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Blogging Libby: The 'First' That Wasn't

An old saw of journalism urges, "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." Last week, a "remarkable array" of journalists and bloggers apparently accepted their mothers' love without question, suggests Mark Obbie at LawBeat, when they reported the credentialing of bloggers to cover the Scooter Libby trial as a "first." The problem, says Obbie, is that it was not true. As he wrote earlier, the Houston Chronicle team covering last year's Enron trial "included multiple bloggers -- some on staff, some not, and some with seats in the court or in an overflow room for the media with closed-circuit video." In fact, part of that team was composed of lawyers.

I was among those who called this a first. I should have known better, but at least I was in good company, joining Washington Post staff writer Alan Sipress and National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, among others. The story started when Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, wrote on his blog that the MBA had negotiated with the federal judiciary to obtain press credentials for two bloggers to cover the Libby trial. He said:

"I have been working with the folks at the federal judiciary through for over a year to create this opportunity. It has never been done before."

A week later, Cox posted photographs, announcing, "Here they are -- the first ever credentials granted to bloggers at a federal trial."

Obbie gives the benefit of the doubt to the Post's Sipress, writing:

"Maybe Sipress meant to say it's a first for bloggers unaffiliated with a mainstream media outlet to get reserved seats in the courtroom (and I don't know if even that's true, but it stands a better chance of proving true than what he wrote)."

In a comment to Obbie's post, Mary Flood, a Houston Chronicle reporter who covered the Enron trial, confirms that bloggers occupied courtroom seats there reserved for the news media. But there was confusion about how to treat other bloggers, including the blogging lawyers, she writes.

"Sometimes these other bloggers sat in reserved media seats and sometimes they sat in seats reserved for the general public. The court security officers generally let the mainstream media police the media seats since these law enforcement officers did not want to be the arbiters of how bloggers fit into the US media landscape."

In state courts, creating blogs to cover trials is becoming common. We wrote here in October about the Christopher McCowen Murder Trial Blog set up by the Cape Cod Times. Other trial blogs revealed by a quick Web search include the still-active John Healy Trial Blog from Utica, N.Y., Inside the Courtroom from The Billings Gazette in 2005, a TV reporter's 2003 blog covering an Oklahoma City murder trial, Now We're Talking covering a Florida murder trial for The Ocala Star-Banner, and Courtroom Insider from Indiana's Herald Times.

As for my mother's statements of love, she departed long ago. But you can be sure I'll double-check the rest of my family from now on.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 23, 2007 at 06:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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