If you keep up with the news, then you are probably familiar with the recent story of Justice Scalia and the erasure of a tape recording made during a speech. Criticism of this apparent squelching of the freedom of the press has been extensive and excoriating.
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert castigated the justice vehemently:
What's important about this story is that Justice Scalia is a big shot. Not only is he a member in good standing of the nation's most august court, he's almost always among those mentioned as a possible future chief justice.
Compared with him, Ms. Konz and Ms. Grones are nobodies.
Justice Scalia, the big shot, does not like reporters to turn tape recorders on when he's talking, whether that action is protected by the Constitution of the United States or not. He doesn't like it. And he doesn't permit it.
If this had been an old-time Hollywood movie, the Supreme Court justice would have turned a kindly face toward the marshal and said, in an avuncular tone: "No, no. We don't do that sort of thing in this country. Please return the recordings."
But this is the United States in the 21st century where the power brokers have gone mad. They've deluded themselves into thinking they're royalty, not public servants charged with protecting the rights and interests of the people. Both recordings were erased. Only then was the reporters' property returned.
When agents acting on behalf of a Supreme Court justice can just snatch and destroy information collected by reporters, we haven't just thumbed our nose at the Constitution, we've taken a very dangerous step in a very ugly direction. The depot at the end of that dark road is totalitarianism.
When I first learned of this story, I, too was upset. How could a Supreme Court Justice demand that a reporter erase a tape? What good explanation could be provided?
The answer is that there is not a good answer to this question. Yet that is not the full answer.
The rest of the answer is that the New York Times and the LA Times and the Boston Globe and the Washington Post and all the rest of the papers that perpetrated this story were in error.
Justice Scalia did not instruct a marshal to erase any reporter's tape. In fact, when Scallia learned that his marshal had done this, he was upset by the marshal's action. Justice Scalia acted upon this concern; he wrote letters of apology to the reporters involved and to Lucy Dalglish at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
In fact, Scalia was so disturbed by the action of his marshal that he is revising his policy regarding the taping of his speeches. Print media reporters will be allowed to tape, so as to aid the accuracy of their reporting.
Speaking of accuracy in reporting .... Do you think that we will soon see a barrage of corrections throughout Big Media about their error in reporting this story? Will Bob Herbert, whose April 12th column ripping Justice Scalia appeared three days after Scalia had already issued an apology, issue an apology of his own to the Justice?
I'm not holding my breath.