Behind the Scenes of Justice Alito’s Unprecedented Wall Street Journal Pre-Puttle

FILE – Associate Justice Samuel Alito joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a new group portrait at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. Alito writes in the Supreme Court’s opinion,

FILE – Associate Justice Samuel Alito joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a new group portrait at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. In the Supreme Court’s opinion, Alito wrote, „Roe was so badly wrong from the beginning,” Roe v. Wade busted, Yale Law School librarian makes top three on 2022 list of most notable quotes (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

This story was originally published ProPublica.

At noon on Friday, June 16, ProPublica reporters Justin Elliott And Josh Kaplan Supreme Court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe emailed Justice Samuel Alito with questions about the upcoming story. His fishing trip to Alaska With a hedge fund billionaire.

We have set a response deadline of noon next Tuesday.

Fifteen minutes later, McCabe called reporters. It was an unusual moment in our dealings with the high court’s press office, the first time any of its public information officers spoke directly to ProPublica journalists in months as we scrutinized the justices’ ethics and conduct. When detailed questions were sent to the court about Our stories about Justice Clarence Thomas, McCabe responded in an email that they had been sent to justice. There was no word from her before those stories came out, not even a statement that Thomas had any comment.

The conversation about Alito was brisk and professional. McCabe said he found a formatting problem in the email, and reporters agreed to resend the 18 questions in a Word document. Kaplan and Elliott told McCabe that they understood it was a busy time in court and that they were willing to extend the deadline if Alito needed more time.

Monday is a federal holiday, Juneteenth. On Tuesday, McCabe called reporters and said Alito would not respond to our requests for comment, but that we shouldn’t write that he declined to comment. (In the story, we wrote that he told us he “would not comment.”)

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She asked when the story would be published. Certainly not today, the reporters replied. Maybe as soon as Wednesday.

Six hours later, The Wall Street Journal editorial page published Alito’s op-ed, in which he used our questions to guess at points in an unpublished story and refute them in advance. His piece, entitled „Justice Samuel Alito: ProPublica Misleads Readers,” was difficult for anyone outside of ProPublica to follow because it dropped allegations that had never been made before (especially the consumption of expensive wine).

In the hours after Alito’s response appeared, editors and reporters worked quickly to finish work on our investigative story. We made an additional statement to put Alito’s statements in context. „My recollection is that I never spoke to Mr. Singer on more than a few occasions,” the judge wrote in the journal, and none of those conversations involved „any case or problem before the court.” He said he was unaware of Singer’s involvement in the long-running dispute with Argentina because the fund that was a party to the case was called NML Capital and the billionaire was not named in Supreme Court briefs.

Alex MierjeskiAnother reporter on the team quickly put together a long list Major stories from magazine, The New York Times And The Financial Times It identified Singer as the head of a hedge fund seeking to make handsome profits by suing Argentina in US courts. (The Supreme Court, with Alito concurring in a 7-1 majority, supported Singer’s arguments on an important legal issueAnd Argentina eventually paid $2.4 billion to the hedge fund.

The journal’s editors don’t appear to have made much effort to fact-check Alito’s claims.

If Alito had sent us his response, we would have asked a few more questions. For example, Supreme Court justices have „generally interpreted” the requirement to disclose gifts that do not qualify for „accommodations and transportation for social events,” Alito wrote. We asked if he was saying it was common practice for judges to accept free vacations and private jets without disclosure.

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We also asked Alito about his interpretation of Watergate-era disclosure laws that require judges and many other federal officials to publicly report most gifts. The statute contains a narrow „personal hospitality” exemption that allows federal officials to avoid disclosure of „meals, lodging, or entertainment” provided by a host on his or her own property. Seven ethics legal experts, including former government ethics lawyers from Republican and Democratic administrations, told ProPublica. Exemption does not apply For private jets – and never. Such flights, they said, are not forms of food, shelter or entertainment. We’ve already dealt with judicial disclosures, so we know that many federal judges have disclosed. Gifts of private jets.

We could have sent Alito some contemporary stories about Singer’s dispute with Argentina, which are readily available online. Given Alito’s previous ties to the Journal’s editorial page — he delivered Exclusive interview Complaining about negative coverage of the court this year — Page’s 2013 headline in stories we sent him “Deadbeats Down SouthA „subsidiary of Paul Singer’s Elliott Management” confirmed that it expects a better deal from Argentina. We asked how his office vets conflicts and whether he’s concerned that Singer’s widely publicized connection to the case didn’t catch on.

A journal’s editorial page is completely separate from its newsroom. Nevertheless, journalists strongly criticized the decision to allow „before-but” findings into the subject of another news organization’s investigation.

„This is a terrible look for @WSJ,” John Carreiro tweeted, the Journal’s former investigative reporter, whose award-winning articles on Theranos would lead to the indictment and criminal conviction of its founder Elizabeth Holmes. „Let’s see how it feels when another news organization lead runs an important story, and it works with a preconceived notion from the subject of the story.”

Bill Gruskin, former senior editor of the Journal and professor of journalism at Columbia, told the Times „Justice Alito could have posted this as a statement on the SCOTUS website. But the fact that he chose The Journal — and the editorial page was willing to act as his loyal factor — says a great deal about the relationship between the two parties.

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Even Fox News got into the game. „Alito should be congratulating himself on his preemptive strike, but since the nonprofit news agency sent him questions last week, was it really fair? Should the Journal, which has criticized ProPublica as a left-wing outfit, play along? The paper included an editor’s note that ProPublica had sent questions to Justice, but its story still ran. Not to mention not running,” the cable news organization reported. Media watchdog Howard Kurtz wrote.

This experience has lessons for ProPublica. Our reporters are a bit skeptical when asked about the timing of a press release on a story.

But one thing hasn’t changed. Regardless of the consequences, we will continue to give everyone mentioned in our stories a chance to respond before publishing what we plan to say about them.

Known locally as „no surprises”, our practice is based on both accuracy and fairness. As editors, we’ve seen many cases over the years where the answers to our detailed questions changed stories. Some of the stories have been substantially rewritten and revised in the light of new information provided by the subjects. On rare occasions, we kill stories after learning new facts.

We leave it to PR professionals to judge whether pre-locks are an effective strategy. Alito’s assertion that there was no value in a private flight to Alaska because the seat was empty anyway was the subject of considerable online amusement.

Our story’s readership is strong: 2 million page views and counting. Alito may have won the argument with the audience he cares most about. But it seems plausible that he did More attention For the story he was trying to tap into.

Alito’s behavior, a „no surprises” approach, involves risk-taking, allowing subjects to „spit in our soup,” as former Journal editor Paul Steiger, who founded ProPublica, liked to say.

Nevertheless, following our practice, we asked Alito and McCabe for comment on the Journal editorial page before this column appeared. We did not hear back from them immediately.

Watch the video Senior editor Jesse Eisinger and reporter Justin Elliott in conversation about the investigation.

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