Legal Insurrection tries to stay above the fray

The 2016 election has been a time of increased polarization and intense negative allegations against some of the candidates. William Jacobson, a clinical professor of Law at Cornell Law School and founder of the blog Legal Insurrection, is trying to stay above the fray.

Jacobson founded Legal Insurrection in 2008, and the blog has become one of the more prominent blogs in the conservative blogosphere. According to the site’s about page, Legal Insurrection hit one million views within their first year of existence, and readership has grown since. The website gets around 250,000 visitors a month, and features bloggy-content expressing conservative views and attacking liberal views and liberal politicians, primarily Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and likely Democratic nominee for President Hillary Clinton.

Although Jacobson said the website usually sees an election-year boost, he said that the site has not yet seen that boost in this election year. A possible explanation is that the site is attempting to stay above the fray as the Republican primary has been highlighted by the controversial rise of businessman Donald Trump. For example, on March 25, The National Enquirer published a story claiming Ted Cruz has had five different affairs. On Legal Insurrection, Jacobson wrote a post titled “The Thing”, which explained,“The thing is about The Thing is that I don’t want to spread what might be false rumors, on the other hand, The Thing is now a thing on TV and elsewhere, so it can’t be totally avoided.” Jacobson’s post included reactions from those involved, to inform the readers while attempting not to be part of the problem by aggressively spreading the rumors.

This election year, Jacobson said the site is trying to stay true to itself and not get too involved in the horserace political coverage that is so prominent throughout the media.

Legal Insurrection tries to stay above the fray

The National Review faces Trump problem

The National Review, an independent conservative magazine with a robust online presence, is facing the same problem conservatives and the establishment Republican party is facing: the insurgent presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump. In January, the magazine published a highly-publicized special issue of the magazine, in which more than twenty prominent conservative leaders, thinkers and pundits lay out their personal grievances against Trump’s candidacy. Some of these conservatives included Cato Institute executive vice president David Boaz, Weekly Standard editor-in-chief William Kristol, and former Fox News host Glenn Beck.

In an editorial featured in the issue, the editors of the magazine wrote their strongly-worded case against Trump. “He is not deserving of conservative support in the caucuses and primaries,” they wrote. “Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” The editorial notes some of Trump’s positions that have changed, such as his views on abortion, gun control, health care and taxes. It then goes more in-depth, explaining the editors’ belief his current rhetoric on policies is contradictory at best and nonsensical at worst, on topics ranging from illegal immigration to the fight against ISIS. “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself,” the editorial concludes.

In the time since the publishing of the editorial January 21st, Trump has won three out of the first four states to vote and it is likely he will win many more tonight. Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, has been aggressively anti-Trump on twitter. Yesterday, Lowry told Howard Kurtz on Fox News that he was unsure if the magazine would support Trump in the general election.
Other conservative independent outlets are facing a similar question. Bill Kristol, the editor-in-chief of the Weekly Standard, another prominent conservative magazine, has said he could never support Donald Trump, even if he were to win the nomination. With Donald Trump looking like he will be the Republican party’s nominee, independent conservative outlets will be forced to decide whether or not to support him in the general election.

The National Review faces Trump problem

Statehouse independents in Connecticut

As the number of journalists working at daily newspapers has declined, the number of reporters covering statehouses for these outlets also declined. A Pew Research Center survey found that newspapers had lost 164 full-time statehouse reporters, a decline of 35%, between 2003 and 2014. The Pew Research Center survey described that these veteran statehouse reporters have started to cover state politics for independent for-profit and non-profit digital news organizations. These “nontraditional” outlets, in the words of Pew, employ 126 full-time statehouse reporters, 17 percent of all full-time statehouse reporters. Independent outlets have arisen to fill the gaps in statehouse coverage created by the decreased statehouse staffing by newspapers. In my home state of Connecticut, two outlets have arisen to fill decreasing state capital coverage: The Connecticut Mirror and ctnewsjunkie.com.

The Connecticut Mirror was founded in 2009 with the mission to “produce deep reporting on government policies and politics, to become an invaluable resource for anyone who lives, works or cares about Connecticut, and to hold our policymakers accountable for their decisions and actions.” In 1989, over 24 reporters from the state’s daily newspapers covered Connecticut’s state capitol, today, there are under eight. The Mirror employs eleven journalists and now has the largest bureau covering the state capitol. A non-profit, the Mirror is funded by sponsorship, donations and advertising. The Mirror also has a reporter based in Washington, D.C. The Mirror provides in-depth coverage of the state capitol, including a bill tracking system and in-depth coverage of the budget.

Another website, ctnewsjunike.com, is a mostly a one-woman operation run by Christine Stuart, who became editor of the site in 2006 after it was founded in 2005. Ctnewsjunkie.com is aimed at political insiders and “junkies” in the state. According to its website, it aims to feature “original reporting on state politics, public policy, the courts, and also a healthy focus on our struggling health care system.” The website is a for-profit entity which accepts donations from readers. This website is more Hartford-centric than the Connecticut Mirror, which offers a more thorough coverage of the issues which face the state with a larger staff. Ctnewsjunkie does do a very good-job with state politics. Stuart recently exposed Michael Schroeder, a newspaper executive and owner of the New Britain Herald (a newspaper in Connecticut), as “Edward Clarkin”, a faked byline, on a story run criticizing a Nevada judge who had tangled with Sheldon Adelson. Schroeder was involved in Adelson’s secretive purchase of the Los Angeles Review-Journal.

Connecticut Mirror and ctnewsjunkie.com are two influential independent outlets in the state of Connecticut that are helping to fill the gaps left by the decline in the state’s  newspaper’s coverage of state government.

Statehouse independents in Connecticut

Truth

In 2015, Cate Blanchett and Roger Redford starred in the movie Truth, which took a look at a controversy which occurred after CBS’ 60 minutes ran a story regarding then-President Bush’s experience with the Texas Air National Guard. Blanchett starred as Mary Mapes, the CBS producer who reported the story and Redford stars as Dan Rather, CBS’ legendary anchor. The film portrays Mapes as a noble journalist who may have cut some corners with verifying the documents which led to her downfall. Shortly after running the story, the legitimacy of the documents used is called into question by bloggers. This leads to the firing of Mapes and Rather’s retirement shortly thereafter.

Truth_2015_poster

 

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wrote about these bloggers in 2004. Essentially, bloggers began questioning the legitimacy of the documents shortly after the filming of the segment and then the questions raised by the bloggers raised spread like wildfire on the internet. As Charles Johnson, one of the bloggers, says in Kurtz’ column: “We’ve got a huge pool of highly motivated people who go out there and use the tools to find stuff. We’ve got an army of citizen journalists out there.” After the bloggers started questioning the memos, major news organizations joined in, but Kurtz notes that the bloggers had the advantage of speed and immediacy over the slower-moving professional outlets.

In the film, the role of the bloggers is somewhat glossed over. The film jumps from Mapes, Rather, and her crew celebrating the airing of the package with drinks to Mapes in the office presumably the next morning, when the allegations of the bloggers is brought to her attention. Mapes and the other professionals immediately discredit the bloggers as right-wing partisans, but shortly after Mapes is shown typing into the computer to see if the text on Microsoft Word compares to the text on the memos, and when it does is it clear she is questioning the documents. As the rest of the film unfolds, it becomes clear the legitimacy of the documents is questionable at best. Although the film hints that the documents are real and Mapes and Rather were being targeted by right-wingers who were adamantly hoping for Bush’s re-election, it is clear that it is unknown whether or not they were legitimate, with the likelihood being that they were forgeries.  
In this controversy, independent bloggers played a huge role in holding a major corporate media outlet accountable. By providing a check on the mainstream media, these independent bloggers provided a service to America’s democracy.  

Truth