If you thought Teddy Kennedy's pratfall over Samuel Alito's membership in a conservative Princeton alumni group was embarrassing (quoting magazine satire articles as if they were real), you should see what ABC's "Nightline" tried to pull last week.
The subject was the ethics of judicial travel. As investigative reporter Brian Ross explained in the middle of the piece, "Justices at all ends of the political spectrum take plenty of these trips to lots of nice places, all paid for by somebody else."
But this was no expose on justices "at all ends of the political spectrum." It was a shameless hit piece on conservatives, complete with hidden-camera cheap shots.
Only conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were featured, and roasted, by ABC. Ross noted Scalia was being pampered by a "conservative activist" group, the Federalist Society, and the story's main ethical scold, law professor Stephen Gillers, was labeled merely as a "recognized expert on legal ethics." ABC didn't tell its viewers that Gillers is a hardened leftist who has written for the Nation magazine about the "nightmare" of conservatives controlling the government.
The show began with the moral lesson on screen: "High Court, High Living," it read. Anchor Cynthia McFadden lectured: "This Supreme Court justice playing tennis at a resort as the president swears in his new boss." Did ABC follow Scalia to Colorado to catch him in the heinous act of pick-up tennis? Or did someone else with a political agenda provide the footage to ABC? ABC should have been forthcoming on that key point, but wasn't.
Brian Ross underlined ABC's gotcha point: "Scalia's apparent snub of the Chief Justice was one thing. But some legal ethics experts say his presence at the resort raises even larger questions about what critics call judicial junkets."
The Federalist Society complained bitterly in a letter to ABC News pointing to numerous facts that the Society made known to ABC beforehand, but which "Nightline" ignored. While Ross did acknowledge (quickly) that Scalia taught a "10-hour course," he didn't note the tennis-playing was only two hours, which makes it preposterous to cast the trip as a "junket" payoff. Scalia received no honorarium, and this lecture, which was scheduled long before Roberts was even nominated, was no little speaking gig: Scalia had charged the judges attending his class to read a 481-page packet he assembled specifically for this presentation.