By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tabloid finger food

Media Nation expresses its deep regrets this morning for not being all over the Boston Herald’s “did Scalia flip the bird or didn’t he” imbroglio.

For the Herald, it’s been tabloid heaven: three days of front-page headlines about a Supreme Court justice having made “an obscene gesture,” as Herald reporter Laurel Sweet unqualifiedly called it in her original Monday story. And so what if today’s story is about Scalia’s subsequent letter to the editor credibly denying all?

When it comes to such important matters of state, it strikes me as appropriate that we turn to the definitive source: Wonkette, which posted this explanation from The analysis from Wonkette (whoever that is these days):

The Herald article is a little vague, but we’re inclined to agree with this reader: Justice Scalia’s gesture wasn’t a full-fledged flipping of the proverbial bird. But it still wasn’t exactly the most polite of actions; in some quarters, it could be interpreted as pretty darn close to giving someone the middle finger. So we will downgrade Nino a few levels on both the vulgarity and coolness scales.

Actually, Sweet’s article was not “a little vague.” It described Scalia’s gesture accurately, and then wrongly labeled it “obscene.”

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  1. Anonymous

    It seems to me that any gesture which generally prompts the recipient to think ‘well f–k you, too,’ could be called obscene, and Scalia’s gesture would qualify. Titanic legal mind he may be, but he’s also a jerk.

  2. Anonymous

    And custom-made for the arduous sourcing of the Herald…

  3. Anonymous

    Even for the The Herald, this is pretty thin gruel. I’m a Herald fan usually but this smacks of desperation. A “pencil-neck” move to quote their editor, trying to invent news out of whole cloth. If they are trying to survive, enterprise reporting does not include making stuff up. Sounds like the move of a company trying to get into the real estate business…

  4. Sven

    Even if he was giving the Our Gang hi-sign, it’s a fairly unusual thing for a Supreme Court justice to do in public. Dahlia Lithwick notes at Slate that, combined with his bizarre outbursts in the Hamdan case, one has to wonder if Scalia is becoming SCOTUS’ Bill O’Reilly.

  5. Anonymous

    1. If it wasn’t obscene or inappropriate, why did he allegedly say not to publish it?2. Was there a Globe reporter present, and did the Globe choose to heed the alleged admonition?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 10:03 – It was inappropriate, obviously. But there’s a huge difference between inappropriate and obscene.

  7. Anonymous

    My second question is the one I’d really like to know about. The Globe has seriously been doing the pious thing lately, what with the local big cheese being elevated to cardinal. If the Herald had someone there to cover Scalia attedning mass in Boston, I bet the Globe did, too.

  8. Anonymous

    Anon. 10:03/10:20 here – Joe Conason says the mass in Boston attended by Scalia on Sunday was “a special mass for politicians and lawyers” in this piece in the New York Observer:, did the Globe have somewhere there to cover it?

  9. Anonymous

    “Someone,” I mean.

  10. GAR

    The orginal story said a Pilot photographer captured the moment. How come no one is talking about seeing those photos?

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Gar – The Pilot has made it clear that it’s not going to release the photos, as is its right. But I think a number of people are losing sight of the facts. Scalia, in his letter to the Herald, says that Laurel Sweet described what he did in a completely accurate way. There is no disparity here, and seeing a photo isn’t going to change anything. What Scalia objects to is her calling it “an obscene gesture,” which, by all evidence, it was not.

  12. Anonymous

    I’m probably wearing out my welcome here on this. But Dan, I don’t think that’s the only issue from a media standpoint. What I’m concerned about is any supreme court justice pointedly telling anyone from the media not to print something. And I want to know if the Globe had a reporter on the scene but chose to obey Scalia’s command. Anonymous @10:03 / 10:20 / 11:47

  13. Anonymous

    I think this points up the problem with Scalia’s “orignal intent” theory. Maybe that gesture meant “I couldn’t care less” back in the days of Garibaldi, but the meaning has changed over time. Today, most people, seeing someone wave their fingers under their chin, would interpret it as an obscene gesture straight out of the Sopranos.

  14. Cosmo

    Dan and friends:The debate over whether it’s obscene or not is reasonable. I’m not Sicilian, but I am Italian. And my interpretation has always been that the flick off the chin means “(bleep) you” or something to that effect.Others will support this. But again, you can debate what’s “obscene” or just vulgar. It seems the bar should be pretty low in a church, don’t you think?What I found totally lame, however, was how the wire services first didn’t bother to read the story before encapsulizing it, and THEN blamed the Herald for the “untrue” impression that Scalia gave the finger.UPI wrongly reported that Scalia gave the “middle finger.”Later, AP said: “The Boston Herald reported Monday that Justice Scalia made an obscene gesture – giving the impression to some it was a middle finger. Untrue.”Are you kidding me?The wrong impression was given by UPI, which clearly didn’t read the very simple explanation of what the gesture was.The untruth was cooked up by the AP, which actually got a Scalia spokeswoman to “deny” it was the middle finger.Nobody ever said it was! Unless you count UPI’s poor reading comprehension.Sorry. That’s just lazy reporting.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Cosmo — Now that you’re leaving the Herald (and a huge loss that’s going to be) I am going to call this your first contribution as a Media Nation correspondent. Don’t worry: I’ll pay you exactly what I’m getting. Good luck, and thanks for dropping by.

  16. Anonymous

    But, what about the issue of a US supreme court justice doing and saying something in public, in response to a journalist’s question, then ordering the journalist not to print it?

  17. Anonymous

    What Scalia did *was* an obscene gesture.He knows it, and so does anyone brought up in a Calabrian/Sicilan family. In addition, the freelancer working for the Pilot has now said Scalia also spoke the Italian phrase for “F*ck you,” while he made the gesture.This is a really embarrassing thing.Oh, and yes, the Herald does love ti.

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