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January 27, 2008

Dahlia Lithwick/Emily Bazelon for Dummies

Well, that just about tears it. Where the heck is Clark Hoyt when we need him?

The half vast editorial staff have been taken to the woodshed for our bullying, intemperate attacks on Slate Online's fabulous female legal reporting duo. Naturally, Mr. Hoyt is nowhere to be seen. But isn't that just like a man?

Reader "MathMom" chides us with some asperity:

You are trying to silence Ms. Greenhouse by discouraging her from using toothpaste, which will hasten any potential tooth decay, and will cause her to spend excess hours in a dental chair, and correspondingly fewer hours opinionating. You are a tool of BusHitlerBurton.

The intrpd spd rdr (the big bully!) piles on:

Help me understand this. Linda Greenhouse writes about the Supreme Court for the New York Times. Her husband is an attorney (and an expert in military law!) who files amicus briefs in support of persons appealing the legality of certain actions taken by the Bush administration. Ms. Greenhouse reports about these very Supreme Court appeals in a manner that, in the opinion of some, is less than completely objective. ("Sweeping and categorical" are excessive terms generally reserved for, well, things sweeping and categorical, not 5-3 decisions where 4 of the majority join in a separate, partially concurring opinion.) Nevertheless, her work appears, not on the editorial page, but on the front page as "news."

This type of ignorant and uninformed legal commentary (meaning Bazelon/Lithwick disagree with it) - by a rdr who obviously knows nothing about the law - is tantamount to verbal battery. If this so-called "person" knew anything about disclosure rules or the lofty ethical standards employed by the New York Times, he'd know the Editors long ago weighed in on the Extreme Importance of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety... that is, if you're a conservative:

Why was Fidell’s involvement in the cases a “patent” conflict for his wife’s reporting on them? Well, if that’s not plain enough on its face, one could rely on the generally applicable legal standard, which counsels counsel to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety.” But why resort to such arid rules when we have the New York Times itself as our compass.

.... there was another Times fave, Justice Antonin Scalia, who outraged the editors because he would not recuse himself from a case in which the high court considered a Bush administration task force — after all, the Justice had gone duck-hunting with [shudder] Dick Cheney. “It is an elemental principle of law,” the Times railed “that judges must not have, or even appear to have, an interest in the cases before them.” Why, “[t]he public wants judges to avoid even the suggestion of bias[.]” ...when you get right down to it, “the biggest problem” with these sorts of conflicts, based on the intimate bonds society recognizes when a man and a man hunt ducks together, “is the lack of effective enforcement.”

What those big brutes over at NRO seem to miss is that the juicy intimacy of a duck blind is far more compromising than anything so mundane as a modern marriage (where, as we all know, nothing more cozy than a toothpaste tube or the odd of forkful of Pad Thai are ever exchanged between consenting adults). The very implication that the combination of a committed marital relationship and the voluntary choice to file a series of amicus briefs might give reasonable grounds for suspecting a conflict is preposterous. After all, it's not as though these two were casual acquaintances same-sex vacationers who once shared a duck blind!

Plainly, Andy McCarthy must be added to the list of big bullies. We are confident however that these too, too apparent inconsistencies in the Times' disclosure policies will melt, Thaw, and resolve themselves into a dew when viewed through the transformative prism of our darling duo's dashing dialectic. Thus, in the interest of helping the readership understand the complexly nuanced legalistic stylings of Misses Bazelton and Lithwick, the Editorial Staff have undertaken to step through their highly technical arguments so you layfolk may better understand them.

1. It took some kind of amazing footwork for Clark Hoyt, the New York Times public editor, to pull off what's turning into an annual ritual: dragging the paper's multiple-award-winning Supreme Court correspondent out to the woodshed for appearing to have opinions in her private life or—even worse—sharing a toothpaste tube with those who do.

TRANSLATION FOR DUMMIES: This isn't about Whelan objecting to specific and repeated instances of bias in Greenhouse's news coverage. Nor is it about why the Times didn't think its readers had a right to know Greenhouse's husband had filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees when she wrote about those very cases. Or even about the fact that Ms. Greenhouse's husband subsequently had his name stricken from at least one of these briefs, on account of the conflict of interest he felt it (apparently) presented.


No. It's about Linda's right to have her own opinions and to be married to a lawyer who doesn't like the Shrub. They'd have come right out and said so, but that would have sounded ridiculous.

Oh wait. They did.

2. ... Hoyt gives Whelan—and other bloggers inclined to trashing professional reputations—exactly what they want: He takes the bully seriously, by airing and evaluating Whelan's claim that the Times is guilty of bias because of Greenhouse's reporting on cases involving the Guantanamo detainees.

TRANSLATION FOR DUMMIES: A truly objective ombudsman, you see, only "airs and evaluates" claims Ms. Bazelton and Lithwick agree with. Baseless claims cannot be discredited by examining them and pointing out the errors in their reasoning. No. Only by flatly ignoring claims from one's opponents can one establish a reputation for integrity and objectivity. Duh.

3. Her sin? She is married to Eugene Fidell, a nationally recognized expert on military law who has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in earlier stages of these cases, and similar ones before the court. In Whelan's hands, this fact—which Greenhouse told her bureau chief—becomes the latest addition to a lengthy dossier about Greenhouse's unfitness to report Supreme Court news.

TRANSLATION FOR DUMMIES: Helloooo. Who are the good guys here? Transparency, accountability, disclosure, ethical standards? They're meant to restrain the 'bad guys'. Our side don't need to follow the rules because we can never, by definition, be corrupted. If you want proof that we can be trusted, just look at our opinions on Gitmo. Besides, c'mon! SHE TOLD HER BUREAU CHIEF! We decide what the little people readers know, and when they should know it! Accountability is for weenies.

4. Whelan didn't point to any concrete problem with Greenhouse's handling of these cases....Unable to point to any actual bias...

TRANSLATION FOR DUMMIES: We don't agree with his substantive criticisms, therefore they do not exist. La la la la!!! We can't heeeear you, Ed!

5. This most-skewed-perception-of-bias-by-folks-in-tinfoil-hats standard is not the one that the Supreme Court has chosen to adopt for itself, by the way.Justice Antonin Scalia's son and Justice Clarence Thomas' wife each had professional interests in the outcome of Bush v. Gore. Those family connections didn't prompt any action on the part of the justices, or any sustained criticism. Indeed, Scalia, for whom Whelan clerked, mounted the most eloquent defense imaginable for palling around with Vice President Dick Cheney in the weeks before the high court heard a case involving Cheney's energy policy task force.

Scalia said there was no reasonable appearance of impropriety, and he wasn't going to bow to unreasonable suspicions—i.e., slippery innuendo—because to do so would lead to demands for judges to refrain from hearing cases "for other inappropriate (and increasingly silly) reasons." That was the end of the matter, because Supreme Court justices get to make these rules for themselves. Whatever the merits of the call Scalia made (we defended him)...

TRANSLATION FOR DUMMIES: Heh... When you say you defended someone, they rarely click through to read the entire article:

I believe Scalia properly recused himself from hearing the Pledge of Allegiance case pending this month and that he ought to think seriously about staying out of the Cheney appeal, based on his cavortings with the vice president.

Because again, consensual cavortings between two men who know each other only casually create much more of an "appearance of impropriety" than a lifelong sexual relationship between two married people. Must be the duck blind.

Or the gun.

6. There's a reason Greenhouse garners unwarranted attacks, and its not that she's more biased than the other Pulitzer Prize-winning writers gracing the pages of the Times. [Ed. note: Shooting ducks... barrel... nope. Not going there. Might create the appearance of impropriety.] It's that she's the voice on the court that matters most in the national press. She has herself to thank for that status—it's a measure of the quality of her reporting. But it also makes her a sought-after scratching post for right-wing kitty cats. When they have an excuse to catch her out, they do. And when they don't, they make one up. OK, so that's the price Greenhouse pays for being good. But why should she have to read sober explications of these made-up grievances in her own paper? The Times needs to quit fueling the Greenhouse gases that seem to burst into flame with more and more frequency. Lots of heat. No light.

HELPFUL TRANSLATION: Despite the admittedly confusing name "Times Ombudsman", Clark Hoyt has no actual duty to investigate allegations of impropriety, nor to respond to reader complaints.

His only real function is to protect professional journalists like Linda Greenhouse from seeing any reader feedback criticism of their work which may upset them...

...in "their" paper. Because the Times is, you know, unbiased and professional journalists like Linda Greenhouse should not have to put up with that sort of nonsense.

We hope this helpful translation has cleared things up for you.

Posted by Cassandra at January 27, 2008 02:56 PM

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Bless you! I sometimes wonder if I have lost touch, but I see that on this one, I was right on top of it! If I can find another place online to see what the newswires are carrying, I don't need to bother checking at the nytimes any further. Since I don't have a cat or a bird, I don't have any use for the physical paper itself. Heavens knows I wouldn't want to use it as packing material for care packages to Iraq and Afghanistan. I care too much about the boys on the other end to chance including reading material of dubious moral character.

BTW, it is wonderful to have your thoughts posted again.

Posted by: Robert A. Connolly at January 27, 2008 08:32 PM

I'm glad I was away this weekend...this post made my head hurt.

Or is it because I was away this weekend?

Posted by: camojack at January 28, 2008 01:34 AM

I don't mean to pile on, but did anyone think that it might be a good idea to actually read this article before posting? These gals are a defense laywer's dream.

Cue Elmer Fudd duck-hunting music.

There's a reason Greenhouse garners unwarranted attacks, and its not that she's more biased than the other Pulitzer Prize-winning writers gracing the pages of the Times.

The writers have just admitted that Ms. Greenhouse is biased, but only to same degree that other writers at the Times are also biased. I am sure that Ms. Greenhouse was just as thrilled to learn of her "admirer's" cockeyed defense of her objectivity as Mr. Hoyt was to hear of the political bias endemic to his newsroom.

That should be game over, right? Nope. Like any other bad witness, the dynamic duo is not satisfied with simply running their argument aground, they have to follow through and torpedo what remains of their credibility.

It's that she's the voice on the court that matters most in the national press.

Thank you, Msses Lithwick and Bazelon, for providing the very reason why some, such as Mr. Whelan, might find Ms. Greenhouse's bias troublesome. I doubt any such concerns would have been voiced if Ms. Greenhouse was practicing her craft in the Jerkwater, Virginia Daily Feedbag.

Now, I've no truck with Ms. Greenhouse. The Times is an adult playground and I have developed the necessary survival skills to filter out the unnecessary noodling of overreaching and over-writing news correspondents. But, please, if you are going to try and convince me that I shouldn't be troubled by it, at least send your A team - with an editor.

Posted by: spd rdr at January 28, 2008 09:45 AM

What embarrasses me is that there are good women writers out there.

What about Kathleen Parker? She is wonderful and witty and extremely smart. Or Debra Saunders. Put someone halfway intelligent out there.

But this is just humiliating.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 28, 2008 12:31 PM

Great site!

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Posted by: Steve at January 28, 2008 12:33 PM

Spd rdr is "piling on"?

We may have a division of labor crisis here, peoples.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 28, 2008 12:42 PM

> will cause her to spend excess hours in a dental chair, and correspondingly fewer hours opinionating.

All those good things ****AND**** she experiences intense pain?

Damn, you need to find a horserace to bet on, pulling up a trifecta like that! A crap game to bet on, I mean -- **something** !

Posted by: obloodyhell at January 28, 2008 02:24 PM

There is enough doublespeak coming out of the NYT to create a separate reality, if not an entire leftist cosmogony.

Posted by: Mark at January 28, 2008 05:41 PM

Spd rdr is "piling on"?

I am so glad someone noticed that.

And I was *so* proud of myself. One has to content oneself with the small victories in life.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 29, 2008 12:45 PM

Actually, had I been really on my toes, I'd have said Spd rdr is "piling on" to the brouhaha....


Posted by: Cassandra at January 29, 2008 12:46 PM

Or perhaps a brouhaha arose when spd rdr piled on.

Posted by: Sly2017 at January 31, 2008 11:47 AM

Or perhaps a brouhaha arose when spd rdr piled on....slyly.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 31, 2008 07:32 PM

Or perhaps a brouhaha arose when spd rdr piled on....slyly. Oh bloody hell!

Just kill me now.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 31, 2008 07:33 PM

Or perhaps a brouhaha arose at Casa Cassandranitanova when spd rdr piled on....slyly. Oh bloody hell! Yu-Ain gonnano how grim it's gonna get.

Posted by: Sly2017 at January 31, 2008 11:09 PM

"Just kill me now."

Nah, it's just a flesh wound.

Posted by: Sly2017 at January 31, 2008 11:46 PM