(Note: “The Power of the Jump”™ is a semi-regular feature of this site, documenting examples of the Los Angeles Times’s use of its back pages to hide information that its editors don’t want you to see.)
The lead article in today’s Sunday L.A. Times misleadingly suggests on Page A1 that the appointment of Samuel Alito will create a majority to overturn Roe v. Wade, paving the way for abortion opponents to challenge that decision head-on.
The false suggestion comes in the very first sentence of the article, titled States Step Up Fight on Abortion:
Taking direct aim at Roe vs. Wade, lawmakers from several states are proposing broad restrictions on abortion, with the goal of forcing the U.S. Supreme Court — once it has a second new justice — to revisit the landmark ruling issued 33 years ago today.
When you read the phrase “second new justice,” who did you take that to mean? I’m betting you read “second new justice” to mean Samuel Alito. The Supreme Court already has one “new Justice”: Chief Justice John Roberts. As of today, the Senate is considering Alito’s nomination as Bush’s second appointment to the Supreme Court. In context, the phrase “second new justice” is a clear reference to Alito.
By suggesting that abortion opponents’ “goal” is to force the Court to revisit Roe once Alito is appointed, the story falsely suggests that Alito will provide the crucial fifth vote to overturn Roe. After all, abortion opponents have no desire to mount a direct challenge to Roe while they still have only four votes on their side.
But the fact is that Alito will be, at most, a fourth vote against Roe. Abortion opponents don’t want to challenge Roe now. They are starting a years-long process of bringing cases to the Court, and are hoping that a liberal Justice will have been replaced by the time these cases arrive on the Court’s doorstep. Their goal is to have the Supreme Court revisit Roe once a third new Justice is appointed — not a “second” new justice.
The front page contains nothing to contradict the false implication of the story’s first sentence.
The article does eventually explain that Alito would be at best a fourth vote against abortion rights — but you have to turn all the way to Page A24 to learn this:
Even if Alito and Roberts prove to be staunch antiabortion votes, a bare majority of justices would still support the core principle of a woman’s right to end an unwanted pregnancy. But a retirement or illness among the more liberal justices could change that balance.
Thus, the editors manage to mislead the large number of readers who don’t bother to turn to the back pages into thinking that Alito will provide a majority to overturn Roe.
Is this deliberate? There’s no way to know for sure. But we can say that today’s misleading sentence is part of an ongoing pattern. The paper has tried this ploy before, numerous times. Every time a new Justice comes up for confirmation, the editors run articles that suggest to readers that the danger to Roe is immediate. They must know that this is not true, but the concept keeps popping up in various misleading ways, as I have documented time and time and time again.
Taken as a whole, the article has much to recommend it. It has a generally balanced approach to the controversy, including a full explication of the meaning of the “health” exception, and the fact that most abortions are not performed for health reasons. It is doubly unfortunate that a basically good article is marred by a misleading assertion right off the bat.
UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt is less impressed by the piece as a whole.