New York Times gets it wrong, wrong, wrong

Yesterday, Adam Liptak of the New York Times reported this:

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, asked Judge Roberts for his views on New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court decision that revolutionized American libel law. Judge Roberts’s response was terse and cautious, but it contained a faint echo of a blistering 30-page critique of the case that he wrote as a White House lawyer in the Reagan administration in the early 1980’s.

The story goes on to quote libel exerts and constitutional lawyers to paint a portrait of what Mr. Liptak seems to think Judge Roberts’ view on libel law might be.

There’s just one problem: Roberts didn’t write the memo on which the Times story is based, as the Times revealed in this by-lined correction this morning. Yesterday’s story is simply wrong.

The original story says unequivocally that Roberts wrote the memo. The correction reveals that that critical memo was unsigned. Apparently, the only reason that the Times believed Roberts wrote it was that it had been mistakenly included with some of his files from his days in the Reagan administration. But if it was unsigned, why didn’t Mr. Liptak take two minutes and call the White House to confirm authorship?

Unfortunately, this is the kind of sloppy, slip-shod journalism that has become all too common at the Times. Indeed, even today’s correction leaves much to be desired. Rather than just admitting the mistake, Mr. Liptak tries to put the toothpaste back in the tube by pointing to another memo — this one apparently signed by Judge Roberts — that mentions the landmark libel case in question. Why bother? If the story was wrong yesterday, it’s wrong today.

Finally, this whole mini-drama underscores the folly of trying to expose judicial nominees’ views on the issues. As I’ve said many, many times: we all ought to stop treating judicial nominees like politicians by attempting to fix campaign platforms on them. It doesn’t work. And it only serves to further politicize the judicial branch.


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