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Friday, November 11, 2005

Courage in a Small World

I'm just a corn-shuckin' Canadian bumpkin from Tallahassee these days, but before I got here I used to live in DC where I worked for and near many "little Supremes."  As a result, even though I've never met Legal Times' SCOTUS correspondent Tony Mauro or SCOTUS advocate Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice,  I have a feeling I'm no more than a degree of separation from Mauro and maybe two to Sekulow.  I mention this background only to emphasize the gutsiness Mauro demonstrated by his reportage in an article from a week back, entitled Jay Sekulow's Golden Ticket.  The article, while measured, may instigate the slaying of Sekulow's golden fatted calf. 

Why courage here? Mauro's no Dexter Filkins, Ed Wong, or John Burns.  But while Mauro hasn't had to dodge bombs in Baghdad, he no doubt moves in the uncomfortably small elite legal world in DC.   And from what I know of that little world, it's probably the case that Mauro and Sekulow run into each other at lots of parties, meetings, and events in DC and elsewhere.  Because both are repeat players in a tiny tight-knit world, Mauro's article represents a smaller though still meaningful moment of professional courage.  (This courage seems different from when Dahlia Lithwick blasts the justices in her Slate columns too; the Justices and Dahlia probably don't have much opportunity to socialize, nor does it seem likely that the Justices read much of what she writes, though I could be very wrong about that.  And Linda Greenhouse, who does have occasion to bump into the Justices more, rarely calls the Justices names or says much about their private lives.  This isn't to denigrate Dahlia or Greenhouse's work in the slightest; it just seems different in character than what's at stake when Mauro unmasks Sekulow to be sleazy and/or creepy.)

Which makes me wonder.  Even if Sekulow survives the increased scrutiny and potential hard times to follow from Mauro's article, Mauro will probably not be able to get Sekulow or his allies to comment in his future pieces.  (On the other hand, maybe Sekulow thinks all publicity is good publicity.)  So, should a journalist be worried about sitting on a good story if it's going to hurt his ability to cover his area later?  My co-blogger and friend Paul H. is a CJS grad, and may have some insights into the difficulties journalists face regarding the coziness of the beat they cover. 

My sense is we should look at other instances where this arises. Consider regulatory capture in the administrative state.  Are there lessons to be learned from the experience of regulators becoming the pawns of industry?  Perhaps one of them is political and occupational term limits.  I wouldn't be surprised if one of the reasons the NYT rotates its Jerusalem bureau chief out every few years is because it's easy to get too friendly in that crazy wondrous city village with one's sources.  This fear goes back at least as far as the anti-federalists too.  The downside is that if we rotate too quickly, we lose the benefits of expertise and effectiveness.  Like much in the rest of life, success here depends on our capacity for character and virtue.

Posted by Administrators on November 11, 2005 at 12:43 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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This post deals with that question in the context of Judith Miller: http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh101905.shtml

Posted by: Bart Motes | Nov 14, 2005 10:42:10 AM

Dan, in your characteristically thoughtful way, you've analyzed the problems that lots of reporters face all the time. If they want to continue to their relationships with people they report on, they need to treat them well (or at least decently). This can be a real problem. However, it never ceases to surprise me what people will tell reporters. The desire for attention so often outstrips the desire for self-protection, it seems. And, though the article is certainly tough on Sekulow, don't you think that he in a lot of ways benefits from the attention.

Now, as to the little Supremes. Wow. Strange what people aspire to and plan their lives around.

Posted by: Alfred Brophy | Nov 11, 2005 9:29:19 AM

I wonder what role blogs played with Mauro's article. Do a Google search for Jay Sekulow (without or without quotes). Maruro's article is the second or third result. Do a Technorati search. (18 hits and counting...) I suspect that a lot of people who might not have read the article (and thus learned the truth about Sekulow), read it because of blogs. Also, given the role blogs play in an article/site's page rank, all those links must have something to do with the high placement.

Posted by: Mike | Nov 11, 2005 2:27:50 AM

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