Bench Memos

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More Biased Reporting from the Washington Post?


Today’s front-page article in the Washington Post tries to make a big deal out of the fact that the White House is reviewing additional records from John Roberts’s executive-branch service before making them public. Given the privilege and privacy concerns that such documents may raise, such review would seem to be standard operating procedure. But the Post charges “delay.”

The Post article leads with the assertion that the White House has been “[t]hrown on the defensive by recent revelations about Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.’s legal work.” It claims that White House officials “recognize that Roberts’s record is going to be central” to his confirmation hearing. It follows last Friday’s Post article claiming that “the White House and its allies have grown concerned that the documents released so far have painted Roberts as a rigid ideologue.”

These assertions seem highly tendentious at best. The “recent revelations” about Roberts’s legal work establish–surprise!–that he is a deeply intelligent conservative with a longstanding commitment to principles of judicial restraint. Prodded by left-wing groups, Senate Democrats will of course try to distort his record, but there is no reason that any controversy over his admirable record should be “central” to his hearing. (Note that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s demonstrably extremist record as an ACLU activist was not central to her hearing). And who but the rigid ideologues on the Left can think that Roberts’s documents show him to be a “rigid ideologue”?

I see two leading possible explanations for the Post’s distorted accounts. One theory is that Jo Becker, the Post reporter on both of these articles (sole author of today’s and lead author on last Friday’s), is working arm in arm with left-wing groups to try to generate traction against Roberts’s nomination. That theory would receive substantial support from the previous hit jobs on Roberts in which Becker has taken part. (See here, here, here, and here.)

By the way, from what I can tell, the Post doesn’t make publicly available the backgrounds of its reporters. Especially on political stories, aren’t readers entitled to information that would enable them to assess whether bias may be coloring the reporter’s account? Or does the Post embrace the fiction that everyone but reporters has potential biases?

A second possible explanation might be that some political folks in the White House might think it advisable not to stand and defend Roberts as a principled conservative but instead to try to run to the Center. I have no idea whether anyone has that view, though the disproportionate emphasis on denying that Roberts was ever a member of the Federalist Society makes me wonder. I sure hope that no one is pursuing that strategy, for it seems to me plainly foolish. Undermining Roberts’s conservative base of support will not help his confirmation. And even if it did, it would be far better in the long run to get Roberts confirmed as a clear proponent of judicial restraint and in the face of substantial opposition from Senate Democrats than to have a neutered, muddled version of him confirmed virtually unanimously.


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