NPR Offered NO Story (Just Two Vague Mentions) on the Failed Kavanaugh Murderer

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As pundits like Bill Maher pound The New York Times for burying the attempted murder of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the bottom of page A-20, that is still a stronger record than National Public Radio. While they were all in on the January 6 Committee, they offered no story on the failed Kavanaugh assassination…just two brief and vague mentions this week.

On Wednesday, I was sure NPR’s badly named All Things Considered evening newscast did nothing. I tweeted that, since there was no headlined segment on the program’s website. Then a tipster noticed it drew one vague sentence.

The asterisk of sorts came in a story headlined “The Proud Boys indictment comes as political violence evolves.” NPR’s reporter on “extremism” Odette Yousef said something.

ODETTE YOUSEF: But in my reporting, Sacha, experts have raised a number of upcoming events that could potentially light that fuse. You know, one of them, of course, is the midterm elections in the fall, but we’re also now looking at the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade this month. And just today, we learned of the arrest of an armed man outside Justice Kavanaugh’s house.

That was it.

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Where was their Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg, the one who launched the unsubstantiated charges of Anita Hill in an attempt to scuttle the Clarence Thomas nomination and was attached at the hip to Ruth Bader Ginsburg?? Totenberg offered one tweet on Wednesday morning, and then couldn’t be bothered. 

We still haven’t heard anything you would call “reporting” on this arrest of a violent man named Nicholas John Roske.

But wait, it gets worse! On Thursday’s Morning Edition, there was Nina Totenberg reporting on the Supreme Court in their “Morning news brief.” And they all talked about Court business for almost four minutes, but said NOTHING about the attempted murder of a justice the day before!

STEVE INSKEEP, anchor: The U.S. Supreme Court expects to issue far-reaching decisions soon.

RACHEL MARTIN, anchor: Rulings due this month could affect access to abortion and access to guns. Another case touches policies against climate change. The justices and their clerks are finishing all this in a tense workplace. The court is investigating itself, seeking the source of a leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion on abortion.

INSKEEP: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is with us. Nina, good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What’s going on over there?

TOTENBERG: It’s pretty ugly. Between the leak investigation that’s going on and the distrust among the justices and the clerks themselves, the place sounds like it’s imploding. Let me just cite one example. Justice Thomas, in a speech just after the leak, seemed to say that he no longer trusts his colleagues.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLARENCE THOMAS: When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder. It’s like kind of an infidelity – that you can explain it, but you can’t undo it.

TOTENBERG: And he implied that he doesn’t trust Chief Justice Roberts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS: The court that was together 11 year was a fabulous court. It was one you looked forward to being a part of.

TOTENBERG: Those 11 years were when the chief justice was William Rehnquist, who was succeeded in 2005 by Chief Justice Roberts. Now, we don’t know what the root of the antipathy is, but we do know that Roberts made very angry some of the conservatives on the court 10 years ago when he changed his mind and voted to uphold key provisions of Obamacare. Those switches, Steve, are rare, but they do happen. Justices change their minds and in good faith. That switch, though, infuriated some of the court’s conservatives so much that it leaked, obviously from the conservative side, to embarrass Roberts.

INSKEEP: Thanks for the reminder that sometimes in the past there have been leaks of information from the court. In that case, though, it was just a leak of a disagreement, of anger. In this case, the immediate case, we have an actual draft opinion that’s out in public. We have the chief justice saying it’s a betrayal, ordering the court marshal to investigate. What has that done to feelings inside the court now?

TOTENBERG: It’s a mess. So to begin with, the court marshal, who oversees basically all the security and administrative functions of the court, she’s overseeing the investigation. But she doesn’t have any experience as an investigator, nor do the Supreme Court Police. Their job is to protect the justices. And everybody I’ve talked to who does have experience as an investigator says that leak inquiries are just the worst — in the words of several people, they are nightmares.

INSKEEP: And what makes them so?

TOTENBERG: Initially, investigators are told it’s just a few people who had access. Eventually, it turns out tons of people had access. You know, it was not just co-workers in the office, but it’s also the computer staff, the family, the friends, people coming to the office, even people at home. And even if there’s some sort of evidence of contact with a reporter, they say, we usually are unable to prove that that contact led to the leak. Therefore, most of the time, all the investigations end up with is pretty much theories and speculation.

INSKEEP: What is that likely doing to the daily operations of the court then as they come to the end of the term with all these big decisions due?

TOTENBERG: You know, I talked to someone very close to the justices, and he said he didn’t know how on Earth the court was going to finish up its work this term. The clerks, he said – and this is really interesting – sort of the court’s diplomatic corps. They talk to each other, especially at this time of year, and with the approval of their bosses, they go out to find out, how far can we push the envelope in this case, or how do we soften the language in that case? But at the moment, the clerks are terrified that their whole professional lives could be blown up. So they aren’t able to do that. In short, it’s just a very perilous time for the court.

INSKEEP: NPR’s Nina Totenberg. Thanks so much.

TOTENBERG: You’re welcome.

On Weekend Edition Saturday, morning host Scott Simon gave another vague mention at the end of a chat with NPR political analyst Ron Elving. The segment was headlined “Week in politics: Jan. 6 committee lays out a clear case against Trump.”

SCOTT SIMON: Real fear that rhetoric in this country could lead to more violence – this past week, a judge in Wisconsin was killed, and then a man arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house.

RON ELVING: Yes. And those fears are not without basis. You and I can remember the 1960s, when extremism in politics moved from ideas to rhetoric and episodes of violence in various forms and having tragic consequences. We need to find a way of arresting that process, because in our time, the potential for such consequences is all the greater.

Naturally, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik wrote a story for NPR.org railing against Fox News (as he often does) for failing to cover the hearing live. He blamed their right-wing base: “To have shown the uninterrupted documentation of the concerted attack on the Capitol in January last year and the concurrent effort to thwart the November 2020 presidential elections would have been to present information that was unwelcome to many core Fox News viewers.”

So can we make that assumption about NPR’s failure to do a Kavanaugh story? To talk about an unhinged violent leftist would be “unwelcome to many core NPR listeners”?

You can express your disappointment at these threadbare mentions to NPR Public Editor Kelly McBride here.

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