Giving prominence to quotes from sources who agree with you is a well-known technique for framing a story. In this morning’s L.A. Times article on the Alito job application, the editors sure do front-load commentary from people who want to make a big deal out of Alito’s comments about abortion.
In the article — which I fully expect to see at least mentioned on Page A1 tomorrow — we hear from Arlen Specter, who (the paper fails to inform us) is a supporter of Roe v. Wade:
“I think that it is more reason to question him closely at the hearing,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., citing specifically Alito’s statement that the Constitution “does not protect a right to an abortion.” “A lot of people have shifted their views. People do shift so there may be an evolution of his thinking.”
Then we hear from Tedward Kennedy:
His comments were characterized by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., an influential member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as “extreme statements” that are “deeply troubling.” Kennedy also accused Alito of “clearly trying to pass a litmus test to get a promotion in an administration that stood against the march of progress in this country.”
And next, of course, from Chuckie S.:
Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, another Democratic panel member, said Alito “should expect tough questioning from the committee about whether his views have changed and whether he would advance a particular ideological position that is contrary to decades of legal precedent.”
Schumer added, “Past nominees have said they could not discuss these issues for fear of creating a perception of bias. Here, unfortunately, the memo itself creates the perception of bias and it will be crucial for this nominee to address the issue head-on.”
Finally, beginning with the 20th paragraph, we hear from a couple of conservatives saying — quite common-sensically — that this is no real surprise. Alito, who was a applying for a job in the Reagan Administration, was . . . a conservative! What a shocker!
What do you want to bet that stuff comes after the jump when I open the print edition in the morning?
Absolutely nowhere does the article mention that Alito could think Roe was wrongly decided, yet vote to uphold it due to respect for precedent. I would personally disagree strongly with any such decision — but it’s a possibility. The public, not generally conversant with such legal niceties, should be told this.
The public should also get both sides up front. It could be argued that front-loading the dramatic quotes is evidence of sensationalism (or, to be charitable, a sense of drama), not necessarily of liberal bias. Viewed in the context of this paper’s history, I’m skeptical. Even crediting such arguments, sometimes you have to sacrifice a little drama to get some balance. This story leaves the balance until far too late.
Surprise or no, this is the first time since Bork that we’ve seen a Supreme Court candidate be this forthright about the touchiest subject of all: abortion. In other words: it’s a big enough story as it is, guys. I noted its importance yesterday morning before 6:30 a.m. I know it’s frustrating to have to wait almost 24 hours to report the story — but you don’t have to compensate for the slow-moving nature of your medium by sensationalizing the story.
You just report. Leave the deciding to us.