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Supreme Injustice

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia still doesn't get it. Last week, he apologized for the incident in which a U.S. marshal forced two reporters to erase tape recordings of a speech Scalia made to Mississippi high school students, although he said the action was not taken at his direction. Maybe not, but it was taken to enforce his draconian policy against having his public appearances recorded by the media.

He even agreed to loosen that longstanding prohibition, which gave us a glimmer of hope that was quickly extinguished. Amazingly, he chose still to snub the electronic media.

Suggesting the change was to promote "accurate reporting," Scalia said he will revise his policy "so as to permit recording for use of the print
media [emphasis ours]." So, Scalia is OK with a print reporter's taping what he says, transcribing it, then printing the transcript, but he will not allow a radio or TV reporter to tape the same speech and air it. Logic dictates that the most accurate accounting would be the one out of his own mouth, although paranoia might concoct media plots to splice and dice him into a liberal in the edit suite.

As if snubbing broadcasters wasn't bad enough, Scalia went on to break new ground in judicial jabberwocky. In a letter of apology to Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Scalia asserted his "First Amendment right not to speak on radio or television when I do not wish to do so," saying that the media had, "in the past, respected that right."

We hope not.

Such a right is news to us, as it was to Dalglish, Radio-Television News Directors Association President Barbara Cochran, and at least a couple of First Amendment attorneys we talked to. One attorney remarked incredulously: "A Supreme Court Justice actually said that?" Apparently so, although we have to rely on the printed letter he sent to Dalglish. Certainly no camera or microphone would have been allowed to capture that statement, according to the Scalia doctrine.

We don't think the media have been respecting any such nonexistent right. C-SPAN didn't cover Scalia's speech last year because it was barred from the room on the Justice's orders. The two reporters in Mississippi were bullied by a government operative.

We wanted to find out why the Justice continues to diss the electronic media, but we were told he had no comment beyond his letter of apology, which provided no rationale whatsoever.

Dalglish was equally in the dark: "I keep getting phone calls from people saying, 'What's his problem?' and I don't know. Maybe he gives the same speech and doesn't want the same sound bites out there. Or maybe he was kidnapped by a broadcast journalist at the age of 12 and held hostage somewhere. If we knew what his problem was, he could sit down with RTNDA and others, and we could accommodate his concerns."

This is the same learned Justice who a year ago banned cameras when he spoke after receiving a First Amendment award, as ludicrous as that now sounds. They should have taken it back.