Hamdan’s Subplot: Blogging vs. Mainstream Media

by Roger Alford

One small sidenote about Hamdan that struck me this morning: the superiority of the blogosphere over the mainsteam media to address breaking news such as Supreme Court decisions. Were any of you just dying to know what Adam Liptak or Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times thought about Hamdan? I had very little interest in their take on the case. For me at least, I kept turning again and again to a half dozen blogs for the latest analysis. I did not particularly care what the Washington Post or the New York Times thought. I wanted to know what law bloggers thought about the case. (The closest the mainstream media got to insightful commentary about Hamdan came from Walter Dellinger on Slate, who unfortunately displayed irrational exuberance in his initial comments about the case, erroneously describing Hamdan as “the most important decision on Presidential power ever.”)

The subplot about Hamdan is how important comments from legal experts on the blogosphere were to digesting and understanding the case. It is a complicated decision that requires detailed analysis to comprehend. Blogs far exceeded the mainstream media in quickly appreciated its significance and import. Legal blogs are a perfect medium for this kind of breaking news and with Hamdan they lived up to their potential. The mainstream media fared far worse on this story.


5 Responses

  1. Several things to bear in mind here: Of course if one is trained in the law it is rather transparent that legal blogs with comments by law professors will be preferred to mainstream media sources for insightful commentary. Newspapers, apart from Sunday editions with extended commentary and opinion sections, do not typically provide this sort of commentary, although they can provide basic information and analysis for the general public, as David Savage routinely does in the Los Angeles Times. In other words, the terms of the comparison are unfair. Rather, the other relevant term of the comparison should consist of periodicals like The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, and so on, publications that often do provide the sorts of insightful analysis sought by those with a background in the law, indeed, noted legal scholars frequently appear in their pages. What should prove interesting, therefore, is the degree to which, if any, such analyses will differ from the ‘instant’ analyses provided by the blogosphere (I don’t mean this pejoratively, as I found much of merit in such material). And yet if it is true that the Owl of Minerva spreads her wings in the evening of the day, then it’s safe to predict that rather more different if not sophisticated analyses may appear in these periodicals. And no doubt the passage of time and their peculiar format allows such discussions to cite relevant law, literature and other arguments not readily made in the context of law blogs. Thus I agree that ‘Legal blogs are a perfect medium for this kind of breaking news and with Hamdan they lived up to their potential,’ but it’s unreasonable to have expected mainstream media to compete in this regard, given that for some time now it has never provided nor pretended to provide the sort of commentary found in the law blogs. That said, we should exercise some vigilance with regard to the public interest mandate we’ve come to associate with a public press in a democratic society. So perhaps the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times could provide its readers with links (in the hard copy or online) to legal blogs for those wanting to explore these topics in more depth.

    Incidentally, a species of the irrational exuberance rightly mentioned here in the case of Dellinger on Slate was found in some of the first comments from the legal blogs as well; hence, for example, Professor Ku and Professor Spiro altered their responses a bit on Opinio Juris (to wit: ‘Along with Julian, I’m coming around to the position that this is a very big deal’). Given the nature of the ‘instant analysis’ provided by the blogs, this is not surprising, and it’s refreshing to find commentators willing to backtrack, change their minds, and so on, when arguments and events collude so as to prompt such altered musings.

  2. Legal blogs did better, but moronic political blogs did far, far worse. Chief among them was the leader of the winged monkeys, NRO. Most of the mouthbreathing righty blogs take their cues from there, with the upshot that there was all kinds of idiocy flying around the dumber side of the blogospere vis-a-vis Hamdan.

  3. After reading the ‘Mark Levin blog’ at NRO, I would agree that it is the quintessence of one brand of irrationally exuberant ranting (cf.: ‘Congress and the Court are systematically stripping the presidency of war-making powers.’ And: ‘Today, the Court has taken a giant new step in its usurpation of explicit presidential authority.’ And again: ‘Today the Supreme Court’s majority trashed the Geneva Conventions, trashed Supreme Court precedent, and trashed the Constitution. But it did succeed in expanding its own authority and the ability of the enemy to conduct its war against us.’).

    Although winged monkeys have had an undeservedly* bad rap since the Wizard of Oz, I was nonetheless taken aback by the reference to NRO as ‘the leader of the winged monkeys,’ for that would make it akin to the great monkey deity of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana: Hanuman (for a decent introduction, see the Wikipedia entry). Hanuman’s spiritual lineage and attributes are a far cry from principles and policies expressed at NRO! Perhaps we can come up with a more apposite analogy or metaphor to capture the various ‘kinds of idiocy flying around the dumber side of the blogosphere’ following the Hamdan decision.

    *Why ‘undeservedly?’ Well, L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), eventually became (along with his wife) a theosophist. Theosophists were often, comparatively speaking, well acquainted with Hindu religious philosophies and myths, suggesting Baum may have found some inspiration in the Ramayana epic, albeit now with the flying monkeys and their leader cast in a far less flattering light.

  4. Speaking of blogs: From TalkLeft (courtesy Patriot Daily) today:

    The Air Force Office of Scientific Research recently began funding a new research area that includes a study of blogs. Blog research may provide information analysts and warfighters with invaluable help in fighting the war on terrorism.

    The study will include, but not be limited to, researching blog patterns:

    “It can be challenging for information analysts to tell what’s important in blogs unless you analyze patterns.” …Patterns include the content of the blogs as well as what hyperlinks are contained within the blog.

    They even have a unique moniker for the blogosphere: “Information Battlespace”

    “The fact that the web is a vast source of information is sometimes overlooked by military analysts,” Kokar said. “Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace.”

    A link is provided there to the DoD press release.

  5. Well, L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), eventually became (along with his wife) a theosophist.

    Sir, I am in your debt for teaching me this.

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