day, leaving the advisers leaning the wrong way. However you slice it, the administration had a good rollout.

By the way, that french-fry case I mentioned yesterday is getting a lot of play on TV, probably because it's simple and people want to know how Roberts could approve of the Washington Metro's harassment of a 12-year-old girl.

We'll get to the media assessment of Roberts's chances in a moment, but first, a my report from the paper on the liberal blogosphere:

At1:27 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 joined in 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 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."


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