Supreme Timing

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 20, 2005; 8:00 AM

A prime-time announcement that bamboozles the press, draws a bigger television audience, knocks Karl Rove off the front page and limits the time for reporters to dig up controversial information?

Not a bad night's work.

As interesting as Bush's pick of the not-so-much-buzzed-about John Roberts -- which will dominate newspapers, magazines, television and blogs for the next two months, or at least until the next missing white woman -- is the choreography. (And how fiendishly clever of White House aides to tell The Washington Post over the weekend that Bush would likely wait until the end of July to give critics less time to shoot at his nominee.)

By 1 p.m. yesterday, media types sorta figured it was Edith Clement, but couldn't be so certain that they could assign a team of reporters to plow through her legal opinions. It was all some reporters could do to remember which of the two Ediths she was again.

By 5 p.m., a shoot-from-the-lip environment ruled cable news. MSNBC's Dan Abrams: "Rumors are swirling, but the name that seems so far to have been leaked to just about everyone is 5th Circuit Judge Edith Brown Clement, a woman with conservative credentials. President Bush's father put her on the federal bench in 1991." Clement was "at the top of the buzz right now," said commentator Craig Crawford.

But wait -- maybe it was the wrong Edith!

Fox's John Gibson: "We have heard a lot about Edith Clement. What about this Edith Jones?"

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux: "There's been a lot of speculation over Judge Edith Clement. We have been waved off of that as well. There are mixed reports whether she is going to be the candidate." Half an hour earlier, CNN had run a piece on Clement and Jones as "two front-runners."

At about 5:30, ABC reported on its Web site that Clement had gotten a call saying she wasn't the one -- perhaps the fastest flameout in Supreme Court history.

By choosing to unveil his nominee at 9, Bush not only threw the media establishment into a tizzy, he also broke the news right on deadline for East Coast newspapers and after the network newscasts. He cut through "the filter," as he calls the media, preventing -- or at least delaying -- journalists from researching long pieces picking apart his choice. The president also guaranteed himself a bigger audience than with a morning announcement (even if some would have preferred the scheduled "Big Brother 6" and "I Want to Be a Hilton").

At 6:30 the network newscasts were cautious. "Clement was leading the short list," said CBS's Jim Stewart, who then listedother short-listers such as Jones, Michael Luttig, Priscilla Owen and John Roberts (not the CBS anchor who introduced him and has himself been on a short list to succeed Bob Schieffer).

"By late afternoon," said ABC's John Cochran, "the new buzz was about Michael Luttig, a tough conservative. Liberal groups were aghast."

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