Bench Memos

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Response to NYT’s Public Editor on Greenhouse Conflict—Part 3


When a reader suggested that I send my complaint about Linda Greenhouse’s conflict of interest to the New York Times’s public editor (or “readers’ representative”), I figured that doing so would probably be futile.  But the unusually strong (and favorable) reaction that my complaint elicited from readers—especially from certain readers very savvy about the Supreme Court and national-security litigation—persuaded me to press the matter.  I never imagined that the public editor, Clark Hoyt, would somehow see fit to go out of his way to attack me—even as he validated the heart of my complaint.


In this part, I am going to address several assertions made by Hoyt.  Given Hoyt’s bizarre attack on me in the pages of Sunday’s New York Times, I think it appropriate to demonstrate the lack of merit of all his charges.


Let’s start with some background.  Hoyt states early on that I “take[] frequent shots at Greenhouse.”  Well, let’s see.  In the 32 months that I’ve been blogging on Bench Memos, I’ve written—apart from the several posts in which I address Greenhouse’s conflict of interest—a grand total of 15 posts that include her name (out of a total of more than 1000 posts).  (I’m relying on the Bench Memos search engine for this data.) 


In four of these—on the partial-birth abortion case, on her gross mischaracterization of Justice Thomas’s 1992 dissenting opinion in Hudson v. McMillian (see This Week for Feb. 25, 1992), on the number of female law clerks, and on a recent oral argument in an age-discrimination case—I criticize Greenhouse’s biased reporting. 


Two posts (This Week for Jan. 9, 1947 and here) play off her Radcliffe speech in which she recounted a “little crying jag” at a Simon and Garfunkel concert and complained about “the sustained assault on women’s reproductive freedom” and “the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism.”  One post presents her Tina Brown-like reflections on Chief Justice Roberts’s seizure.  One post discusses her unusual behavior towards another Supreme Court journalist.  And one post highlights her inadvertently damning assessment of Justice Ginsburg’s grandstanding.


One discusses, and another one briefly refers to that discussion of, her summary of the Supreme Court’s 2006-2007 term.  Two (here and here) make passing reference to Greenhouse’s biography of Justice Blackmun; one other notes in a parenthetical an odd citation to her; and one post, on the heels of the partial-birth abortion post, merely has a title (“Worse than Greenhouse”) assessing a New York Times editorial. 


In sum, apart from the conflict-of-interest posts, I’ve written 10 or 12 posts over a period of nearly three years that are critical of Greenhouse.


Now let’s turn to Hoyt’s charges.


1.  Hoyt asserts that my supposedly “increasingly intemperate and personal attacks …. feel more like bullying.”  Let’s unpack this.


a.  Hoyt’s charge that my posts are “intemperate” would suggest to the trusting New York Times reader that I’m spewing expletives and rage.  I don’t expect everyone to share my sense of humor or my sensibilities, but I’d be surprised if any fair-minded person who actually reads my posts on Greenhouse finds them “intemperate”.  They’re certainly more temperate than a lot of New York Times editorials.


b.  I find equally puzzling Hoyt’s charge that my posts present “personal attacks”.  Every one of my posts about Greenhouse relates to her performance in her capacity as a journalist.  Perhaps he is suggesting that I resort to ad hominem (or, if you prefer, ad feminam) criticisms of Greenhouse.  But he can likewise muster no evidence for that charge. 


c.  Hoyt’s assertion that my criticisms are “increasingly intemperate and personal” would suggest to the reader that he has carefully studied my posts.  Perhaps I should be flattered by the attention, but I see no evidence that it’s true.  Nor could Hoyt possibly document the pattern he alleges. 


d.  Who, then, is bullying whom?  If Hoyt were serving as the “readers’ representative,” his interest would be in assessing the merits of complaints, not in attacking those who present the complaints.  Instead, every indication is that he’s serving as a company man.   He doesn’t like the fact that I’ve criticized Greenhouse effectively, so he’s resorting to the pages of his powerful paper to try to slap me down. 

2.  Hoyt charges me with a “partisan” assault on Greenhouse.  If the word “partisan” is to be anything other than a mindless pejorative that someone uses to refer to someone else who holds principles that he opposes, it surely must describe someone who favors party over principle and who applies principles selectively to benefit favored parties.  Hoyt can’t offer any evidence that I am “partisan” in this sense.  But evidently he means merely that I’m conservative.

Tags: Whelan


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