Bench Memos

Linda Greenhouse’s Ethical In-Fidell-ity

Eugene R. Fidell is a recognized expert in military law and a prominent critic of President Bush’s policies on detention of enemy combatants.  Among other things, he has been actively engaged in the Boumediene case that was argued just last week in the Supreme Court.  At the D.C. Circuit level, he submitted an amicus brief in the case in support of Guantanamo detainees.  And in the Supreme Court briefing, he is listed in the amicus brief submitted on behalf of the Constitution Project (and other entities) as one of the signatories to the Constitution Project’s Statement on Restoring Habeas Corpus Rights Eliminated By The Military Commissions Act.  He also submitted an amicus brief in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, decided last year by the Supreme Court.


Oh, Fidell has one other distinction of note:  He is the husband of New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse.


I don’t know what standards of journalistic ethics the New York Times and Greenhouse purport to adhere to.  The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (which describes itself as the “nation’s most broad-based journalism organization” and has some 9,000 members) sets forth the proposition that journalists should “[a]void conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”  But that proposition would appear elementary for any journalist with any claim to being objective.


Notwithstanding her husband’s active participation in Boumediene and Hamdan, Linda Greenhouse has played her usual role in reporting on these cases.  (Here and here, for example, are two articles of hers from last week on Boumediene, and here is her article announcing the Administration’s “sweeping and categorical defeat” in Hamdan.)  I am not going to try to argue that her reporting has been biased by her husband’s role, as it would be impossible to separate any such bias from the broader political bias that pervades so much of Greenhouse’s reporting.  The simple fact is that she has reported, and is reporting, on cases in which, by any usual test, her husband’s role means that she has an actual conflict of interest.  (Nor, so far as I can tell, does Greenhouse even disclose to readers her conflict.)

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