One unfortunate byproduct of Linda Greenhouse’s imminent departure from the New York Times will be the generation of fawning articles like this one in the Harvard Crimson. It may not be surprising that the reporter would take at face value statements like these from law professor Larry Tribe:
“This is shocking and it’s most unfortunate. However good a deal Linda got out of it, the country is so much worse off.”
“She is a national treasure.”
After all, how might any naïve cub reporter, in the so diverse atmosphere of Cambridge, Massachusetts, imagine that Tribe might be lamenting that he will no longer have Greenhouse to propagate his liberal gospel on constitutional law?
But the reporter’s illustration of the fact that “Greenhouse’s long career at the Times has not gone unmarked by controversy”—ah, that gentle double negative—indicates that something more is at work. Here’s the reporter’s account of Greenhouse’s notorious Radcliffe speech:
Greenhouse’s remarks two days later at a Radcliffe Institute luncheon, that the government had “turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law” would draw the criticism of the Times’ public editor, who issued a reminder that the “merest perception of bias in a reporter’s personal views can plant seeds of doubt that may grow in a reader’s mind.”
This account dramatically understates both Greenhouse’s remarks and the public editor’s response. In particular, the reporter excludes Greenhouse’s cri de coeur: “And let’s not forget the sustained assault on women’s reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism.” Greenhouse defended these comments as “statements of fact”. The Times’s public editor, Byron Calame, was forceful in his condemnation of her remarks:
The Times’s ethical guideline states that news staffers appearing on radio or television ‘’should avoid expressing views that go beyond what they would be allowed to say in the paper.’’ It is obvious, I think, that the guideline also applies to other venues…. It seems clear to me that Ms. Greenhouse stepped across that line during her speech….
[A]s the influential Supreme Court reporter for The Times, a beat that touches nearly all areas of public policy, Ms. Greenhouse has an overriding obligation to avoid publicly expressing these kinds of personal opinions….
Bemoaning the difficulties journalists face in being citizens strikes an old-fashioned editor like me as whining…. Keeping personal opinions out of the public realm is simply one of the obligations for those who remain committed to the importance of impartial news coverage.