Patterico's Pontifications

10/28/2007

L.A. Times’s David Savage Publishes Unfair Op-Ed About Justice Thomas — Masquerading as a “News Article”

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General,Judiciary — Patterico @ 10:27 am

The L.A. Times‘s David Savage attacks Clarence Thomas this morning, in a “news article” titled Thomas’ rulings contrast meager beginnings. The piece reads like an op-ed by a liberal columnist unfamiliar with the function of the Supreme Court, rather than a news article written by the Supreme Court reporter for a major national newspaper.

The purpose of the article is clear. Thomas recently published his autobiography, which introduced a new generation of people to the compelling story of his struggle to overcome poverty in rural Georgia. Savage’s piece is a naked attempt to undercut the force of Thomas’s story, by arguing that, as a Justice, he is insensitive to the hardships of those who struggle with the very poverty he describes in his book. Here are the opening paragraphs of Savage’s article:

In his new, bestselling memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” Justice Clarence Thomas tells the story of his personal struggle to overcome poverty and racism.

Raised by his grandparents in Savannah, Ga., he credits his success to his grandfather’s strict work ethic and to those who shaped his early life and helped him along the way.

“Their story is my story,” he writes. “Their struggles in the face of futility, their perseverance through accumulated injustices, their resilience in the face of broken promises and dashed dreams.”

His book ends in 1991 when he is confirmed to the Supreme Court and takes the oath to “do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

But rarely have the hardships of the young Thomas been evident in the opinions of Justice Thomas. In his 16 years on the high court, Thomas has established a stern judicial philosophy that leaves little room for siding with underdogs in disputes with governments or corporations. Often, he has brusquely dissented when the court has ruled in favor of poor people, prisoners or ordinary taxpayers.

The way the article is set up in those paragraphs is clear. According to Savage, Thomas claims he cares about the poor — but he really doesn’t.

The article rests on two seriously flawed assumptions.

The first flawed assumption is that the role of a Supreme Court justice is to side with “underdogs.” It is not. It is to decide what the Constitution and laws say. Clarence Thomas took an oath to “faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon [him] under the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Chief Justice Roberts expressed it well in his confirmation hearings:

ROBERTS: I had someone ask me in this process — I don’t remember who it was, but somebody asked me, you know, “Are you going to be on the side of the little guy?”

And you obviously want to give an immediate answer, but, as you reflect on it, if the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy’s going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy’s going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution. That’s the oath.

The oath that a judge takes is not that, “I’ll look out for particular interests, I’ll be on the side of particular interests.” The oath is to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. And that’s what I would do.

It’s true that, further down in the article, Savage gives voice to the views of Thomas supporters who make this argument. But the structure of the article — from the headline to the way that it is set up in the opening paragraphs quoted above — make it clear that Savage and his editors disagree.

Savage’s second flawed assumption is that Thomas’s early life of hardships ought to make him favor governmental intervention as the proper way to address poverty. Put another way, the assumption is that if Thomas votes against “underdogs” who seek to sue others, then Thomas has no sympathy for their plight.

Even if we were to dismiss as trivial the notion that judges should adhere to the law — even if we were to accept the argument, made by some, that judging is nothing but policy choices dressed up in legalese — that doesn’t mean that the only way to help the poor is to give them government help, or to make it easier for them to sue others.

Many liberals have a hard time understanding this. Many liberals equate “helping the poor” with government handouts, and ensuring that the poor always win every court battle they bring against more powerful interests. Liberals who think this way can’t accept that many conservatives actually care about poor people — but simply have a different view about how they should be helped.

Conservatives believe in self-reliance and hard work. Thomas’s autobiography shows that he was taught these principles by his grandfather. As Jan Crawford Greenburg said in a profile of Thomas:

In conversation today, Thomas often uses a phrase his grandfather told him as a child: “Play the hand you’re dealt.” Thomas’s wife, Virginia, had a bust of his grandfather made when Thomas first joined the Court. On it is a saying Thomas heard often as a child: “Old man can’t is dead. I helped bury him.”

“You know, you’re a little kid. You say, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ And he wouldn’t hear it,” Thomas says.

Conservatives like Thomas want the poor to rise out of poverty. They just think that the way to do so is through pluck, determination, and hard work.

Savage’s piece belongs on the op-ed page. Even there, it would merit considerable ridicule. As a “news article,” it’s pure agenda journalism.

39 Comments

  1. What disingenuous bullcrap, Patterico. And yes, I do mean to get personal.

    In no way is Savage’s article masquerading as breaking news. I am familiar with his work, you are familiar with his work. He is not reporting on any breaking news or specific recent or upcoming decision, he is giving his perspective on the Supreme Court, as he usually does. Should he have to pander to your predisposition by publishing his term previews or overviews in the Op-Ed section and not Section A?

    When you don’t like the conclusion, you attack the messenger. You are hypocritical by announcing your repudiation of your Times subscription and still using its website edition (for free) as a basis for so many of your rabid attacks.

    You can drink from Clarence Thomas’s Coke can all you want. Glad you don’t mind a little pubic hair in your mouth.

    Comment by nosh (53dd5b) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:14 am

  2. nosh,

    Take a deep breath. Maybe a sip of herbal tea.

    Once you have calmed down, consider these facts:

    1) I didn’t claim Savage’s piece was “breaking” news. Just that, as a supposedly straight news article (as opposed to a news analysis or op-ed) it benefits from a false veneer of objectivity, masking what is clearly a piece of agenda journalism.

    2) I am attacking Savage’s arguments, not him personally.

    3) Your argument that I am hypocritical for announcing that I don’t want to pay the LAT subscription money, while continuing to read the web edition for free, is duly noted. and rejected as the silly pap that it is.

    Thanks for commenting.

    Comment by Patterico (1afcb1) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:29 am

  3. Savage is the LA Times’ Supreme Court analyst. He previews the upcoming term and assesses the past term’s rulings.

    You are disingenuous and simply wrong in portraying his lengthy pieces as “op-eds masquerading as news.” Neither you nor your contributors are so ill-informed, ignorant, and malleable.

    Comment by nosh (53dd5b) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:35 am

  4. Let’s just put the cards on the table, Patterico.

    Clarence Thomas NEVER asks a question during Supreme Court arguments because … why exactly? He wishes to defer?? He is just too polite???

    Anita Hill = 100% liar. Clarence Thomas = 100% victim. True or false?

    Comment by nosh (53dd5b) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:43 am

  5. You are disingenuous and simply wrong in portraying his lengthy pieces as “op-eds masquerading as news.”

    I am straightforward and simply right in portraying his piece today as an op-ed masquerading as news.

    Comment by Patterico (852809) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:44 am

  6. They just think that the way to do so is through pluck, determination, and hard work.

    Thomas spent his whole career working for the government.

    Another data point in the self-hating socialist data base.

    Comment by alphie (99bc18) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:48 am

  7. alphie’s comment should be ignored.

    Comment by Patterico (eb5c84) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:54 am

  8. Oh, P — the depth and incisiveness of your brilliant argument has brought me to my knees. It is because you say it is. How brilliant and disarming. I give up.

    Please immediately elevate Clarence Thomas to the stature of Brandeis… how silly of me (and Savage) not to recognize, acknowledge, and bow before his genius.

    [Why doesn't he EVER ask a question, again?]

    Comment by nosh (53dd5b) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:56 am

  9. “Oh, P — the depth and incisiveness of your brilliant argument has brought me to my knees. It is because you say it is. How brilliant and disarming. I give up.”

    Evidently you missed the fact that I was mirroring the depth and incisiveness of your brilliant argument.

    Comment by Patterico (a7925c) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:59 am

  10. You tell me why he RARELY (not “NEVER”) asks a question.

    I accept his explanations. You obviously don’t. So let’s hear yours.

    Comment by Patterico (4f013e) — 10/28/2007 @ 12:01 pm

  11. First, the thrust of your original post was that Savage’s article should be on the Op-Ed page rather than buried in the back pages of Section A. I responded that I know Savage’s work and role, you know him and it, and any reader of your blog knows him and his role. He is an analyst. Yes, he reports on breaking Supreme Court decisions. But he mostly previews the coming term, summarizes the past term, and gives commentary.

    Are you so uninformed and stupid that you need everything labelled? Are your readers? Are you and they so vulnerable to a “false veneer of objectivity”? Is it all form over substance, that the same article a few pages back in Op-Ed is ok but not in the back pages of the news section? Bullcrap. Your usual ignore the substance and focus on a microscopic flaw in the presentation.

    You weren’t attacking or refuting or even mentioning Savage’s arguments. You were merely dismissing them as opinion rather than analysis. Asserting that they were misplaced.

    My allegation that you are hypocritical in so publicly renouncing your LA Times subscription while still focusing on the paper for this post as well as SO many others? The best you can do is say “pap”? Great argument. I assert again that you are being hypocritical. You are using online content without paying and supporting the underlying enterprise. You don’t wish to support the LA Times, ok, stop quoting from it and republishing its content. What distinguishes you from a music downloader and redistributor? Let me be clear — you are free to criticize. But terminating your paid subscription, getting the content online for free (which is legal), but then using it as the basis for so much of your blog and reprinting and distributing it (napster, anyone?) is immoral though not illegal.

    Comment by nosh (53dd5b) — 10/28/2007 @ 12:19 pm

  12. Nosh – You keep missing the basic point. Reading Patterico’s post, the piece by Savage appears to be a biased opinion article more deserving of the op-ed pages rather than an unbiased analysis piece of the past court term. Read for comprehension next time.

    Comment by daleyrocks (906622) — 10/28/2007 @ 12:31 pm

  13. I really think you’d benefit from a sip of herbal tea.

    David Savage is a Supreme Court reporter. As such, he should not be expressing an opinion on the news pages, unless it is clearly labeled a “news analysis,” which this isn’t. He is also free to write a clearly labeled op-ed, and indeed, he has done so. But his news reporting is, in theory, supposed to be disinterested.

    I am sorry that you don’t seem to understand that, and that your ignorance causes you to lash out and direct a bunch of misplaced vitriol at me. Maybe try a sedative, if the herbal tea isn’t relaxing enough?

    “You weren’t attacking or refuting or even mentioning Savage’s arguments. You were merely dismissing them as opinion rather than analysis. Asserting that they were misplaced.”

    Yup, that’s what I did. Oh: except for the part where I extensively mentioned and refuted Savage’s arguments. Which was pretty much the whole post. Did you not read it? Or is your reading comprehension that poor. Or (I choose this as the most likely possibility) did you gloss over most of the content of my post, blinded by your anger to what I was actually saying.

    Your argument re my reading the LAT online being immoral refutes itself. It doesn’t really need my help. Calling it “pap” is already more effort than it deserves.

    Comment by Patterico (a111b1) — 10/28/2007 @ 12:35 pm

  14. I’ll let the record and not your lemmings decide.

    Unanswered questions:

    Why does Clarence Thomas (almost) never ask questions during Supreme Court oral arguments? I asked this, and you made a fleeting, nonspecific reference to unattributed reasons and then threw it back to me. Bad form, P.

    Is/Was Anita Hill 100% lying and Clarence Thomas 100% telling the truth? (When he dismissed her allegations while admitting he didn’t view her testimony.) I know he won confirmation, but that doesn’t answer the question.

    You use a service, the LA Times website. You made a big deal of cancelling your paid subscription. You use LA Times material as the basis of many of your posts, including this one. You reprint LA Times material extensively. What differentiates you, morally, from Napster? You are now a commercial enterprise, with ads.

    Sure, dismiss me, demean me, tell me to drink tea (kool-aid?). Just don’t address my arguments.

    Comment by nosh (53dd5b) — 10/28/2007 @ 12:49 pm

  15. Nosh – “Just don’t address my arguments.”

    What are your arguments. All you are doing is asking questions. I don’t see any arguments.

    Comment by daleyrocks (906622) — 10/28/2007 @ 1:08 pm

  16. Good grief. It’s called “fair use”, nosh. The LAT is garbage, and Patterico demonstrates repeatedly that it’s garbage, so why exactly should he pay for it?

    Comment by Milhouse (f10fb3) — 10/28/2007 @ 1:36 pm

  17. Perhaps Savage should look up what the Bible has to say on the subject.

    Comment by Milhouse (f10fb3) — 10/28/2007 @ 1:46 pm

  18. What the heck do you expect out of the LA Times? Fair and honest reporting on people and issues who aren’t in tune with the agenda of the LA Times and its reporters/analysts? I’ve subscribed for years and the trend toward totally agenda driven reporting continues to accelerate.

    Comment by airedale (925226) — 10/28/2007 @ 1:50 pm

  19. “I asked this, and you made a fleeting, nonspecific reference to unattributed reasons and then threw it back to me. Bad form, P.”

    You think I have to dance to your tune? You come on here and insult me right out of the gate, calling my post “disingenuous bullcrap.” Your argument that I was disingenuous has no support. Then you ask some questions, and I refer to Thomas’s recent explanations for why he doesn’t ask many questions. I posted about it on this here site. Search for “Thomas.”

    And you whine that it’s bad form for me not to provide a more detailed answer to a question you should already know the answer to.

    You’re a piece of work.

    Comment by Patterico (a2d471) — 10/28/2007 @ 1:59 pm

  20. I grew up in LA, and I can tell you the LA Times has been doing this for years. They put out an article on a topic that may not even be in the news and put their opinions into the article. Thus, they are able to editorialize outside of the editorial page.

    Any reader should ask him/herself this: Is what I am reading fact or opinion? Is the writer’s purpose to inform or to persuade?

    Comment by fouse, gary c (9dfe55) — 10/28/2007 @ 2:51 pm

  21. You can always tell when a conservative who happens to be a member of a minority group is doing well–the moonbats in the media (and their lickspittles in blog comments sections) start shrieking like rabid harpies.

    Oh well, I suppose it’s a step up from a couple of years ago when the LAT was publishing unchallenged North Korean propaganda on its front page.

    Comment by M. Scott Eiland (e24a2a) — 10/28/2007 @ 3:38 pm

  22. nosh,

    Patterico does provide links to the LA Times stories he writes about.

    The LA TImes sells ad space on its web site.

    It’s not a one way transaction.

    Comment by alphie (99bc18) — 10/28/2007 @ 3:41 pm

  23. Hard to argue that this “news” piece is not flat out opinion. What is the “news” value of this man’s opinion of Thomas’s rulings? How can the LAT justify this running in section A disguised as “news”.

    Oh, and the answer to the question “Is Anita Hill 100% liar and Thomas 100% victim?”

    Yes. That is 100% correct. A sober reading of the facts support this conclusion.

    Comment by fugazi (e28fea) — 10/28/2007 @ 3:47 pm

  24. I asked this, and you made a fleeting, nonspecific reference to unattributed reasons and then threw it back to me. Bad form, P.

    That is not the question you asked. You asked specifically why Justice Thomas never asked questions, which is a patently false statement. You recieved a “fleeting” response because you appeared to only have a “fleeting” familiarity with honesty. Attempt to ask the question again in a civil manner, and I’m certain you’ll get a better response.

    However, Might I suggest you first read Justice Thomas’s reason for asking few questions. He’s given such an answer. Post it when you re-ask your question, to prove to me (at the least) that you have at least laid eyes upon it. Whether you actually read it is probably going to be more of a crap-shoot, but I’m willing to take that risk.

    Is/Was Anita Hill 100% lying and Clarence Thomas 100% telling the truth? (When he dismissed her allegations while admitting he didn’t view her testimony.) I know he won confirmation, but that doesn’t answer the question.

    I doubt he had to read her testimony. She accused him of sexual harrassment. From the evidence brought forth to congress, I conclude that she was not, in fact, telling the truth.

    So yes, she is a liar.

    You use a service, the LA Times website. You made a big deal of cancelling your paid subscription. You use LA Times material as the basis of many of your posts, including this one. You reprint LA Times material extensively. What differentiates you, morally, from Napster? You are now a commercial enterprise, with ads.

    Lets focus on a key point here.

    The LATimes provides the website for free.

    Say it with me now… For… Free…

    He links to and attributes those articles he posts about. He pretty much always names the person in the by line. He never quotes the entire article (I don’t believe, though he often suggests we read the whole piece ourselves).

    I fail to see how his actions are in any way immoral, unethical, or wrong in any way. Every time I click an LATimes link (which then requires I clear my cookies, history, temp files, and take a long hot shower), it is one hit that site would not have generated otherwise. Not everone who reads this site is from Cali, let alone from the LA area.

    I’m sorry. I reacted in a mostly logical manner to your insane rantings and attacks on the host…

    Remind me, who forces you to read this?

    Comment by Scott Jacobs (a1de9d) — 10/28/2007 @ 4:18 pm

  25. Patterico is correct on this one.

    Comment by Alta Bob (c549e9) — 10/28/2007 @ 8:33 pm

  26. What exactly did Savage say in his article that wasn’t true, or was misleading? Somebody was spinning this article out of control, and I think it was you. I found the article rather balanced; Savage brings up the Kelo decison in which Thomas voted that the old lady in the pink house shouldn’t have to sell it to the meany city or to the big bad wolf developers. Then Thomas played the race card by calling it “negro removal” as opposed to urban renewal. That was a low blow remark, right up there with “high-tech lynching.” What a loser Thomas is, as well of as your ridiculous and blind support of him.

    Comment by trumpit (bb351e) — 10/28/2007 @ 10:51 pm

  27. “trumpit”:

    Here is what Thomas actually said in Kelo:

    In the 1950′s, no doubt emboldened in part by the expansive understanding of “public use” this Court adopted in Berman, cities “rushed to draw plans” for downtown development. B. Frieden & L. Sagalayn, Downtown, Inc. How America Rebuilds Cities 17 (1989). “Of all the families displaced by urban renewal from 1949 through 1963, 63 percent of those whose race was known were nonwhite, and of these families, 56 percent of nonwhites and 38 percent of whites had incomes low enough to qualify for public housing, which, however, was seldom available to them.” Id., at 28. Public works projects in the 1950′s and 1960′s destroyed predominantly minority communities in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Baltimore, Maryland. Id., at 28-29. In 1981, urban planners in Detroit, Michigan, uprooted the largely “lower-income and elderly” Poletown neighborhood for the benefit of the General Motors Corporation. J. Wylie, Poletown: Community Betrayed 58 (1989). Urban renewal projects have long been associated with the displacement of blacks; “[i]n cities across the country, urban renewal came to be known as ‘Negro removal.’ ” Pritchett, The “Public Menace” of Blight: Urban Renewal and the Private Uses of Eminent Domain, 21 Yale L. & Pol’y Rev. 1, 47 (2003). Over 97 percent of the individuals forcibly removed from their homes by the “slum-clearance” project upheld by this Court in Berman were black. 348 U. S., at 30. Regrettably, the predictable consequence of the Court’s decision will be to exacerbate these effects.

    Sounds like he was quoting a report rather than coming up with the term on his own. And it sounds like this is the sort of sensitivity to real-world effects that liberals like you are supposed to appreciate.

    Comment by Patterico (bad89b) — 10/28/2007 @ 10:59 pm

  28. And it sounds like this is the sort of sensitivity to real-world effects (especially race-based effects) that conservatives like you are supposed to loathe.

    This is really an unbelievable dissenting opinion by Thomas. I thought the Constitution was a colorblind document and so were the Supreme Ct. decisions supposed to be. The man suddenly got religion on Kelo, then lost it again on the recent school busing case. What to make of his inconsistent decision-making? You like how he decided in Kelo, but how can you stomach his reasoning? And his use of the quote, “negro removal” sounds inflammatory to me. I think it hit a sore spot in the Judge, growing up black and poor in the racist South and all. It scares me when a judge ,like Thomas, has a heart like the tin man and a brain like the scarecrow, but doesn’t use them both at the same time.

    Comment by trumpit (bb351e) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:40 pm

  29. You’re absolutely right, trumpit. How dare that sad old Negro demand to live in peace in her house when there’s you wanting a high-rise in close proximity to a public men’s room?

    Comment by nk (7aed24) — 10/28/2007 @ 11:53 pm

  30. Trumpit doesn’t sound as familiar with Thomas’s reasoning in the two cases as he/she claims. That’s a poor position from which to base an an argument.

    Comment by daleyrocks (906622) — 10/29/2007 @ 12:01 am

  31. I take issue with the “article’s” description of Thomas’ dissents as “brusque[].” Only one Justice persistently refuses to “repsectfully” dissent and it ain’t Thomas.

    This is really an unbelievable dissenting opinion by Thomas. I thought the Constitution was a colorblind document and so were the Supreme Ct. decisions supposed to be. The man suddenly got religion on Kelo, then lost it again on the recent school busing case. What to make of his inconsistent decision-making?

    It’s not inconsistent. Of course, to know that, you’d have to read and understand the entirety of both opinions.

    Comment by Dodd (7edc27) — 10/29/2007 @ 12:03 pm

  32. And, this item is going to change the mind of how many of the Times’ 13 readers?
    Of course, some on the West-side still might think that the Senate is debating whether or not to confirm Justice Thomas for his seat on the Court. The others have never heard of him.

    Comment by Another Drew (8018ee) — 10/29/2007 @ 4:28 pm

  33. Who is the more virulent, militant leftist political activist, lobbyist and press release writer: Linda Greenhouse or David Savage?

    Comment by Tom (98da10) — 10/29/2007 @ 5:51 pm

  34. I think Linda Greenhouse is more partisan.

    Comment by DRJ (5c60fb) — 10/29/2007 @ 6:03 pm

  35. 1. The peice is an argued analysis (and a pretty surfacy one…note the breathy “but” at the beginning of a paragraph), not straight news.

    2. The argued analysis itself can be debated. Does everyone who came from poverty need to be pro-welfare? Pro-liberal policies? In some ways, some of them can be the most anti-such policies. Ever watch GREEN CARD?

    3. I suspect that CT is quiet because he does not think quickly. I suspect Pat really suspects so as well, even if he won’t admit it to himself.

    Comment by TCO (79dafb) — 10/29/2007 @ 7:29 pm

  36. I take Clarence Thomas at his word that he doesn’t ask many questions because there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said or briefed. My gosh, if Supreme Court justices are so clueless that they don’t know the law and the issues by that point and they need some brilliant advocate to guide them, then they shouldn’t be on the bench. Furthermore, the fact that Thomas doesn’t ask many questions is evidence he is prepared for oral argument and/or he doesn’t need to score rhetorical points to prove he’s smart. Frankly, I think he might be the smartest guy in the room.

    Comment by DRJ (5c60fb) — 10/29/2007 @ 7:33 pm

  37. Wonderful, DRJ. You have guest-posting privileges on Patterico.com, and you conclude that by NOT asking questions (and opening himself to scrutiny) Clarence Thomas “might be the smartest guy in the room.”

    Pretty good template for the ultra-conservative viewpoint.

    Comment by nosh (53dd5b) — 10/30/2007 @ 11:52 am

  38. Nosh, misrepresenting what DRJ wrote is a pretty good template for the ultra-liberal viewpoint.

    Comment by SPQR (6c18fd) — 10/30/2007 @ 1:19 pm

  39. I just read the autobiography. It’s pretty good.

    Comment by Chap (25e2bf) — 12/31/2007 @ 10:12 am

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