Above the Law, reporting on a speech 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski gave at Fordham Law, summarized his argument as, “A New Argument in Favor of Cameras in the Courtroom: Bloggers Suck.”
Now, for the record, I’m all in favor of cameras in the courtroom and have long been, particularly once I discovered that TradMed journalists look for different things at hearings than I do. And particularly today, as I’m deciding whether I have time to get to the closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, drink some beers with bmaz, and be back here in time to drive to Syracuse for my mom’s 70th, I’d love the option of sitting at home and streaming the trial (though beers with bmaz might still win the day).
But I wanted to look more closely at the argument Kozinski seems to be making (assuming, of course, that the blogger at Above the Law competently replicated it, because there’s always the possibility he’s just being loud and biased).
Kozinski started his talk by going over some of the arguments he has made before [PDF] in support of cameras (e.g., studies show cameras don’t affect the proceedings, quoting his “old boss” Warren Burger — “People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing.”).
It wouldn’t be like the O.J. trial, which decidedly set the cameras-in-the-courtroom movement back. Kozinski advocates stationary cameras that would not zoom in, zoom out, or otherwise overly dramatize the courtroom events. Kozinski acknowledged that if you were to choose between a O.J. media circus or reports from informed journalists like Nina Totenberg or Linda Greenhouse, one might be happy to live without cameras.
But that’s not usually the choice one has. Kozinski pointed to the “long, slow decline of the newspaper industry” and the “rise of a much more diffuse style of coverage” as a major reason why cameras should be brought into courtrooms. Increasingly, the public is relying on “pseudo-journalists” (aka bloggers) for their instantaneous legal news.
“On the Internet, the loudest voice gets the most attention,” said Kozinski, who said that tends to lead to a distortion of the coverage of a case. He also raised the risks of relying on unknown bloggers, pointing to the case of “Dr. Flea.”
“The days of obscurity for judges and reliable, informed journalists are gone and gone forever,” said Kozinski. “If courts don’t change with the times, change will be forced upon them.”
Kozinski’s arguing, apparently, that we need cameras in the courtroom because trials are no longer covered with the skill that Nina Totenberg and Linda Greenhouse bring to their work. Furthermore, Kozinski seems to be arguing, the public is fooled into following “loud” chroniclers of trials, rather than competent ones. And, it seems, Kozinski believes readers (the blogger here doesn’t specify what kind of reader) risk … something … if they rely on pseudonymous bloggers.
As some of you no doubt recall, a blog named “FireDogLake” actually once covered a trial–the Scooter Libby trial–also covered by Nina Totenberg. FDL’s coverage was undoubtedly biased and at times even delved into heavy snark (since then, in fact, one of the bloggers has developed a bit of a reputation for a potty mouth). Nevertheless, FDL’s liveblog–written under the pseudonyms “emptywheel,” “Swopa,” and “Pachacutec”– became the standard “instantaneous” news from the trial. Two of the TradMed journalists in the courtroom–including one whose beat was the Court–followed the stream, not to mention an unknown number of journalists who chose to stay away from the court house and follow along the thread. The General Counsel for the Washington Post chose to follow FDL’s liveblog, rather than the superb work of Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, because with five reporters testifying in the trial, he needed up-to-the-minute near transcription rather than twice-daily analysis of the events. When it was all said and done, Jay Rosen declared that in most categories of coverage “FDL was tops.” I assume Rosen even considered Nina Totenberg’s coverage of the trial when he said that.