Bloggers gain access to 'Scooter' Libby trial

WASHINGTON - Internet bloggers will be allowed to cover the criminal trial of former White House staffer Lewis "Scooter" Libby alongside reporters from traditional media outlets, a court spokesman has confirmed.

Bloggers will control at least four seats during the high-profile trial in which Libby's former boss, US Vice President Dick Cheney, is expected to testify, said Sheldon Snook, a spokesman for the US District Court in Washington. Jury selection begins on Tuesday.

The arrangement is believed to be a first for a high-profile court case, although trade shows and political conventions have issued media passes to bloggers in the past several years.

"Bloggers are part of the media landscape and if we were to ignore bloggers, we would be ignoring reality," Snook said.

The rise of internet blogs, or Web logs, has led to debates on whether bloggers, who often operate independently and with little editorial oversight, are entitled to the same access and protection as traditional print, radio and television journalists.

Two seats will be controlled by members of the nonpartisan Media Blogging Association, a trade group that provides legal advice and promotes increased access for its 1,000 members.

While members adhere to standards of fairness and accuracy, the 12 who will rotate through the two seats during the trial will include political perspectives from the left and the right in their coverage, association President Robert Cox said.

"Our members are not going in there to file wire service copy or be pool reporters -- they're going to express opinions," Cox said.

Two more seats will be controlled by writers for several liberal-leaning blogs, including Firedoglake, The Huffington Post and DailyKos, said Firedoglake founder Jane Hamsher.

"This case shows how the blogosphere has had an impact on how the news was covered," Hamsher said. "During Watergate, there was no place for people to meet and say, 'This story makes no sense.'"

Bloggers likely will file reports from an overflow room that will be set up with wireless internet service, although like other media outlets they will be prohibited from transmitting video or audio of the trial.

Intense coverage

Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents as they sought to determine who leaked the name of a CIA employee whose husband had criticised the Bush administration's use of intelligence in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq.

Richard Armitage, the former No. 2 official at the US State Department, has since said he was the first to mention inadvertently the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters.

Knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert CIA agent is against the law but neither Armitage nor anyone else has been charged with leaking Plame's identity to the media in 2003.

The Plame case has been subject to especially intense, and often speculative, coverage in media outlets and online blogs.

Blogger Jason Leopold, writing for the left-leaning blog, reported last May that White House top political adviser Karl Rove had been indicted as part of the investigation and planned to resign.

Rove's lawyer said no indictment had been served, and said several weeks later that Rove was cleared by Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

Leopold is not a member of the Media Bloggers Association, Cox said.


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