Friday, October 27, 2006

Lithwick vs. Scalia

Justice Scalia recently said this about the quality of journalism reporting on judicial decisions:
Scalia said, "The press is never going to report judicial opinions accurately." It seems our reporting is limited to: "Who is the plaintiff? Was that a nice little old lady? And who is the defendant? Was this, you know, some scuzzy guy? And who won? Was it the good guy that won or the bad guy?"
Dahlia Lithwick of Slate begged to differ:
If the justices have a beef with the way the media cover the Supreme Court, let them state it publicly and explicitly. But the claim that we are too careless to read opinions and too sloppy to report cases is gratuitous and wrong; it describes neither the reality of legal reporting nor the general legal readership.
It's a bit awkward for Lithwick to make such an argument, given that she -- probably more than any other Supreme Court reporter -- tends to assess the Supreme Court's opinions and oral arguments based on whether the good guy won, often relying on hyperbole along the way.


Blogger Bill said...

Now, how can you say that Lithwick's reporting is based on outcomes? When she reports on arguments she doesn't know the outcomes, and although it is true that her descriptions of the arguments include her evaluations of the strengths of each point-- and I agree that her bias may show there-- but I don't think it slants her reporting.

I think it is a crock for Scalia to suggest that the media does a poor job of reporting on the Court's opinions. The NY Times typically prints them, as does the WaPo, and Nina Totenberg is about as objective in reporting on the Court as it is possible to be.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Check out the second link, for one example of Lithwick distorting an opinion. Or check this out, which not only demonstrates Scalia's point but makes it look understated.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Seems like (a) her bias is certainly clear and open-- she's not trying to slip anything by anyone; and (b) her description of what was said appears accurate. In other words, both your examples impress me as fair comment. Is Scalia proposing that the only way to report on judicial activities to provide the citations to the opinions? Law reviews critique opinions in terms that are far more scathing to the initiated-- but the general public can't be expected to understand an outcome expressed in terms of art-- that's why we are highly trained professionals, so that we can tease out the meanings.

I think your second example is cheating a bit-- it's not intended to be reporting, it is clearly commentary, and therefore fair comment.

It is possible that the federal courts-- and the Supreme Court especially, might be less thin skinned if they let a little sunlight in. If oral arguments were televised, maybe we wouldn't need Lithwick (although I'd still enjoy reading her).

4:18 PM  

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