By Donna Smith
Political groups preparing to battle over the first U.S. Supreme Court nomination in 11 years have a powerful new tool -- Internet blogs -- to spread information quickly and influence decision makers without relying on traditional media.
Web logs likely numbering in the dozens provide a way for the thoughtful and the passionate to publish their views. Politicians are taking notice as they prepare for the first high court nomination fight since the Internet became common in American households.
President Bush has yet to name a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced her retirement last week. With the vacancy and eventual nominee comes intense debate over the court's future.
"A key part of our strategy is reaching out to the Internet community," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Blogs and similar forums have been around since the early days of the Internet, but only in the last year have they begun to have an impact on public opinion and lawmakers, congressional staffers and bloggers said.
A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project said that7 percent of the 120 million U.S. adults who use the Internet have created a blog or web-based diary.
Reid and other political leaders now hold conferences with bloggers in the same way they meet with traditional press.
"I think they are instrumental in getting information out and deconstructing spin," said Eric Ueland, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.
"They are much defter and swifter than the mainstream media," he said, adding that blogs are also "very clear in their philosophical and ideological leanings."
Carol Darr, director of George Washington University's Institute for politics, democracy and the Internet, said those who read and write blogs aren't "the sad, the mad and the lonely." Rather, research shows they tend to be people able to influence others, she said.
Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a group formed to support Bush nominees, said the blog at http:/committeeforjustice.org is aimed at journalists, other bloggers and talk radio hosts. It also gets information to advocacy groups and "allows them to do what they are good at, and that is activism," he said.
Tom Goldstein said researchers at his Washington law firm Goldstein and Howe already are poring over the background and court decisions of potential nominees. His firm's blogs at http:/and http:/ strive to be non-partisan, but will offer opinions on how a candidate may decide important cases, he said.
"If we believe this person will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, we will say that," he said, speaking of the ruling that legalized abortion.
Melanie Mattson said she bought more bandwidth for her liberal court blog at http:/judgingthefuture.net, saying she was unsure how much more traffic to expect.
"The medium is still so new and the Internet is growing so fast it is hard to know," she said. "Once we get a name we will get more hits."
Steve Clemons, who publishes a political blog http:/says that once Bush names someone "you are going to see the blogs go crazy" digging up information and in many cases "outrunning" mainstream media.
Not all blogs are created equal. Many will become "ideological echo chambers" that people read to reaffirm their beliefs, Clemons said. Others will fuel passions on both the right and the left sides of the political spectrum. A few will rise above the pack and become sources of information and not just an advocacy forum.
"If there is any momentum to this trend, you are going to see them play a very influential role in shaping the environment for this debate," Clemons said. His blog on John Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador became a must read for many congressional aides and journalists.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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