According to sources with ties to third-party groups opposing the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, the Knight Ridder newspaper analysis of Judge Alito’s judicial record — which ran in many of the papers operated by KR — mirrors analysis that was pulled together by staff of People for the American Way, Alliance for Justice, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, all groups that are coordinating their anti-Alito efforts.
“The analysis and cases are similar to what we pulled together in the first week of the nomination. Some, but not all of the same cases, that kind of stuff. You don’t have to be a legal scholar to know which cases to focus on,” says a PFAW source. “I don’t know how widely disseminated our efforts went, but I know we shared it with reporters in Washington and New York. Our people very much wanted to get it out, but not sourced to us.”
That a paper would attempt to analyze or evaluate a Supreme Court justice’s record isn’t surprising. Nor is it surprising that a paper’s reporters would use an outside group for assistance. Reporters regularly coordinate their stories around special or exclusive access to sources and embargoed reports. And reporters of all ideologies depend on leaks and off the record and on background leads.
In the Knight Ridder article, the reporters wrote, “Although Alito’s opinions are rarely written with obvious ideology, he’s seldom sided with a criminal defendant, a foreign national facing deportation, an employee alleging discrimination or consumers suing big businesses.” The rest of the story is structured to support their thesis.
Last week, the Senate Democratic leadership allowed third party groups opposing Judge Alito to use a room in the Hart Senate Office Building to provide background and on the record interviews with reporters the groups felt would be sympathetic to their cause. Republicans and conservative journalists were barred from the room.
“You read the KR article and as a stand-alone, it’s no big deal. A law school student could write this up,” says a Republican Senate Judiciary Committee staffer. “What bugs us is that you have the left-wing groups spreading the same kind of stuff and this looks very much like an organized smear campaign.”