Dahlia Lithwick | Media Matters for America

Dahlia Lithwick

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  • What Supreme Court Experts Want You To Know Before The Last Presidential Debate


    The Supreme Court will be one of the topics discussed at the final presidential debate of this election, moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on October 19. Supreme Court reporters and legal experts have been explaining the significance of the court throughout the election season, because of the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February and the implications for the ideological direction of the court stemming from the election of a new president.

  • These Are The Right-Wing Media Figures Spinning Trump's Bogus Legal Argument Against Trump U. Judge

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Some conservative media figures are still backing up presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s absurd argument that a federal judge overseeing the lawsuit against Trump University supposedly has a conflict of interest due to being “Mexican” or because he is a member of a Latino Bar Association group, saying Trump’s claim is not “a stretch,” is not “unreasonable,” and that the judge “is all too willing to associate himself with his ethnicity.” However, long-standing legal precedent has repeatedly ruled out a judge’s race or ethnicity as valid grounds for recusal.

  • Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick Urges Media To Cover “Unprecedented” Obstruction Of Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court Nomination

    Lithwick Explains How Dearth Of Garland Coverage Contributes To False Perception That Voters Don’t Care About The Nomination

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Slate’s reporter on courts and the law, Dahlia Lithwick, highlights how Republican obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court and an election cycle filled with Donald Trump’s insults and hateful rhetoric have harmed coverage of the stalled confirmation process, even as it persists into “unprecedented” territory and affects the court’s ability to function effectively. Lithwick notes that despite reporters’ impressions that voters don’t care about Garland’s nomination, a recent poll shows nearly two-thirds of voters favor nomination hearings for Garland. For reporters looking for a “potential story,” Lithwick points to the impact ongoing obstructionism has had on “close Senate races,” the “millions already having been poured in” to the anti-Garland blockade by conservative groups, and confusion within the Republican Party on anti-Garland strategy. She concludes by acknowledging that “paper answers to questionnaires will never compete with stories about Donald Trump’s teeny tiny hands,” but implores media to “move forward” and find a way to cover the “brick wall of inaction” as the “nonconfirmation season” continues.

    From the May 10 article (emphasis added):

    The only experience more absurd these days than trying to actually be Merrick Garland —dutifully attending courtesy meetings that lack any meaningful courtesy and painfully enduring what is surely the most insulting nonconfirmation season in American history—is trying, as a journalist, to cover Merrick Garland and his stalled nomination.

    Because there is virtually nothing happening each day, there is virtually nothing to write about each day. And because we don’t write about it each day, voters continue not to know that it is going on each day. And since so many Americans don’t know about what isn’t happening to the empty seat at the Supreme Court each day, that all adds inexorably to the vague general impression that they must not care about it. And since they don’t seem to care about it, it hardly makes sense to write about it. Right?

    If we can all now agree that something isn’t news if it doesn’t insult Muslims or berate women, then I guess Merrick Garland isn’t news. And because Garland faces a brick wall of inaction, the handful of actions he does take seem completely futile.


    The result is that it’s been 55 days since the president announced Garland’s nomination, and the judge is now routinely banished to half a column on page A-14. This, despite the fact that the court is clearly operating in all sorts of diminished ways as a result of what will likely be a more-than-yearlong vacancy. As Washington Post reporter Robert Barnes recently noted, the court has accepted fewer cases for next term, and there is a question about how the big important issues now facing the court can be resolved in any definitive fashion this year.


    This is the lay of the land, and we in the media had best figure out how we are going to move forward with it: There is nothing interesting about nothing happening to a 63-year-old judge. Moreover, the court is, by design, secretive and built of paper, and stories about Merrick Garland’s paper answers to questionnaires will never compete with stories about Donald Trump’s teeny tiny hands. Even the fact that “everybody yawns” when told about a Supreme Court vacancy being blocked in an unprecedented manner in U.S. history isn’t a story. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

  • David Daleiden Is Not A Journalist

    Media Outlets Debunk CMP’s Fraudulent Claim That Its Work Is “Investigative Journalism”

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Despite the indictment by a grand jury and numerous lawsuits over Center for Medical Progress (CMP) founder David Daleiden’s attempts to smear Planned Parenthood, right-wing media have claimed that CMP’s deceptively edited videos are “investigative journalism.” Other media outlets have rejected this claim, confirming that CMP’s videos are misleading, fraudulent, and, above all, not journalism.

  • Slate's Dahlia Lithwick Explains Why It Matters That Anti-Choice Activist David Daleiden Is No Journalist

    Lithwick: The Center for Medical Progress' Work "Can Be Called Many Things, But 'Journalism' Probably Isn't One Of Them."

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On January 25, a grand jury assembled by the Harris County District Attorney's office in Texas elected to clear a local Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing alleged by deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and instead indicted its founder, David Daleiden -- Media Matters' 2015 Misinformer Of The Year. This indictment elicited objections from right-wing media outlets, claiming that the investigation was "biased" and violated Daleiden's First Amendment rights. They dubiously argued that despite his dishonesty, Daleiden should be considered a journalist because he relied on "the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades" and that his indictment would constitute a chilling effect on other journalists.

    But these First Amendment arguments are a red herring - as Slate's legal expert Dahlia Lithwick explains, it is crucial that media remember Daleiden is not and never was an investigative journalist.

    In a February 2 article for Slate, Lithwick argued that the distinction between Daleiden and real journalists is that "journalists seek truth" while Daleiden "allegedly falsified evidence" to bolster "a truth he cannot quite prove but wants us to believe anyhow." Given that CMP's website was "only recently revised" to include any mention of being "citizen journalists," Lithwick noted Daleiden's claim to a journalist's First Amendment protections is even more unconvincing and a "nihilistic and cynical view of the profession." Drawing on a wide variety of expert testimony and case law, she concluded Daleiden's smear campaign "can be called many things, but 'journalism' probably isn't one of them":

    [I]s it so simple to say that what CMP was doing was truly journalism? Amanda Marcotte has argued at Salon that Daleiden "has no right to call himself a journalist," in part because when the hours of footage he shot failed to turn up any examples of criminal conduct on the part of Planned Parenthood, Daleiden didn't back off the story but doubled down on it. Indeed he allegedly falsified evidence, so the videos would show through trickery--including flawed transcripts and stock images--that which he could not prove. In an interview in On the Media this week, Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, similarly explained that American courts have almost always found that general criminal laws apply to the press, unless a story is so terrifically important it couldn't have been unearthed any other way. That might justify allowing journalists to be immune from prosecution, but only a small handful of such cases exist, and as Kirtley points out, it will be difficult for Daleiden to claim that his actions were critical to exposing vast criminal wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood, given that the grand jury's own investigation, and 11 independent state investigations, have unearthed no wrongdoing. The difference between journalism and what CMP did is that journalists seek truth, while Daleiden seeks to show that somewhere in between the edited seams and faked voiceovers of his films there lies a truth he cannot quite prove but wants us to believe anyhow. That can be called many things, but "journalism" probably isn't one of them.


    [It]'s entirely possible that even while Daleiden attempts to argue that what he did--or at least what he now says he was doing--is genuine journalism, there are real risks to the rest of us in allowing him to make such broad claims. We aren't merely risking our privacy and our livelihoods by allowing anyone with a camera and an inextinguishable fantasy to call himself a reporter. We are courting the possibility that his nihilistic and cynical view of the profession could someday become the norm.