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Dallas Morning News Editor Plays Brilliant Game of Email Dodgeball, Ctd.

Yesterday I asked for help from the FrontBurner Nation. We needed clarification from someone who attended the January 28 given at SMU by Bryan Garner and Justice Antonin Scalia. The Dallas Morning News had quoted Scalia in a way that grossly distorted his view of the Constitution. Problem is, Scalia doesn’t allow recordings of his talks. So we couldn’t just go to the tape to hear what he actually said. Hence my call for help. And help came. Plenty of folks in attendance have confirmed that the DMN made a big mistake. As one sage commenter put it:

It’s a big deal because someone could use the quote in another article, paper, thesis, or book. A major newspaper is a reliable source, right? Then, the truncated phrase gets printed in another reputable publication and so on. So now, even though your professor says s/he doesn’t believe Scalia really said that, the Google provides you with two confirmed sources of the quote in the established press.

Then, interviews/panel discussions with Garner and Scalia could begin with that quote, which results in spending their time explaining why it’s not correct instead of moving on to issues that are of greater importance.

In short, publishing comes with responsibilities because of the ability to multiple and amplify what is stated as fact. If there is a factual error, it is absolutely imperative to attach a correction at the end of the article as soon as possible, and should be left there for all time. Doing so gives more cred to the professionalism of the source than to leaving hanging because someone made a misjudgment and thinks it will blow over.

Also, we’re talking about a Supreme Court justice here. What he says in public becomes an enduring record of his views on the Constitution.

[looks at imaginary wristwatch] Still waiting for the correction, guys.

  • clark

    You don’t wear a wristwatch?

  • Avid Reader

    I bet he has a pocket watch left over from the Tuxedo bet.

  • Templeton

    The “sage commenter” you cite was responding to my comment. You fail to address my comment, or the comment that replied to your sage commenter (which I agree with and which renders your feigned concern inane). Should I send you pithy emails and phone messages every 10 minutes until you reply?

    In fact, Mr. Rogers, please explain how the article “grossly distorted” Justice Scalia’s view of the Constitution. Garner himself acknowledges the quote is only “acontextual.” Do you even know that Scalia is well known to believe that the Constitution is not “living”? Well, if something is not “living,” then what is it? Answer: “Dead, dead, dead.” Anyone who knows anything about these issues understood the article — it simply used the “dead” quote to give a quick passing reference to a fairly technical theory of Constitutional interpretation, i.e., originalism. Please provide some substantive explanation on why you are so concerned.

    Also, please let us know what type of correction would satisfy you. A simple acknowledgment that Mr. Garner and some bloggers/blog comments consider the quote “acontextual”? Or, do you think DMN had a duty to provide a more in-depth treatment of the various legal issues that were addressed at the Scalia/Garner event? If so, why?

    Again, here is what happened: Justice Scalia and Mr. Garner held an event to, among other things, promote their new book. DMN gave very short work of the event, in perhaps an article that won’t win any literary awards anytime soon. Garner complained to DMN in an “open letter,” among other places, because he didn’t get the attention he thinks he deserved. Mr. Garner also raised some technical nitpicks to the article’s treatment of the substantive legal issues. The nitpicks perhaps could have been appropriate if the article was an attempt to substantively address the underlying legal issues, but it clearly wasn’t. Accordingly, Mr. Garner’s open letter comes off as an attempt to get some cheap publicity by picking on some reporter. Then, some blogger, Mr. Rogers, ran with one of Mr. Garner’s nits. But Mr. Rogers doesn’t seem to understand the underlying issues discussed by Scalia/Garner.

    Until you explain YOURSELF, Mr. Rogers, you come off just as self-serving as Mr. Garner.

    For the record, I am in no way a newspaper apologist or in any way connected to DMN, or any other news source. I am a California attorney sufficiently amused by the above events to write this — and my prior — post.

  • Tim Rogers

    You’ve got a lot of questions. I think the commenter that I’ve quoted in the post above pretty well sums up the whole matter for me. You’re a lawyer, so you know more about Justice Scalia’s views than I do. But I’m an editor, so I know something about how words work.

    From the DMN: “It’s not a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead.”

    From Scalia’s mouth: “I used to say that the Constitution is not a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead. But I’ve gotten better. I no longer say that. The truth is that the Constitution is not one that morphs. It’s an enduring Constitution, not a changing Constitution. That is what I’ve meant when I’ve said that the Constitution is dead.”

    There’s a big difference. If I explained it to you, I could only do it in a way that would insult you. So I won’t.

    Here’s the correction I’d like to see from the DMN. It should be appended to the story online, not just published in a later edition. “In the original version of this story, a quote from Justice Scalia was shortened in a way that distorted his intent. The full quote, with proper context, should read: blah, blah, blah. We regret the error. Tim Rogers was right all along, and that lawyer from California who won’t comment under his own name clearly has a personal issue with Garner.”

  • clark

    TIM DO YOU WEAR A WRISTWATCH OR NOT

  • Ardy

    Perhaps this thread is indicative of why Scalia is against original intent when it comes to constitutional interpretation.

  • Templeton

    Thanks for your response — pretty funny! I’m not using my real name because yes, I absolutely am trolling. But it’s 90% on you and 10% on Mr. Garner, and only because I don’t think the particular attacks against DMN are warranted. No personal issues against anyone.

    That said, your quote from Scalia’s mouth is actually a quote from Garner’s mouth, paraphrasing Scalia. That’s what we call in the business double hearsay. And you call it a big difference from the DMN quote, but it really isn’t, for the reasons I tried to explain above. In short, what Scalia meant when he USED to say the Constitution was “dead” has never changed. He’s probably just backing away from the word “dead” for rhetorical reasons — maybe if only to make clear he understands that, of course, the Constitution is the law of the land, so it’s “alive” in that regard.

    So was there a “distortion,” maybe. But it’s not exactly substantive, especially given that it’s found in a shortshift article that’s not trying to be substantive. So I don’t think a correction is warranted.

    Basically, I think your DMN editor can thank me, because my comments, collectively, are the appropriate response to what has been called your tirade.

  • Tim Rogers

    I have read your comment closely, and I am looking into the matter.