“Nuculer” Option Explored, as Celebs Invade ‘Sphere

Doing their best imitations of New York Times word sleuth William Safire, bloghounds are hot on the heels of the lineage of “nuclear option,” the phrase du jour. And, while they’re at it, they’re snarling at the media for — once again, they say — folding in the face of Republican word police.

At issue are the comments of Sen. Bill Frist during yesterday’s televised “Justice Sunday” event, sponsored by Christian conservative groups to denounce the Democrats as “against people of faith” for blocking judicial nominees. As the New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick reported, Frist told the group, “Now if Senator Reid continues to obstruct the process, we will consider what opponents call the ‘nuclear option.’ Only in the United States Senate could it be considered a devastating option to allow a vote. Most places call that democracy.”

Not so fast, Frist, says Josh Marshall, who writes that the phrase “nuclear option” was coined by Republicans, not Democrats. (Atrios documents Frist’s prior embrace of the term.)

Writes Marshall:

In isolation, it doesn’t much matter whether we call this the ‘nuclear option’ or simply abolishing the filibuster. But it’s worth taking note of Frist’s knowing falsehood because it is quite evidently part of a larger RNC push over the course of the last week.

I’ve been made privy to the internal communications of a number of national news organizations at which there are now running arguments over whether to go along with the Republican claim that ‘nuclear option’ is a Democratic epithet or term of abuse which should be banned except in cases where Democrats are directly quoted using it.

So, as you’re reading the coverage in the coming days, watch to see which news outfits have fallen in line with the RNC-directives.

Marshall has already begun a tally.

The whole thing reminds Kevin Drum of another semiotics spat, over private Social Security accounts.

Blogging will go bold-face May 9, writes the New York Times’ Katharine Q. Seelye today: “Arianna Huffington, the columnist and onetime candidate for governor of California, is about to move blogging from the realm of the anonymous individual to the realm of the celebrity collective.”

Having prominent people join the blogosphere, Ms. Huffington said in an interview, “is an affirmation of its success and will only enrich and strengthen its impact on the national conversation.” Among those signed up to contribute blogs to Huffington’s new website are Walter Cronkite, David Mamet, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, James Fallows, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer and Mortimer B. Zuckerman.

The debut is eagerly awaited by Matt Welch at Reason’s “Hit & Run.” Welch expects “a rich source for the kind of unintentional comedy I haven’t enjoyed since watching the likes of Lou Dobbs, C. Everett Koop and Sydney Schanberg go bonkers with dot-com greed back at the end of the last Internet publishing boom.”

Welch takes delight at the prospect of HuffPost bloggers: “Cronkite and Nora Ephron, two of the most difficult Americans to avoid this past half-century, talking up the jobs of finally having a platform to freely express themselves.”

And Jay Rosen, a press critic who knows more than a little bit about the dynamics of blogs, is equally skeptical about Huffington’s roster of celeb bloggers. “These aren’t exactly people who lack voice or visibility in our culture,” he dryly observed in an email to Seelye.

Hey, c’mon. Maybe in their bathrobes, they’ll have something more interesting to say.

Susan Q. Stranahan

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.