Today’s L.A. Times article about John Roberts’s memos on civil rights issues is untrustworthy, and therefore essentially useless.
The article is based entirely on memos written by Roberts — but the paper’s editors don’t bother to show their readers the actual memos themselves (even via a Web link), so that readers can verify whether the article has fairly and accurately interpeted the content of the memos.
This is of particular concern because the article is written by David Savage, who has a documented history of misrepresenting the holdings of court decisions, to the detriment of conservative judges or judicial nominees. (For a couple of examples, see here and here.) For whatever reason, Savage’s errors generally benefit a leftist viewpoint, at the expense of the conservative position.
At least when Savage describes a court decision, readers like me can look it up to see whether it has been accurately reported. But when (as in today’s article) Savage discusses legal memos, and the editors fail to show readers the original documents, we have to just hope against hope that the paper got it right.
In essence, editors are saying: “Trust us.”
I’m just not willing to do that. There’s no reason to believe that Savage will do a good job of fairly summarizing documents that aren’t publicly available, especially given his shoddy record of misreporting legal opinions that are.
My advice to Times editors is simple: either give us the source documents, or find somebody who is better at accurately interpreting legal documents and opinions. Better yet, do both!
Until then, don’t ask your readers to trust you. You’ve abused our trust too many times already.