Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Times Needs a New Fact-Checker for Those Editorials

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Judiciary — Patterico @ 11:27 pm

Today’s L.A. Times editorial on Justice O’Connor opens with this statement:

One fact sums up Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s pivotal role on the Supreme Court and the enormity of her resignation — she alone was in the majority of every one of the court’s 13 5-4 decisions this last term.

Wow. That’s really impressive. Except for one small problem . . . there were 24 5-4 decisions this Term, not 13 — and Justice O’Connor was in the minority in quite a few of those cases. Let’s take a few of the more prominent examples:

Justice O’Connor dissented from the decision in Granholm v. Heald, a 5-4 decision regarding interstate shipments of wine. The majority consisted of Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer.

Justice O’Connor dissented from the decision in Kelo v. City of New London, a 5-4 decision relating to eminent domain. The majority consisted of Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer.

Justice O’Connor dissented from the decision in Roper v. Simmons, a 5-4 decision striking down the death penalty for juveniles. The majority consisted of Justices Kennedy, Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer.

Justice O’Connor dissented from the decision in Medellín v. Dretke, a 5-4 decision that refused to consider a death row prisoner’s claim under the Vienna Convention. The opinion was a per curiam decision; Justice O’Connor’s dissent was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer.

Justice O’Connor dissented from Part I of the decision in U.S. v. Booker, a 5-4 decision holding that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are unconstitutional unless they are treated as merely advisory in nature. The majority in Part I of Booker consisted of Justices Stevens, Scalia, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg.

SCOTUSBlog has done the analysis of the Court’s 24 (not 13) 5-4 decisions this term, and concluded in this memorandum as follows:

In this Term’s 5-4 decisions, Justices Souter and Scalia were in the majority in 15 of 24 decisions. Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg were each in the majority 14 times, while Justices Kennedy and Breyer were in the majority 13 times. Justice Stevens was in the majority 12 times and Chief Justice Rehnquist 11 times.

This is quite a bit different from the pronouncement at the head of today’s editorial, no? I guess the obvious question is: do David Shaw’s “four experienced Times editors” review editorials too?

It will be interesting to see how they word this correction . . .

(Thanks to Xrlq for inspiring this post.)

UPDATE: In comments, Volokh Co-Conspirator Orin Kerr suggests that The Times may have accidentally used statistics from the 2002-2003 Term, rather than the 2004-2005 Term. Fair enough. [UPDATE to the UPDATE: Not so fast, Professor Kerr! Antimedia points out in the comments that Green Tree v. Bazzle was a 5-4 decision rendered during the October 2002 term (decided June 23, 2003) with O’Connor dissenting. So the L.A. Times can’t use Professor Kerr’s argument as an excuse. Nice catch, Antimedia!]

Nobody is suggesting that Justice O’Connor hasn’t been an important swing vote, but she wasn’t always a swing vote — and she was not the only one by a longshot. (Coincidentally enough, this is a point that Professor Kerr makes today — in the L.A. Times!)

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UPDATE x3: Prof. Kerr e-mails to clarify his comment:

As for the Green Tree case pointed out in your comments, which is a October Term 2002 case, I don’t know whether the LA Times was counting cases with no majority opinions. Also, I don’t know if they were right — I just assume that they meant the 2002 term as that term is the one that is generally understood to have that # of 5-4 cases.

The letter to Readers’ Representative Jamie Gold has been sent, so if that’s their explanation, we’ll know soon enough . . .

UPDATE x4: More thoughts on why this is important here.

UPDATE x5: A commenter points to an analysis that shows 17 rather than 24 5-4 decisions. It doesn’t make the L.A. Times any more correct, but it may be worth noting.

46 Responses to “L.A. Times Needs a New Fact-Checker for Those Editorials”

  1. How did she vote in Bush v. Gore again? And what did they have to say about that at the time?

    Dean Esmay (81f299)

  2. Heh.

    Patterico (756436)

  3. Maybe the LAT thought the other 12 decisions hadn’t been properly adjusted to reflect party affiliation.

    On the plus side, when the MSM have been reduced, on a consistent basis, to barefaced horseshit (um, pardon the mixed metaphor), you gotta know they’re beat. Even they gotta know it, which I guess is why they’re so bitter.

    ras (f9de13)

  4. What correction?

    jd watson (d52088)

  5. Maybe the L.A. Times editorial monkeys are sitting at the feet of Paul Krugman learning the art of hysterical misdirection so as to keep up with the New York Times

    russ (00806a)

  6. Faking facts has not been a problem for LAT for 45 years. Thay have it down pat (not Pat).

    Rod Stanton (7b6143)

  7. Ahhh, well said Mr. Stanton (#6)…

    russ (00806a)

  8. Will Justice O’Conner be remembered for her part on the assult on the 1st Amendment, McCain-Feingold?

    russ (00806a)

  9. jd has it right. I’ll put the body of the correction I expect below.

    ” “

    Veeshir (2500dc)

  10. I think they accidentally used the stats from the October Term 2002 instead of October Term 2004.

    Orin Kerr (4a5959)

  11. What correction. Editorials are opinion pieces. In editorials, facts are of no consequence.

    Uncle Bill (56a278)

  12. Correction: The LAT does not print “Corrections”, they print what they call “For the Record”, which equates major factual errors with typos and mispellings of people’s names.

    brian (925541)

  13. It is interesting to think back to college and the people I knew who majored in Journalism. They usually were not particularly bright and usually were outside the “norm.”

    Have never really cared what they say and it doesn’t surprise me when they get things wrong.

    Thank God for the internet; their mediocrity is now out there for everyone to see.

    BTW; I’m only slightly less mediocre from an intellectual perspective than all the Journalism majors I knew and their English skills were far better than my own!

    Jeff (b274b4)

  14. L.A. Times: Up or Down Votes for All

    Today’s L.A. Times has two editorials on Sandra Day O’Connor and the upcoming judicial confirmation battles. The first editorial is a rambling puff-piece, which exaggerates O’Connor’ moderating influence on the court by claim…

    damnum absque injuria (38c04c)

  15. just goes to show you: not sufficient to indicate that the paper needs better fact checking but the posted piece becomes sounding board for the anti-liberal, anti-NY Times etc right of center…As I have always said, the Left is given to feelings of doubt and guilt; the conservatives to spewing rage and hate…and these comments but another example.

    Simple fact: athe paper did lousy job and ought to be chastized for their stupidity. But then so too those who use any sounding board to vent, vent, vent

    freddie (cdb9f2)

  16. Has anyone checked the record for the October 2003 term? Maybe the “this” in “this last term” was a typo.

    Xrlq (158f18)

  17. Freddie:
    “the Left is given to feelings of doubt and guilt”

    Exactly what part of the Left is given to feelings of doubt about the non-left?

    And if you think the posts here are example of “rage and hate” you need to get around more. Like DKos? The Democratic Underground? Not much guilt and doubt expressed there; except some doubt over whether Bush is more like Hitler or more like the BTK killer.

    Please, lots of hate and rage on both sides.


    SteveMGalbraith (1e07a2)

  18. I don’t think enormity means what LAT copy editors think it means:

    “The quality of passing all moral bounds;
    excessive wickedness or outrageousness.
    A monstrous offense or evil; an outrage.
    Usage Problem. Great size; immensity”

    Fûz (d1a6fd)

  19. I was listening to NPR news the other day and was surprised to hear the Kelo decision noted as an example of O’Connor’s difference-making importance. More misinformation from our intellectual betters.

    ss (778b9f)

  20. Patterico,

    Why doesn’t the LAT just give in to the inevitable and appoint you Editor of Editors (a la John Carter of Mars, Jeddak of Jeddaks).

    Bruce Lagasse (ee9fe2)

  21. The Back And Forth

    Senators call for calm on U.S. high court nominee

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  22. Cracks me up how some are trying to make excuses for LAT by saying maybe they meant 2003 – or – 2002 – when it’s obvious they didn’t even bother to check.

    It only takes one case where O’Connor dissented to disprove their assertion. We don’t even have to count the total number of 5-4 decisions, because they said “every one”.

    2003 – Aschroft v. ACLU – O’Connor dissented in a 5-4 opinion – so 2003 is out.

    2002 – Greentree Financial Corp v. Bazzle – O’Connor dissented in a 5-4 opinion – so 2002 is out.

    Next question?

    antimedia (0b8f19)

  23. Apparently the LA Times has decided….

    ….to abandon fact-checking altogether.Today’s L.A. Times editorial on Justice O’Connor opens with this statemen…

    Media Lies (11ee8e)

  24. […] Hat tip Instapundit for the link and Patterico for the entree. […]

    QuickRob » LA Times Editors Enjoy July 4th Holiday (7f554d)

  25. Antimedia:

    Prof. Kerr was talking about the October 2003 Term. The 2003 case you cite was decided in the Spring of 2003, and falls within the October 2002 Term. [UPDATE: Whoops! I need my own fact-checker! He was talking about the October 2002 term after all.]

    If you have any examples of O’Connor dissenting in a 5-4 decision from the term beginning in October 2003, let me know.

    Patterico (756436)

  26. My apologies, but I was going by the terms as they are listed in the SCOTUS website. If that is wrong, the error is theirs.

    Ashcroft v. ACLU is dated 6/29/04 and listed in the October 2003 term. Does that not satisfy the conditions of Prof. Kerr’s statement?

    antimedia (0b8f19)

  27. This comment is not really on point, but I thought you might be interested in the fact that the L.A. Dog Trainer is now offering a Friday, Saturday and Sunday home delivery deal for ONE DOLLAR A WEEK. I assume that the Friday delivery lets Tribune Co. count a new subscription in its “regular weekly” column. Pity the poor advertisers who believe the L.A. Trainer’s subscription statistics.

    Kneave Riggall (e1713c)

  28. Antimedia:

    You’re absolutely right. I had done a quick search and thought I saw that it was decided in March 2003 — but I was in error.

    But Professor Kerr was talking about the October 2002 term — not the October 2003 term as I just said in my earlier comment. Let me check your 2002 cite . . .

    Patterico (756436)

  29. Amtimedia:

    Right again. Green Tree v. Bazzle was decided in June 2003. 5-4 with O’Connor dissenting. I’ll do an update and credit you.

    Patterico (756436)

  30. But see UPDATE x3 — Prof. Kerr wasn’t necessarily defending the LAT; he was just saying that his supposition was a possibility, because the October 2002 Term is the one generally understood to have had 13 5-4 decisions.

    Patterico (756436)

  31. They just say anything they like. Breathtaking.

    Bostonian (4b120a)

  32. Regardless of what Prof. Kerr was or was not saying, LAT clearly didn’t bother to check the SCOTUS website before making their assertion. It took me all of ten minutes to look up the cites and refute their claim.

    So much for the vaunted “fact-checking” of “professional journalists”.

    antimedia (0b8f19)

  33. From my wrestling days:

    “Takedown – Patterico – 2 points”

    Good job and well done to all of your fact-checking commentors!

    EagleSpeak (0d84c2)

  34. Quick Hits

    A finance professor looks at prediction markets and the forthcoming SCOTUS nomination Patterico catches the LAT in a most embarassing error Jon’s got three posts on Mike McConnell as a possible SCOTUS nominee (1, 2, and 3) (af7df9)

  35. From my wrestling days:

    “Patterico slams the L.A. Times into the Spanish Announcers’ table…

    triticale (e79bbd)

  36. You just didn’t put in the whole quote. Obviously they wrote “She was in the majority of every one of the court’s 13 5-4 decisions this last term that she was in the majority of.”

    And I’m sure they included the dangling preposition as well.

    –Teri the psychic newsreader

    Teri (afca91)

  37. The Los Angeles Times obviously doesn’t know the difference between “enormity” and “enormousness.” The Holocaust was an enormity; that is, a heinous or outrageous event. Justice O’Connor’s resignation is not quite that.

    william logan (d4745b)

  38. Almost noon the next day – and nothing in the FOR THE RECORD section – and no correction within the editorial itself.

    Brady Westwater (72f6df)

  39. Maybe by using the word “enormity” the LAT was suggesting that the justices should not only have life tenure, but life tenure without parole.

    JD Flanagan (bfe78f)

  40. Anybody wanna bet that the LAT either ignores their error or claims that they were misunderstood?

    kjo (6d7659)

  41. I have a different theory: they’ll do something along the lines of what they did in this case. They’ve already written the story that they’ll point to as the non-correction correction . . .

    But I don’t want to give them ideas.

    Patterico (756436)

  42. Still no correction to the editorial itself and the same two items have been running on the FOR THE RECORD page for three days (despite it being labeled Tuesday), rather than the usual daily diet of faux corrections. Looks like the Times may be trying to figure out a way to explain their math before they post any other corrections.

    Brady Westwater (72f6df)

  43. Some Call It A Bonfire/Carnival Of Classiness…

    We call it “Classiness, All Around Us.” Click to explore more In no particular order, presents classiness from the blogosphere (now with 50% more classy!): 1. Japanese Quirks- Marginal Revolution blog takes a gander at some… (1462d5)

  44. Looks like the Windy City News has outsourced fact-checking to the LAT.

    Daver (c70795)

  45. With all the twisty-left mistakes LA Times makes, the claim that they need 1st Amendment shield laws to let the facts get out loses some punch.

    Shredstar (91b3b2)

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