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Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Cult of Nina Totenberg?

Dahlia Lithwick offers advice to the White House Press Corps. on how to do the job without cameras, now that the White House has barred recording of press briefings. The piece is mainly tongue-in-cheek (she urges TV news organizations to adopt John Oliver's dog-centered visuals), but I want to push back on two of her serious points.

Dahlia urges the press to stop covering the press gaggle, to "cover what happens, as opposed to the spin." I agree that the press should stop covering these briefings, which have become forums for lying and obfuscation, exacerbated by the inability of many reporters to ask effective and direct questions (as opposed to convoluted multi-part questions that enable obfuscation). She likens the press briefings to the "drama and theatrics" of oral argument, which the SCOTUS Press Corps. has learned to ignore in favor of focusing on the opinions as the "work product that emanates from the Court." Two problems. First, the SCOTUS Corps. does not ignore oral arguments, in-depth, as displays of the Justice's personalities and styles and with the attendant tea-leaf reading. Second, I am not sure how practices in covering the Court translate to covering the White House, because much of what happens in the White House never produces concrete "work product" that the reporters can read, parse, and analyze. The alternative to the press briefings is more informal interaction with WH staffers and more speaking with people off the record, as well as more reporting on the President's latest tweets. Which is not a bad thing, as it produces a more honest picture of what is happening.

Dahlia also urges WH reporters to be nerds, like the SCOTUS reporters: Ego-free, writing about the opinions, and not striving to be among the "competing cults of personality" that "tower over the news in America." There is no Cult of Jess Bravin (who covers the Court for the Wall Street Journal). But there long has been a Cult of Nina Totenberg (especially during the '90s, when she did double duty at NPR and ABC) and there long was a Cult of Linda Greenhouse--they were as known as much as personalities and commentators as for the cases on which they reported. The journalists who cover the Court do a marvelous job, and I have no reason to doubt that it is a "kind" and "ego-free workplace." But in writing about the Court, they offer not only cold analysis of the case, but opinion and commentary, which makes them as much a part of the story as are WH reporters.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 1, 2017 at 08:41 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

Comments

Lol. Heck with Nina Totenberg, there's a Cult of Dahlia Lithwick!! It's a great cult! Everyone should join!

Posted by: Anonymists Anonymous | Jul 3, 2017 3:05:13 PM

Totenberg was the wife of a Democratic member of Congress hired during the era in which NPR was under the direction of George McGovern's quondam campaign manager. Like our 'public' universities, it's a progtrash sandbox.

Posted by: Art Deco | Jul 3, 2017 5:04:39 PM

Totenberg was the wife of a Democratic member of Congress hired during the era in which NPR was under the direction of George McGovern's quondam campaign manager. Like our 'public' universities, it's a progtrash sandbox.

Posted by: Art Deco | Jul 3, 2017 5:04:42 PM

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