The time has come. With this post, the Under the Radar blog will formally end its ten-and-a-half year run.
Fear not! There is no need for despair (nor cause for celebration), as the same fine content found here will in the future be available as stories on the main POLITICO site. If you’re interested in keeping up with my work, just follow me on Twitter for links to the latest news on Washington legal developments large and small. You can also find most of my past and future stories via this tag on the POLITICO site.
Loyal readers of Under the Radar may yearn for a bit more explanation of this transition. That follows, after the jump (as we used to say in the blogging world….Really, we did!)
The first post on this blog, which went live on March 17, 2009, promised “stories that have not yet broken through in the mainstream press or just aren’t getting the attention they deserve.” It foresaw coverage aligned with the author’s avowed interests “in the courts, the Justice Department, the First Amendment, classified information, campaign finance, transparency, and open government laws like the Freedom of Information Act.”
The 2,915 ensuing posts on this blog have lived up to that mandate, chronicling legal developments, both notable and obscure, as well as some entertaining accounts of epic benchslapping.
My former colleague Mike Allen claims I initially favored the title “In the Weeds,” but he argued for “Under the Radar” as a bit more likely to draw in readers. (Vox has gleefully claimed the rejected title for its podcast. Go figure.)
Despite the occasional foray into minutiae, the blog has also been home to some world-beating scoops, like this one about Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and Britain’s Prince Andrew being accused in court of participating in a sex-trafficking conspiracy. (They denied it. Buckingham Palace weighed in. Litigation continues.)
Much of the Jeffrey Epstein saga that has unfolded in the past year—and was treated as a jaw-dropping surprise in many quarters—was laid out in that post tapped out during a New Year’s ski vacation almost six years ago.
The announced reasons for launching the blog were genuine, but there were some unstated, more parochial concerns which help explain why it is now time to let the blog take its place in the history books (and with its ancestor proto-blogs in the Internet Archive.)
First, the blog amounted to a kind of editor bypass, allowing me to indulge writing about topics of personal interest without having to make a case to bosses about why anyone else would care. Some of those posts only got a handful of views. Others became the most trafficked items on the POLITICO site. The Internet can be fickle, so it was often tough to predict which posts would go viral and which remained the province of a discerning few.
The second raison d’etre was the function blogs served for a time as a useful place to hawk one’s work—a kind of landing page for those interested in a particular subject matter or author. People would bookmark a blog’s home page and visit it to check in on what someone like Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds or Markos Moulitsas was up to. Believe it or not, millennials, but people bookmarked and linked to “Under the Radar” because they were interested in FOIA or other legal topics or maybe just because they liked me. Perhaps some even hate-read it. (Hey, traffic is traffic!)
The hailing and alerting function has been rendered all but superfluous by Twitter, which is the place most national journalists now flack their stories. Some critics dismiss Twitter as just an echo chamber for reporters. That’s partly true, but there are also a lot of people following along outside the news business and the beltway. This tweet I posted Sunday about a story on a judge ordering President Donald Trump to preserve records of his dealings with foreign governments got more than 1 million impressions. Even accounting for a goodly number of Russian bots, that’s far more people than would ever be checking in on a blog’s home page.
When Under the Radar debuted, I was covering the White House full-time and regularly traveling with President Barack Obama, as I had done with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for ABC News. Some of the topics regularly discussed here, like Guantanamo, surveillance and leaks, were White House stories. Others, like campaign finance and government transparency, were less squarely on that beat.
Now, I cover legal topics almost exclusively, so writing about all those subjects is not really an excursion from my usual duties. In addition, with so much of the Trump presidency being battled out in the courts, the province of this blog often seems like the main story of the day, not a sidelight.
When then-POLITICO editor John Harris signed off on creating the blog a decade ago, he told me it was akin to being handed a loaded gun. That was particularly true at the time, because a number of our journalists had authority to directly publish items on various blogs without those posts first being seen by editors.
That added speed, but also typos. It also unleashed a few rants on various POLITICO blogs that might have benefited from another set of eyes before going out on the tubes. For the past five years or so, an editor’s look-see has been mandatory.
To the shock of many, given my penchant for covering the litigious, this blog generated only one threat to sue. Thankfully, the statute of limitations has come and gone.
Despite the tendencies of the genre, this blog has never been a vehicle for much opinionating, although I leaned into a post or headline a bit from time to time. Nevertheless, the notion that a blog typically sheds more heat than light has contributed to the decision to wind this one down. For several years now, various search engines seem to have penalized posts self-described as a “blog,” regardless of the underlying content.
Under the Radar was once one of more than half a dozen active blogs at POLITICO. The number has dwindled in recent years, leaving this late de-adopter’s blog as the last one standing. Another hint it may be time to turn in the keys: the system we currently use for posting sometimes defaults to Ben Smith’s blog, which slipped the surly bonds of Earth at the end of 2011. (Ben himself is alive and well.)
If all this is making you nostalgic, my colleague Jack Shafer’s former blog masquerades as a column. (He insists he still has an RSS feed for true Neanderthals. I maintain it gave up the ghost in 2015.)
Also: a word of thanks to POLITICO’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Matt Wuerker, whose likeness of me has graced this blog from its inception. The loss of the lucrative royalties will surely pain him.
The blog is dead. Long live the blog.