When measuring a media outlet’s influence, the idea that the White House reads or listens to what you have to say would be a good indicator that your political sway reaches far beyond mere readership, but Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald has the distinction of being one of the few who can write something that results in the Obama Administration actually dispatching operatives to push back against his posts. Early last week Greenwald posted the “case against Elena Kagan,” a long detailed piece arguing why the potential Supreme Court nominee would be a bad choice for the Court, partially because of her views on executive power and her lack of record. A few days later, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein reported that “former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, who is leading outreach efforts around the upcoming court vacancy, reached out to progressive allies to dismiss [Greenwald's] article written about Kagan.” Though he didn’t name who these progressive allies were, Greenwald noted in a follow-up post that there were three notable pieces — “this piece at Slate by former Clinton Solicitor General Walter Dellinger; this Huffington Post argument by legal analyst and author Linda Monk; and this clichÃ©-filled, ad hominem, substance-free rant from Akin, Gump partner Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog” — that criticized his post on Kagan.
Though he noted in his post that he didn’t know whether any of these pieces were a direct result of White House outreach, it’s interesting to see a blogger who first began writing on a simple Blogspot account hold so much sway over an important decision, in this case who may be the next member of the Supreme Court. Given that one of Greenwald’s most constant criticisms of the traditional media is the insider’s access that the Beltway elite clamor for, sometimes at the expense of journalist integrity, I asked the Salon blogger if the knowledge that the White House is reading his work affects what he writes. “First of all, I don’t have the kind of access that can be taken away,” he replied. “I don’t rely upon or get invitations to speak before senior White House officials, and I don’t rely upon talking to people like that to do any work that I do. So the kind of conflicts I typically write about are the ones I avoid having. The kind of access in that regard isn’t anything I have, seek, or want.”
Greenwald noted that in the pushback against his piece, the Administration didn’t seem concerned so much with his attacks on Kagan’s views of executive power, but rather his points on her lack of experience. “I think that most progressives don’t care as much about executive power now that a progressive is in the White House now,” he said. “I think they’re more concerned with the ‘why take this risk?’ argument because she has no record. That I think is a powerful argument.”
I reached out to the three Kagan defenders who Greenwald had cited in his piece, but only one — Linda Monk, who wrote the Huffington Post piece — responded to my request for an interview. Monk is a constitutional scholar and is particularly notable (at least for this subject) because of an op-ed she penned for the Washington Post two decades ago concerning the Robert Bork nomination to the Supreme Court. Monk told me that she was not pressured by anyone in the White House to write her HuffPo piece (I asked Greenwald about this and he doesn’t doubt her, and neither do I), and she agreed with the idea that the Salon blogger has enormous influence in this debate. “[Greenwald]‘s definitely a moral leader on this issue, but he also rallied the political opposition to the Bush torture policy,” she said in a phone interview. “I think future generations are going to look back at him and call him the hero of this entire episode.”
Monk said that while she agreed with most of the blogger’s points, there were a few she disagreed with, which is why she wrote her piece. “I think he’s tremendously influential in the sense of driving the debate. And we’re all having the debate about Elena Kagan, and I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t have it without him, but he’s certainly been a leader in it.”
I asked Monk to compare the blogosphere’s role in influencing the Supreme Court nominations to her own experience during the Bork episode, particularly since she had been able to bring her argument to the Washington Post back in 1987. “I didn’t have op ed access then, I was just getting started then,” she replied. “And I was just persistent; I was an unknown and this was a very rare case where someone who didn’t have a regular op ed in the Post got to publish there. With the blogosphere, that access to write op eds has diminished even more — it’s much harder to participate at the Washington Post, but with the Huffington Post it’s great, I can participate in real time, without having to wait to see if my piece will come out before the news cycle has changed … Glenn Greenwald, who’s in Brazil, reads my Huffington Post article and responds to it, and I can respond to him in real time, and then thousands if not millions of people all around the world who do care who’s being nominated can participate in real time.”
But even though Greenwald said he doesn’t allow his influential readership to taint what he writes, he does enjoy his influence. “I’ve built up over time a platform where I can have influence. If you’re writing on politics you want to have influence on something, you don’t want to be writing pointlessly, and so sure I’m aware that my blog is well read in Washington, in Congress, and to some extent in the White House. I’m aware of that and happy about it, but it never affects what I write. I just try hard to block out all those influences.”