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Grapevine Whine - Shilling for Scalia

Reported by Nancy - January 26, 2006 -

Tuesday night (1/24) on Special Report, Brit Hume used "picking" #3 on his Grapevine segment to chime in on the reactionary noise machine's chorus of outrage over an ABC News report on Supreme Court Justic Antonin Scalia. In true Foxian tradition, Hume's snide little "picking" was neither fair nor balanced, omitting significant portions of the ABC report in order to spin his attack on a FOX News competitor & leap to the defense of a fellow reactionary.

Here's "picking" #3:

ABC's Nightline Monday night reported that Justice Antonin Scalia missed the John Roberts swearing in at the White House because he was playing tennis & going fly-fishing at a resort in CO, courtesy of the conservative Federalist Society. The report mentioned only in passing that Scalia taught a legal seminar while on the trip, then quoted at some length New York University Law Professor Stephen Gillers, who said the whole thing was unethical. While Nightline identified the Federalist Society as conservative, it characterized Gillers only as an ethics expert. In fact, Gillers is a left-wing Scalia critic who once described the prospect of Republican control of both the White House & Congress as a nightmare. As for Scalia, that seminar he taught in CO was a 10-hour course for more than 100 lawyers & law students, open to members & non-members of the Federalist Society. He received no fee for it, expenses only.

Comments: When is Hume's staff going to start doing some of their own research? In looking for background information on this, I found essentially the same drivel at quite a few reactionary websites.

Here's the actual ABC News report by Brian Ross, Supreme Ethics Problem? which, if you bother to read it, raises issues of ethics relating not only to Scalia but also to Clarence Thomas & John Roberts. The Scalia trip is merely the opening hook for a reasonable & well-thought exposition that notes, most importantly, that THERE ARE NO ETHICS RULES in place for the Supreme Court.

So let's parse Hume's description of the ABC News report:

1) Hume said: "ABC's Nightline Monday night reported that Justice Antonin Scalia missed the John Roberts swearing in at the White House because he was playing tennis & going fly-fishing at a resort in CO, courtesy of the conservative Federalist Society."

Ross said:

At the historic swearing-in of John Roberts as the 17th chief justice of the United States last September, every member of the Supreme Court, except Antonin Scalia, was in attendance. ABC News has learned that Scalia instead was on the tennis court at one of the country's top resorts, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Bachelor Gulch, Colo., during a trip to a legal seminar sponsored by the Federalist Society.... Scalia spent two nights at the luxury resort lecturing at the legal seminar where ABC News also found him on the tennis court, heading out for a fly-fishing expedition, and socializing with members of the Federalist Society, the conservative activist group that paid for the expenses of his trip.

So in fact, Ross acknowledged the "legal seminar" aspect of the trip, as well as its social aspects. And Ross did not say Scalia missed the ceremony "because" he was socializing; he merely pointed out that Scalia was otherwise engaged at the time.

2) Hume said: "The report mentioned only in passing that Scalia taught a legal seminar while on the trip ..."

Ross's report mentioned the "legal seminar" twice (emphasis added):

... during a trip to a legal seminar sponsored by the Federalist Society.... Scalia spent two nights at the luxury resort lecturing at the legal seminar ...

If Ross also mentioned the social activities, that was merely a reflection of the emphasis by the Federalist Society, which clearly thought the social aspects were at least as important as the educational ones:
According to the event's invitation, obtained by ABC News, the Federalist Society promised members who attended the seminar an exclusive and "rare opportunity to spend time, both socially and intellectually" with Scalia. ... One night at the resort, Scalia attended a cocktail reception, sponsored in part by the same lobbying and law firm where convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff once worked.

3) Hume said: "... [ABC] quoted at some length New York University Law Professor Stephen Gillers"

Ross did quote Gillers "at some length" (see #4 below for all Gillers quotes) but Hume neglected to mention that Ross (unlike Hume) also quoted other experts, including another legal ethicist whose opnion differed from that of Gillers:

Ron Rotunda, a law professor at the George Mason School of Law, author of a textbook on legal ethics and who is himself a member of the Federalist Society, finds no problem with the Supreme Court justices attending events sponsored by the organization. "I'm a member of the Federalist Society, the NAACP, and the justices get invited to both, and I think that's a good idea," he said. "The organization doesn't have litigation before the judge and is unlikely to have litigation before the judge."

as well as the director of a public-interest law firm:
"I think the judiciary is really at a crossroads right now. There is a multibillion-dollar influence peddling industry in Washington, and it really has the federal judiciary in its sights at this point," Doug Kendall, director of Community Rights Counsel and author of a study on trips for judges, said.

4) Hume said: " ... [Gillers] said the whole thing was unethical."

Ross quoted Gillers a total of 4 separate times in his article, & nowhere does the phrase "the whole thing was unethical" occur:

"It's unfortunate of course that what kept him from the swearing-in was an activity that is itself of dubious ethical propriety," said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor, who is a recognized scholar on legal ethics.
"I think Justice Scalia should not have gone on that trip for several reasons," Gillers commented. "They are a group with a decided political-slash-judicial profile."
"You know a lot of people would be embarrassed at that. I don't think Antonin Scalia will be embarrassed," Gillers continued.
"The rules dealing with gifts don't apply to Justice Thomas because the rules only apply to lower court judges," Gillers explained. "People give gifts to judges and justices because they have power. And they have power because of their position that they hold in trust. And to suggest that it doesn't matter, no one will care, seems to me to be whistling in the dark."
.

5) Hume said: "While Nightline identified the Federalist Society as conservative, it characterized Gillers only as an ethics expert."

Ross did indeed correctly identify the Federalist Society as conservative, but did NOT characterize Gillers "only as an ethics expert" -- Ross was very clear that Gillers's expertise is in LEGAL ETHICS:

a New York University law professor, who is a recognized scholar on legal ethics

6) Hume said: "In fact, Gillers is a left-wing Scalia critic who once described the prospect of Republican control of both the White House & Congress as a nightmare."

Ross (correctly, imho) did not attempt to characterize the political leanings of any of the people he interviewed for his article. The profile of Gillers at the NYU Law School website gives no indication of his political leanings. His list of 92 "representative publications" goes back to 1973 &, as might be expected, focusses largely on legal ethics. Where did Hume get his "facts" about Gillers? What do these alleged "facts" have to do with the ABC report?

7) Hume said: "As for Scalia, that seminar he taught in CO was a 10-hour course for more than 100 lawyers & law students, open to members & non-members of the Federalist Society."

Ross didn't describe the seminar itself -- that wasn't the focus of his article. Hume is just trying to change the subject away from legal ethics of Supreme Court justices.

7) Hume said: "He [Scalia] received no fee for it, expenses only."

Ross's report doesn't discuss fees & expenses specific to this outing; again, that wasn't the focus of his report & again, Hume is just trying to change the subject away from the legal ethics of Supreme Court justices.

Here's a tidbit that will surprise no one who's been paying attention for the past few years: the reactionary noise machine, led by the Federalist Society, is trying to spin this as another RatherGate. How nice of Hume to chime in.

If you'd like to complain to Fox about this, email: special@foxnews.com

NOTE TO READERS: Please stay on topic (Scalia, legal ethics, Hume's spin, this particular "picking"). O/T comments will be deleted. Thanks.