Bench Memos

Pretty Thin Gruel

There’s an interesting article in Newsweek’s July 16 issue about Justice Anthony Kennedy–but not interesting for a good reason.  No, I’m not going to tackle the “what’s wrong with Kennedy” subject again, or explain why I laughed out loud to read one of his former clerks saying “I would put him in the top rank intellectually.”  I just want to say that this is one of the most distinctive failures of interview journalism I’ve ever seen.  The piece is credited to Stuart Taylor, Jr., and Evan Thomas, “with Katie Connolly” having a hand in it as well, and is said to be based on an interview with Kennedy by one of these three (probably Taylor, one of the best on this beat) in his Supreme Court chambers the day after the Court’s term ended a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s what’s odd: the piece runs a little over 1,000 words.  Roughly 235 of those words are more or less directly based on the interview conducted with Kennedy.  Exactly 103 of the words in the article are actually uttered by Kennedy himself.  So Newsweek gets an exclusive interview with the most powerful member of the Supreme Court, and the write-up (worked on by three people!) gives us a measly hundred words from the man, just 10% of the published article?  Either Justice Kennedy had very, very little of interest to say, or Newsweek got the bum’s rush after five minutes.

Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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