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

Tag: Sam Alito

Post media critic weighs in on that other in-house mess

An update on that other big story about The Washington Post: the paper’s media critic, Erik Wemple, has weighed in with a tough piece about the Post’s decision in January 2021 not to report that an upside-down American flag — a symbol of the pro-Trump insurrection — was flying outside Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito’s home. That story was finally broken in The New York Times last month, and it led to other scoops as well, including the revelation that another insurrectionist flag was flying outside a second Alito home. Wemple’s lead:

It’s one thing to get scooped when your competitors bust their humps. Or when they catch a lucky break one way or another. It’s quite another thing to get scooped when the story has sat in your notebook for 3½ years.

Earlier:

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Semafor provides some clarity on The Washington Post’s massive failure

We now have some clarity as to why The Washington Post sat on information it had in January 2021 that an upside-down American flag, adopted as a symbol by supporters of the failed coup that had just taken place, was flying outside one of Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito’s homes.

Ben Smith and Max Tani report in Semafor that then-senior managing editor Cameron Barr and reporter Robert Barnes didn’t think it was worth a story in and of itself, and that they discussed reporting a deeper story about a dispute between Alito’s wife, Martha-Ann Alito, and her neighbors. That story never came together.

“In retrospect, I should have pushed harder for that story,” Barr told Semafor. You think?

As I speculated on Sunday, Barr said that executive editor Marty Baron, then in his final weeks on the job, did not know about the flag. What remains unclear is what prompted the Post at long last to reveal what it knew (free link) three and a half years later. Did Barnes, who’s now retired, or Carr tip someone off? Or has the story remained part of the institutional memory of the newsroom, and that someone finally decided to surface it following reporting by The New York Times about the Alitos’ pair of insurrectionist flags?

Smith tries to run interference for the Post, but even though the story may not have seemed like as much of a big deal then as it does now, taking a pass on it until now was nevertheless a deeply wrong decision by the Post. It makes you wonder what else they know that we don’t.

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Thinking through what’s next following The Washington Post’s Alito debacle

Justice Sam Alito. Photo (cc) 2017 by JoshEllie1234.

A few quick follow-ups on The Washington Post’s mind-boggling failure (free link) to report that an insurrectionist flag was flying outside Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito’s home when the paper discovered it way back in January 2021:

• As I’ve written previously, news organizations never should have gotten rid of their public editors, also known as ombudsmen. A number of these positions disappeared when newspapers were shrinking and losing money. But though some newspapers that eliminated their public editors have returned to profitability, including The New York Times and The Boston Globe, the Post is in dire straits these days. Too bad. A public editor could demand answers as to why a story wasn’t published at the time and how it happened to surface right now.

• Speaking of which — why now? What happened? According to the Post’s own story on Saturday, the flag was verified by its now-retired Supreme Court reporter, Robert Barnes. Given that the court is taking some important cases related to the insurrection, did Barnes contact the newsroom to remind them?

• The Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, announced in late January 2021 that he was retiring, and he left the paper about a month later. Baron was someone who was seemingly on top of everything, but if there was ever a time when he was giving the Post less than his full attention, this would have been the moment. Conversely, the Post was caught up reporting on the actual events of the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6. At that moment, the Alito matter may have seemed like a sidebar to a sidebar.

• As deep as the Post’s failure may have been, it may have done little damage in the long run. Alito wouldn’t have recused himself from insurrection-related cases then, and at that point there weren’t any. Nor will he now. But with Jan. 6-related cases finally coming before the court, and at a time when Justice Clarence Thomas’ corruption has been fully exposed, the story that insurrectionist flags appeared over two of the Alitos’ homes may hit harder now than it would have three and a half years ago.

• All of this serves as a reminder that no matter what you think of the three justices appointed by Donald Trump (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett), the two worst were appointed by the Bushes — Thomas by George H.W. Bush and Alito by George W. Bush.

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The Washington Post knew about one of the Alitos’ insurrectionist flags

Shocking news from — and about — The Washington Post: the paper knew (free link) that an insurrectionist flag was flying over Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito’s house in January 2021, right after the attempted coup, and didn’t publish anything. From today’s Post story:

The Post decided not to report on the episode at the time because the flag-raising appeared to be the work of Martha-Ann Alito, rather than the justice, and connected to a dispute with her neighbors, a Post spokeswoman said. It was not clear then that the argument was rooted in politics, the spokeswoman said.

Needless to say, whenever something is “not clear,” that can often be rectified with reporting.

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