Hey, kids, is it time to out some more confidential sources?

While the John Roberts confirmation battle is turning out to be, shall we say, not as inflammatory as might have been expected, another debate is heating up over all those reporters who relied on their informants in telling us the nominee would be Edith Clement, or Edith Jones, or whoever.

Since my column on the subject yesterday | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/linkset/2005/04/11/LI2005041100587.html, questioning whether the Bush team was deliberately putting out disinformation, cyberspace has been buzzing about this, with some bloggers saying the reporters should blow the whistle on their inaccurate sources. (Keep in mind, though, that some of these outside Republican advisers may have been misled themselves, or just misinformed.)

Some noted a comment by NPR's Don Gonyea: "Late in the morning, a lot of reporters got calls from a confidential but persuasive source about Judge Clement." And MSNBC's Dan Abrams, while dealing with the Clement buzz, said he didn't "buy" it and speculated "that someone's leaking this, maybe as a diversion."

Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ says in the Washington Monthly: "It's obvious that a 'confidential but persuasive source' systematically called a bunch of reporters and deliberately misled them about who George Bush was planning to nominate to the Supreme Court. In fact, the calls were so systematic and deliberate that it was obviously part of a White House plan. (A fairly clever and effective one, I might add.)

"There are two options here: either (1) the source was honestly misled by the White House or else (2) the source was a knowing part of the misinformation plan. This means that every reporter who heard from this source should call back and give the source two choices: if it's (1), give up the White House informant. If it's (2), forfeit their anonymity.

"Sources who risk their jobs to provide information to the press deserve every protection a reporter can give them. Even a source who spins deserves protection. But a source who lies ought to be unmasked by any honest reporter. Who will be the first to do it?"

Liberal academic Marty Kaplan | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/featuredposts.html#a004438 spanks the press:

"All day long, administration leakers jerked the media's chain. 'It's Judge Edith 1,' they whispered, on double super duper background. Then: 'No, it's Judge Edith 2!' If the day had been longer, no doubt the Bushies would have tossed even more red herrings to the clapping seals.

"The Washington press corps, nanoseconds after being forced to admit how humiliatingly it had been spun by Turd Blossom, just lapped it all up. Leak on me again, they begged their sweet sources. Hit me with another scoop, Scottie, hard! The media show all the signs of domestic abuse pathology: they've been repeatedly battered and lied to, yet they just can't bring themselves to flee the lethally dysfunctional relationship.

"They don't need a shield law; they need a 12 Step program."

Atrios | http://atrios.blogspot.com/2005_07_17_atrios_archive.html#112195169940899218 asks his readers to anonymously out the sources to him:

"I really missed the memo when we were told that journalists who promised confidentiality to their sources were obligated to maintain that confidentiality even after learning that they'd been lied to. This isn't about keeping promises, it's about maintaining access and shame on all of them for pretending otherwise."

Fishbowl DC | http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlDC/scotus/an_anonymice_spin_cycle_23833.asp makes the same outing offer: "Leftist bloggers are hopping mad over this, which they see as just the latest in the Rovian manipulations of the Washington press corps."

Bloomberg | http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=washingtonstory&sid=IJWRAX1A74E9 has other anonymous sources -- who say there was something Machiavellian about the Roberts timing:

"Bush accelerated his search for a Supreme Court nominee in part because of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's name, according to Republicans familiar with administration strategy.

"Bush originally had planned to announce a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on July 26 or 27, just before his planned July 28 departure for a month-long vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, said two administration officials, who spoke on the condition they not be named. The officials said those plans changed because Rove has become a focus of Fitzgerald's interest and of news accounts about the matter."

Looks like the Dems won't be able to talk the nomination to death, says the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-072105scotus_lat,0,6203309.story?coll=la-home-headlines:

"The group of maverick Democrats and Republicans who banded together to reach a truce in partisan warfare over judicial nominations decided today that President Bush's decision to name John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court is not "extraordinary" enough to break that peace. "At their first meeting since Bush picked the appellate court judge to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the so-called 'Gang of 14' decided that they were not prepared to use a filibuster to block his nomination -- at least based on what is known about Roberts so far."

The New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/07/21/politics/politicsspecial1/21cnd-confirm.html?hp&ex=1122004800&en=3e4677897a64b487&ei=5094&partner=homepage agrees: "The possibility of a filibuster against John G. Roberts, President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, appeared to recede today, as several Democrats emerged from a meeting of swing senators to say they did not envision their party trying to block the nomination."

Talk about Gang rule!

Here's another story that might have been written earlier if reporters had known it was Roberts:

"Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. has a history of working to roll back government affirmative action and voting rights programs enacted to help minorities overcome the effects of past discrimination, leading some civil rights groups to eye him warily," says the Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/07/22/civil_rights_groups_cite_concerns_over_roberts/.

The conservative site Confirm Them | http://www.confirmthem.com/?p=910 picks up on my piece | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/20/AR2005072002337.html about top liberal bloggers coordinating their Supreme strategy with Democratic senators and liberal interest groups:

"Given their attempt at coordination, the general lack of coherent opposition from the Left is even more surprising. It's also interesting to see how many on the Left are refusing to get on board with the 'attack Roberts no matter how silly you'll sound' game plan. In many ways, the Left's inability to mount a straightforward attack on Roberts speaks volumes about his qualifications, temperament and other attributes. There's no question that the Left will hone and ramp up its attacks as the weeks go on, but for now, their collective incoherence is reassuring."

Paul Mirengoff | http://powerlineblog.com/ of Power Line takes issue with this E.J. Dionne | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/20/AR2005072002091.html column:

"Judge John G. Roberts could turn out to be Antonin Scalia with a Washington Establishment smile. He is almost certainly a William Rehnquist for the 21st century. And he is David Souter turned on his head -- a stealth candidate whose winning personality disguises intense conservatism, not moderation. Roberts was, in short, the shrewdest choice President Bush could have made."

Says Mirengoff: "Nothing annoys the left more than a conservative it cannot easily demonize (the left is still compensating for its failure to demonize President Bush, treating him instead as just a fool, until it was too late). Consider E.J. Dionne annoyed. Nobody's fool, Dionne has figured out that, despite his engaging personality, John Roberts is a conservative. What he hasn't figured out is an argument to support his premise that, notwithstanding the past few election results, a conservative does not 'belong on a closely divided court.' "

Bill Kristol | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/853sknln.asp admits error (!) and praises Bush:

"The occasion was an opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court. Bush seized the opportunity, in two ways: He moved the Court a solid step to the right (to speak vulgarly), and he elevated its quality. It's true that Roberts is a Rehnquist, not a Scalia or a Thomas. He'll be a little more incremental, a little more cautious, than some of us rabid constitutionalists will sometimes like. But he is a conservative pick, and a quality pick -- and, to my surprise, a non-PC, non-quota pick.

"I had expected Bush to choose a woman. Indeed, I pointed in last week's editorial to several competent and qualified conservative women. But in preemptively yielding to gender quotas, so to speak, I made a mistake -- and earned a well-deserved and well-argued rebuke from Charmaine Yoest at National Review Online, who said I (and others) had 'conceded too easily' to the pernicious claims of identity politics. She was right. And the president, weighing a truly important decision for the country's future, agreed with her. By simply going for the best person, by not worrying about walking out to the podium last night accompanied by a white male, Bush did something important and courageous. He showed that he knows that on really significant matters, one has to ignore political correctness and political pandering, and even political convenience."

On American Prospect, Michael Dorf | http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=10028 is worried about Roberts:

"What George W. Bush and the Republicans needed was a one-way stealth candidate, someone whose personal views on key constitutional issues were known by the administration to be reliably conservative but who appeared to outsiders as a cipher.

"Has Bush found his one-way cipher in Roberts? Judging by the chatter on the news networks and the blogosphere, the answer appears to be yes. Democrats and liberal interest groups are calling for a full airing of the Roberts judicial philosophy, while Republicans and conservative groups are rallying to his defense under the banner of a 'dignified' confirmation process (as though it is somehow undignified to ask a person nominated to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court to explain what role he believes precedent ought to play in constitutional interpretation).

"I doubt that President Bush directly sought from Roberts a commitment on particular issues, and as I share the general view of Roberts as a man of integrity, I am certain that if he were asked, he wouldn't have provided such assurances. So how can movement conservatives be confident that Roberts will vote as one of them?

"The short answer is that they cannot be wholly confident, but the longer answer is that they can take considerable comfort from the company Roberts keeps. He clerked for then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist when Rehnquist was clearly the Court's most conservative member. He spent most of his career in the federal government, but only during Republican administrations. Thus, while Roberts is entitled to say that briefs he wrote, including those calling for the overruling of Roe, were in the service of a policy set by his political bosses, skeptics are equally entitled to ask why Roberts chose to work for these and not for other bosses."

Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush | http://www.blogsforbush.com/mt/archives/004908.html grouses that "trivial matters like facts and common decency play no part in leftwing thinking -- the only thing that matters is achieving leftwing ends by whatever means necessary.

"Of the three most likely tactics of the left -- smear, demands for information and a statement on Roe -- the thing which I believe the left will center around is the Roe issue; they will insist in committee -- via the Democratic Senatorial mouthpieces -- that Roberts answer clearly precisely how he would rule on a new Roe case. Roberts will refuse to answer, just as Ginsburg did in similar circumstances, but that will be all the left feels it needs. . . . From then on, the left will fling the mud and demand the documents in the hopes that enough GOPers will get scared and allow the Democrats to win by merely threatening a filibuster."

Craig Crawford | http://crawfordslist.blogspot.com/ says the media can walk and chew gum at the same time:

"What? Karl Rove story didn't crumble away like a stale ham sandwich? Guess that's what happens when you pick a Supreme Court nominee who's even more boring than the new Pope. Rove Rage roars back with extra vengeance on Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/20/AR2005072002517.html front page (it's the state dept memo we've always heard about, but Posties nail the secret '(S)' angle -- that's '(SS)' for double secret, '(SSS)' for double super secret, and so on)."

Hey now! Crooks and Liars | http://www.crooksandliars.com/2005/07/20.html#a4051 has a photo of Bob Novak and Karl Rove from June 2003 -- the month before the faithful leak -- with the Rovester wearing a button that says "I'm a Source, Not a Target."

Don't look now, but celebrity chef Mario Batali | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/featuredposts.html#a004442 is food-blogging at the HuffPost.

The other John Roberts | http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/07/20/opinion/main710424.shtml -- the CBS man -- has this to say on covering his namesake's nomination:

"It was a bit of an 'Alice In Wonderland' moment last night, watching President Bush in the State Dining Room lauding the accomplishments and character of one 'John Roberts.' After my four and a half years covering the Bush White House, I couldn't imagine the name 'John Roberts' and the phrase 'widely admired for his intellect, his sound judgment and his personal decency' being used in the same time zone, let alone the same sentence. More likely would have been 'John Roberts' and 'should join Judith Miller in jail'; or 'frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs'; or, 'Oh yeah, we've got a dossier on him'. I'll tell you, it was all a bit disorienting.

"But it could work to my advantage. Now, every time I telephone a White House official and say that it's 'John Roberts' calling, I'm certain that I'll hear a heart skip a beat on the other end of the line. I imagine that it won't take long for aides who answer the phone to soon pick up the query 'Is this Judge Roberts?' And I'll be relegated (through my innate sense of fairness) to say, 'No, it's the CBS correspondent' -- which, no doubt, will be met with a sigh of relief and a disparaging 'Oh.' "

Roberts adds: "I don't want to say that the swirl of speculation surrounding names like Edith Clement, Edith Jones and others was an elaborate head fake to keep us off the scent of the real nominee, but a lot of people who were in the 'initial loop' of selecting a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor were pushing those names pretty hard. Of course, we bear some responsibility for that, as well. We are so determined to crack the nut of this uber-disciplined White House that any dribble of information is lapped up like mother's milk. And, I must admit, we created a media echo chamber Tuesday. Eventually, we began to hear back rumors that were prompted by our own inquiries. I'm certain that there was no end of glee at the White House as officials watched us chase our tails all day. And I'll bet they chuckled to themselves as they let their telephones ring and ring as their caller IDs flashed up the numbers of White House reporters."