Are Bloggers Influencing the Miers Debate (Part II)?:

Orin asks whether bloggers are influencing the Miers debate. Last week we were honored to have Attorney General Gonzales speak at George Mason Law School, where he addressed the subject of judicial confirmations. The full text of his remarks is available here.

Here's what the AG had to say on the specifc subject of blogs and other new media:

The confirmation process has been fundamentally changed by technological changes that allow the instantaneous and costless spread of information. In this age of the 24-hour news cycle of blogs, talk radio, and cable news, there is a seemingly constant vacuum to be filled with new information on the nominee. Much of this revolution is for the good, as it allows the public to develop a more informed view. But there are harmful effects as well. Unsubstantiated rumors, false allegations, and distorted facts can be spread with impunity by those who don't take the time to check the facts-as well as by those who affirmatively seek to mislead. And once such baseless claims and innuendo are made, the Internet ensures that they take on a life of their own and can never be fully rooted out.

In light of these changes, those who traffic in information owe all Americans a duty to act in good faith, to avoid circulating falsehoods, and to verify information before broadcasting it. The careers and reputations of good people depend on that. And I urge the Senate to exercise discipline in its consideration of judicial nominations. It is important that amidst all of the static surrounding a nominee, the Senate focus on the characteristics that are essential to good judging, seek out reliable information, and maintain the dignity of a process that is essential to our democracy.

My recollection is that he returned to the subject of blogs in the Q&A and reiterated largely the same points, but I could be mistaken. If anyone is reading who was in attendance at the speech as well, feel free to elaborate on or correct me on that point.

There was also the comment by Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice (quoted in the New York Times on Oct. 9), who said that generating enthusiasm for Ms. Miers was proving difficult because "anytime we put out something positive about her it gets shot to pieces by all our allies and the blogs."

So, I obviously don't know the answer to the larger question. And I certainly don't know if legal blogs are having much influence relative to poltical blogs such as Red State or National Review (which are also different from one another, of course). But both of these bits suggest that at the very least the White House is aware of what is happening in the blogosphere, even if it is not influenced by it.

AJ (mail):
I was at the AG's address to GMU. Gonzales made mention of blogs a couple times, as I recall. Frankly, some of his remarks had an air about them... Like the Administration didn't really appreciate the broadened social debate that the Internet provides.
10.24.2005 3:48pm
Shelby (mail):
But both of these bits suggest that at the very least the White House is aware of what is happening in the blogosphere, even if it is not influenced by it.

I hope some people at the White House are smart enough to realize that blogs can be an excellent early-warning system: they frequently foreshadow problems or criticisms that emerge later from politicians or the media. An extra day to plan a response can be invaluable, and may mean being able to change something before the louder non-blog voices speak up.

Like the Administration didn't really appreciate the broadened social debate that the Internet provides.

Gee, ya think?
10.24.2005 3:58pm
I think this is an unusual situation in part because the vetting on Miers was subpar (to the point of being almost nonexistent). So, every time a bad story breaks, the blogs seem to have free rein for a good length of time before the "talking points" start circulating.

But in general, if you hypothesize a major split between the President and a significant component of his "base", one would expect that fault line to appear right about where "party discipline" loses coercive power and depends instead on voluntary obedience. And if the blogs are positioned right along that fault line, then you might see them as particularly significant indicators of when such a split has occurred.
10.24.2005 5:57pm
Visitor Again:
Some blogs have an extraordinary influence--carry an impact disproportionate to their readership--because they are read by people who influence others. The mainstream media pick up on what the blogs are saying and report it. Many more people have seen or heard what has been said about Meirs on the blogs than have actually themselves visited those blogs.

In fact, I think it's fair to say that the blogs have set the tone for the reaction to Meirs. They were first, they have the broadest and deepest analyses, their responses to each new development are virtually instantaneous, their commentaries are usually among the best-informed and the most intelligent.

They are a new and potent political and social force. And I shouldn't wonder that those in power are concerned about them. They are not readily controllable. There are so many bloggers and so many readers, each making comments, that it's impossible to wine and dine or otherwise buy off or influence all of them. And, most irritatingly, they don't swallow everything they're told.
10.24.2005 6:31pm
Danny Glover (mail) (www):
My post at Beltway Blogroll got this conversation started, so I thought I would share some more thoughts here and invite Vololokh Conspiracy readers to share their thoughts here and/or at my original post.

One thing I did not mention in my column, mostly for space reasons, is that if you go back all the way to before John Roberts was nominated to the court, you will not see many blogs mentioning either him or, especially, Harriet Miers on their short lists of candidates. That means most bloggers, if not all, strongly preferred other nominees — a fact that has become abundantly clear since Miers was nominated. The point of my column was just to say that if you look at that bottom line, bloggers did not influence Bush in the least.

Sure, the RNC is consulting bloggers AFTER THE FACT. But that's because they want to change some minds, at least enough that critics of Miers will soften their rhetoric. The people with the strongest influence have voices on the front end.

The blogs also seem to be following the mainstream — be it conservatives in Washington, MSM opinion makers, whatever — rather than leading it. Look how many blogs are using insights from the likes of David Frum and George Will as springboards for their own commentary. The scenario was quite different when blogs swarmed against Trent Lott or even the FEC. They commanded attention and drove the news coverage then.

None of that is to say blogs lack influence in Washington. As I said in my column, they do have influence, or the RNC and others inside the Beltway wouldn't make any overtures to the blogosphere. Besides, I write a column predicated on the notion that blogs DO have influence in Washington — and that it is growing. But for now, on major issues like the Miers nomination, I think their influence is quite limited.
10.24.2005 9:01pm

Thanks for your thoughts, but I'm not quite sure I understand. Is your point that bloggers don't have influence because they didn't play a big role in Bush's selection of the nominees? By that test, the New York Times and Fox News aren't influential either, right?

Also, your claim that blogs weren't pushing for Roberts before his nomination seems inaccurate to me. A number did, including this blog:

Planning for A New Chief:

To be clear, I don't think this means that the blogs played a role in the selection of Roberts. Still, if you're going to offer this argument as a test, it seems worth noting that the evidence doesn't necessarily line up.
10.24.2005 9:37pm
Danny Glover (mail) (www):

To answer your first question: On the Miers nomination, no, neither The New York Times nor Fox news were influential beforehand, either. Bush chose the person he wanted, for the reasons he wanted, be they personal, political or philosophical.

I think the difference is that the MSM, particularly conservative opinion makers, have shaped the debate over Miers more than bloggers since her nomination, for the reasons stated above and in my column. Had people like Frum and Will come out soundly in favor of Miers, I seriously doubt that the Bush administration and RNC would have been as concerned about wooing bloggers as recent events indicate.

As for the number of blogs that were pushing for Roberts, I can't really speak to that with authority. I offered that comment just based on my recollection of the names I saw on the top of various bloggers' short lists of preferred nominees before Roberts' nomination. I don't doubt that his name was mentioned because of his credentials; I just don't remember it being among the top choices on the lists I saw -- and I read several.

I do want to emphasize again, though, that I strongly believe blogs have influence in Washington, and that their influence is growing. I just don't think it has gelled to the point that blogs have a consistently substantial impact on major policy decisions. Hence the comparison -- a complimentary one, I think -- to the Gang of Seven at the conclusion of my column.
10.24.2005 10:26pm