And now we move on to the most star-studded part of the day. Lisa Ramaci, Judith and I were all seated one table away from the table of "luminaries" which included John Podhoretz, David Corn, Roger L. Simon, Charles Johnson, Kate Lee - superstar literary agent to all the bloggers including Glenn Reynolds - and eventually Judith Miller. Now far be it from me to criticize the choice of Judith Miller as keynote speaker, because that of course would make me an enemy of free speech, so I'll just do some straight reporting of what she had to say.
Ostensibly she was there to talk about a federal shield law for journalists and whether it would apply to some or to any bloggers. She spent about five minutes on that topic. The rest of the time, for the millionth time, she went over the details of her story, which everyone who wanted to know and doesn't live on Mars should know by heart by now. What her tale of woe and self-martyrdom had to do with Open Source Media no one knew.
Let me interject here that Judith Miller is one hot middle-aged woman. She is petite and has a very sexy voice and an appealing, quasi-flirtatious manner. I can easily see why she's so good at getting information and access. I don't mean that in any snide way, nor do I remotely mean to suggest that she's had an "improper relationship" with anyone, I just mean I think she probably uses feminine wiles of the more subtle sort to get powerful men to open up to her. Now only if she would vet what they were saying to her more instead of just transcribing it and putting it in the paper.
After regaling us with the passion of Saint Judy she finally got around to talking about the shield law, the only thing she said which remotely had anything to do with blogging or new media in any way. She said that the federal shield law which she's advocating for would cover all journalists and some bloggers. She was very clear about this point. She thinks that there is some kind of bright line that can be drawn between God-fearing, respectable blogs which would get the shield protection, and blogs that deal in (her words) "humor" and "vitriol" which wouldn't. I think this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.
The floor was open to questions then which meant that it was time for the big shots to talk. A bunch of them had shown up just for the Judith Miller portion of the day. The first question was John Podhoretz. The next was Bill McGowan. The third was Jay Rosen.
Rosen's question was the most penetrating. He said that he was watching MacNeil/Lehrer over the summer and Bill Keller had said that despite the fact that he supported a federal shield law for journalists he admitted that the Judith Miller case would not have fallen under it and should have been a case of her going to jail in an act of civil disobedience, just as it was without the law. Given that, she goes all around the country and talks about her case when she's advocating for the shield law. Shouldn't she make it clear that her boss says that her case wouldn't be covered? Miller responded that her lawyers tell her she would have been covered and one of the authors of the legislation told her he would have been covered, so it's a gray area.
There was a question I was burning to ask but didn't because if the intimidating crowd, one related to Rosen's question. I wanted to ask this: The idea of having a shield law for journalists is premised on protecting whistleblowers. At least, that's the only conceivable justification I can think of for it. However, in this case we're not talking about a whistleblower. If you buy into the premise that leaking Valerie Plame's name and the fact that she worked for the CIA was this horrible crime possibly endangering national security, which I don't at all but that was more or less the premise of the investigation and it was the position that the New York Times itself staked out over the course of multiple editorials, then we're looking at a situation in which the very act of speaking to the reporter was a crime. Ergo, by not giving up her notes or testifying you, Judith Miller, (again, if you buy into the premise that Valerie Plame was actually an undercover agent covered by the relevant statute) were covering up a crime. We're pretty far removed from the whistleblower scenario here aren't we? So, anyway, are you saying that journalists and certain (non humorous, non-vitriolic) bloggers should have a special law passed for them which allows them to cover up crimes with impunity? That can't be what you're saying is it?
I know, silly question.
Next was Senator John Cornyn, who was beamed in to appear on a screen in the front of the room. Though, like most politicians, he was very boring to listen to, he was also pro-blog and had the right ideas about not having blogs become regulated political speech.
The left-wing journalist Russ Baker was deeply disturbed at the Senator's egalitarianism. He asked a question which made what I find to be the most tiresome of old media's anti-blog arguments, but journalists have all this training and knowledge and special expertise so how can you compare them to just some guy with a computer and yadda yadda yadda. The Senator had a good reaction, he pointed to Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair and all the other debacles and how they seem to all come from people who've had all the special training so how can you posit a bright line distinction between journalist and joe schmoe?