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December 24, 2005
Alito Opponents Believe In Recycling

Earlier this week, I noticed but did not bother to blog on a news story that Samuel Alito had suggested using a particular case to gain a limitation of scope for Roe v Wade. Although the news media had presented this memo as somewhat of a blockbuster, it appeared more to me that it seemed a lot like an earlier memo uncovered by Alito's opposition; it recommended a certain course of action for the Reagan administration to take if the administration wanted to gradually reverse the ban on abortion but cautioned against an all-out war on Roe. It was yet another example of basic attorney-client advice that should be irrelevant for a committee considering a candidate with over a decade of experience as an appellate court jurist -- which is what the Judiciary Committee should consider when determining whether Alito is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

What I didn't realize is that the memo wasn't a lot like an earlier memo, but the same exact memo as had been reported earlier, to great fanfare on its first release as a "smoking gun" document that fizzled out. Howard Kurtz gives a great blow-by-blow to the idiocy of the Exempt Media on this embarrassment:

Shortly after 9:30 a.m., a story by AP reporter Donna Cassata said, "Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito wrote in a June 1985 memo that the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion should be overturned" and noted that the document was "one of 45 released by the National Archives on Friday."

At 9:35, CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien reported the AP dispatch with a "Just In" banner on the screen, saying: "Obviously, this will put a little fuel in the fire for people who are very contentiously debating Samuel Alito as a nominee." She then asked White House reporter Elaine Quijano for reaction.

At 9:36, Fox anchor Jon Scott reported the AP story in a "Fox News Alert," saying, "We don't know a great deal more about it" and promising updated information as it became available. But Fox did not return to the story.

At 9:57, CNN's O'Brien asked former prosecutor Kendall Coffey about the memo's potential impact. He said it could be described as a "smoking-gun document."

At 10 a.m., MSNBC anchor Amy Robach reported the story, saying "it is adding more fuel now to the abortion debate." Fifteen minutes later, she asked Washington Post editor Fred Barbash, a former Supreme Court reporter, for his reaction.

"This has no significance as far as I can tell," Barbash said, because the same document had been released several weeks earlier. "I think this is a bit of a false alarm. I could be wrong," Barbash said.

Robach didn't miss a beat. "Even though it may be an old document, it's still a document," she said, asking Wall Street Journal editor John Harwood for his reaction.

The most egregious action of the news organizations on this story belongs to the AP, which never acknowledged the fact that the memo had already been released and widely dissected. Instead, it quietly changed the story on subsequent releases without admitting its earlier error or issuing a retraction. Even then, its changes turned out also to have been old news, as it re-covered yet another memo that had also already been reported by AP and other media outlets.

Kurtz does a good job holding everyone's feet to the fire on this, and in doing so demonstrates the aggressiveness of the broadcast wing of the Exempt Media in hyping anything anti-Alito it can find. Obviously, the vaunted "levels of editors" at virtually every news organization completely failed to identify this, probably because it looked so helpful to their cause of painting Alito in as poor a light as possible. In fact, it took a Post pundit (and editor) to point out that the document had no significance at all. Having this many outlets make the same mistake all at the same time seems very suspicious to me. Kudos to Kurtz for not letting this one slip away unnoticed.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 24, 2005 7:25 AM

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