‘Unclear verb choice’: NPR editor keeps digging that hole to defend false Supreme Court mask story

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NPR and its wagon-circling allies continue to double, triple and quadruple down amid the fallout from the publicly funded publisher’s smear of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

As previously reported, an NPR “journalist” ran a story Tuesday claiming Justice John Roberts had asked Justice Gorsuch to mask up for the sake of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but that Gorsuch had refused, forcing Sotomayor to participate in the high court’s hearings virtually.

The story was quickly debunked by all three justices, but especially so by Roberts, who issued a blunt statement asserting that “I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench.”

But instead of just “taking the L,” NPR’s Nina Totenberg — the same “reporter” who decades ago broke the dubious sexual harassment allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas — doubled down.

And as of late Thursday, it appeared all of NPR was doubling down with her. Around 5:30 pm that evening, the news organization’s public editor, Kelly McBride, published an update arguing that Totenberg’s report was technically correct save for one “unclear” verb choice that’s since been corrected.

The original story claimed that Roberts, “in some form or other asked the other justices to mask up.” The meaning was clear. The justice had “asked” either through a written or verbal request for the other justices to mask up.

Totenberg has since changed “asked” to “suggested,” a seemingly far less clear term. With this change made, McBride wrote in her update Thursday that the piece is now completely valid, and Americans must decide “between believing the chief justice or believing Totenberg.”

Critics have found this to be an extraordinarily easy choice to make.


“No one has challenged the broader focus of Totenberg’s original story, which asserts that the justices in general are not getting along well,” McBride added.

Critics have pushed back on this argument as well, noting that the joint statement issued by Gorsuch and Sotomayor completely debunks this narrative:

They’ve also questioned the idea that NPR’s only goal had been to convey the alleged drama unfolding behind the scenes in the high court.

The going theory is that the report was designed for one and only one purpose: To disparage conservative Justice Gorsuch and provoke outrage among the Twitterati. And indeed, that’s exactly what happened, as documented by “keeper of receipts” Drew Holden:

Though he missed one: Over at The Philadelphia Inquirer, a columnist used the bogus story to write a piece about Gorsuch’s so-called “white male entitlement.”


(Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Critics say it’s the same pattern that plays out again and again and again and again. A reporter drops dubiously-sourced allegations that make a conservative look bad, the allegations spread far and wide, outrage erupts, and then when the actual truth emerges, barely anybody notices or acknowledges it (or at least not until the lawsuits appear).

This forever-repeating pattern is why, critics say, the public’s trust in the media has cratered to such an epic low.

In a tweet posted in response to McBride’s update, conservative commentator Megyn Kelly’s executive producer, Steve Krakauer, made the case late Thursday that the media’s trust/approval rating would likely recover if they “just took the L with humility every once in a while.”


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Vivek Saxena


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