This morning’s L.A. Times story on John Roberts is pure agenda journalism. The article relates to the Bush Administration’s principled refusal to produce confidential and privileged memoranda from Roberts’s time as a Deputy Solicitor General. The article goes out of its way to portray the assertion of privilege as an unprincipled effort to hide something sinister about Roberts’s views on abortion. And the article completely fails to mention numerous facts that clearly demonstrate the opposite.
The first paragraph frames the issue:
WASHINGTON — The White House opened to the public Tuesday thousands of pages from the files of a young assistant attorney general but declared off-limits all the files from the years when John G. Roberts Jr., now a Supreme Court nominee, was a top government lawyer urging the repeal of the Roe vs. Wade abortion ruling.
The article makes it clear that the Bush Administration must have something to hide:
It is not clear whether Roberts, deputy solicitor general from 1989 to 1993, agreed with the administration’s position in the abortion cases. But the White House, arguing the information is privileged, made it clear Tuesday that it did not want to reveal what he said or wrote during those years.
The evident feelings of the reporters and editors are given voice by PFAW President Ralph Neas: “What are they trying to hide?”
The story does not seek out the opinion of the current Solicitor General, or any former Solicitor General, to see whether they would agree that there are legitimate reasons for the asssertion of privilege. The story does not mention that every living former Solicitor General, including four Democrats, has signed a letter opposing an identical request made by Democrats opposing the nomination of Miguel Estrada. The story does not explain that a wholesale turnover of such memoranda would be entirely unprecedented. The story does not quote a single independent expert who could have corroborated the Bush Administration’s position that they are asserting a legitimate claim of privilege.
The article also falsely states that nobody requested the documents that are being produced:
No one on Capitol Hill had asked for the Reagan-era files. But Senate Democrats said they were interested in what Roberts wrote and said during his four years in the first Bush administration as top deputy to Solicitor Gen. Kenneth W. Starr. Of particular interest is his role in Starr’s attack on Roe vs. Wade.
That first sentence is directly contradicted by a story in Monday’s New York Times:
The Bush administration plans to release documents from Judge John G. Roberts’s tenure in the White House counsel’s office in the mid-1980’s and his earlier job working for the attorney general, but will not make public papers covering the four years he spent as principal deputy solicitor general starting in 1989, two senior administration officials said Monday.
The decision fulfilled a request for disclosure of the documents made on Monday by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold the confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts, President Bush’s choice to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, said the senator’s spokesman, Bill Reynolds.
Today’s L.A. Times story is hackwork, folks. There is a mountain of evidence that the Bush Administration’s assertion of privilege is legitimate. There is no journalistic reason for not reporting this information. None. Yet the L.A. Times doesn’t breathe a word of it. Instead, the paper does everything but report as fact that John Roberts has something to hide about his views on abortion.
An utterly shameful performance.
UPDATE 7-27-05: One of those former Solicitors General, Walter Dellinger, weighs in today with a surprising about-face: he says that the memos should be released. What’s the alleged difference between Roberts and Estrada? Dellinger says:
Unlike Estrada, Roberts was writing memos not as a civil service lawyer but as a senior political appointee in a policymaking position, and the judgeship at stake isn’t any federal judgeship but the Supreme Court itself.
Paul at Power Line easily disposes of these arguments:
The first point strikes me as a distinction without a difference. The solicitor general needs as much candor from lawyers appointed by the president as he does from career civil servants. The second point is just another way of saying that this nomination means too damn much to let principle govern its treatment.
One wonders what the other former Solicitors General would say. Too bad The Times didn’t ask them.
UPDATE x2: Actually, Dellinger is being very slippery. He doesn’t actually argue that they should be released — that’s just the impression the reader gets (and is probably supposed to get). He actually argues that they probably will be released:
These factors and the announced release of volumes of earlier memos to the White House counsel — undistinguishable as a matter of law from memos to the solicitor general — suggest that the memos to the latter will be made public as well.
This way, he has (implausible) deniability on the issue of whether he has reversed course, but gives his friends the Democrats some talking points — and takes in those who (like me) didn’t bother to parse his words in a Clintonesque fashion. Verrrry sneaky.