Within the realm of blawgs, one stands out above all others. While there is blog in its blood, SCOTUSBlog has long since left behind the days when Tom Goldstein ran it from his kitchen table in a bathrobe. If there is a question on anything Supreme Court, it’s the first place everyone turns, from the Times to me.
If there is a “legitimate” award handed out to a blog, SCOTUSBlog wins it. Like a Peabody. Heck, they won’t even let me see a Peabody unless I buy a movie ticket. But there’s SCOTUSBlog, proudly accepting another win. And did I mention it became a business?
But the real test of legitimacy is whether those outside the realm accept you as the real thing, as an entity of sufficient value that you are treated with the level of respect with which others are treated. SCOTUSBlog took that test, and got spanked.
Last week, the Senate Press Gallery denied SCOTUSblog’s application for a press pass, and advised us that it would refuse to renew the credential it had previously granted Lyle when it expires next month.
SCOTUSblog is not now, and has never been, credentialed by the Supreme Court. The Court’s longstanding policy was to look to credentials issued by the Senate. We pursued a Senate credential for several years, modifying several policies of the blog to address concerns expressed by the Gallery. Last year, we finally succeeded – the Senate Press Gallery credentialed Lyle as a reporter for SCOTUSblog. We then presented that credential to the Supreme Court, thinking that the issue was resolved.
But the Court declined to recognize the credential, explaining that it would instead review its credentialing policy.
It’s not as if the justices don’t know Goldstein or SCOTUSBlog, or its primary reporter, Lyle Denniston. They know. Its existence, its value and its credibility. Oh yes, they know. But, it’s just a blog, and blogs are, well, just blogs.
Whenever the Supreme Court issues an opinion, newspapers around the nation publish an article, maybe even an editorial, about it. For the most part, it’s crap. It’s not that they are trying to make the public stupider, but that is often the net effect. Reporters are hired to be writers, not lawyers. There are constraints of space. There are language problems, where the highly nuanced words used in opinions will confuse or confound the public, and so reporters replace them with their own words.
But the most significant problem is that reporters and editors rarely have a firm grasp of the subject matter of their writing, and so try their best but fall far short. And we, depending on the media to feed us information, consume their thin gruel because it’s the best they can serve.
SCOTUSBlog did better. It isn’t really readable for nonlawyers, as it requires a level of depth and understanding of the law that few possess. Heck, even lawyers outside the particular niche of an issue were often out of the depth, struggling to no avail to understand the message. But if there was any place where the message could be found at a level of accuracy and intelligence that could impart true depth of understanding, it was SCOTUSBlog.
Yet, the keepers of the Supreme Court Gate have deemed it unworthy.
The question of what value a blog adds has been subject to scrutiny for a while. We aren’t journalists, as journalists love to tell us. Journalists work for real media outlets, whatever that means. The question remains whether we are entitled to shield laws, to the requirement of actual malice for defamation. Before blogs, no one really had to put much thought into who was media and who was not. Blogs made everything blurry.
Within the world of law blogs, however, there was no one who rose above the crazy guy in bathrobe image more than Tom Goldstein.
The internet is replete with pseudo-media outlets staffed by pimply-faced kids with a J-school degree and the depth of understanding of a banana slug. Some get hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, because we all want to know a 23-year-old’s views on every important subject under the sun. Lyle Denniston is 81 years old. He probably doesn’t know what keyboard cat is.
But these media outlets are real. Gawker. Slate. Huffington Post. Often dumber than dirt, spreading misinformation far and wide to people who, judging from their comments, are in desperate need of credible and intelligent analysis, these websites will inform us of all the critical things we need to know, and assure that we understand nothing.
SCOTUSBlog is as real as it gets. Unlike the silliness that passes for journalism in the hands of clueless writers, SCOTUSBlog is subject to the scrutiny of both the legal profession and the media, whatever that means, and has not merely survived, but established itself as the most credible source for information and analysis of the United States Supreme Court.
But it’s not worthy of being credentialed because it’s a blog. It’s officialdom’s way of telling Tom Goldstein, and through Tom, all of us, to remember our place. No matter how solid and worthwhile we may be, we will never be more than blogs. And blogs are unworthy.