June 22, 2023

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito appeared in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal late Tuesday to raise issues with a ProPublica article — hours before the article was actually published.

ProPublica’s article, published just before midnight Tuesday, focuses on a 2008 trip that Alito took to Alaska with Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire and Republican donor. The two traveled to a more than $1,000-a-day luxury fishing lodge in a remote part of the state via Singer’s private jet. The flight would have cost $100,000 one way had Alito paid for it.

ProPublica reports that Alito did not declare the trip on his annual financial disclosures, apparently violating a federal law that requires Supreme Court justices to disclose most gifts.

“In the years that followed, Singer’s hedge fund came before the court at least 10 times in cases where his role was often covered by the legal press and mainstream media,” ProPublica’s Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan and Alex Mierjeski reported. “In 2014, the court agreed to resolve a key issue in a decade-long battle between Singer’s hedge fund and the nation of Argentina. Alito did not recuse himself from the case and voted with the 7-1 majority in Singer’s favor. The hedge fund was ultimately paid $2.4 billion.”

Alito’s preemptive response in the Journal, published five hours before the ProPublica article, begins with a pointed editor’s note:

“Justin Elliott and Josh Kaplan of ProPublica, which styles itself ‘an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force,’ emailed Justice Alito Friday with a series of questions and asked him to respond by noon EDT Tuesday. They informed the justice that ‘we do serious, fair, accurate reporting in the public interest and have won six Pulitzer Prizes.’”

Alito then offered a point-by-point rebuttal that begins:

“ProPublica has leveled two charges against me: first, that I should have recused in matters in which an entity connected with Paul Singer was a party and, second, that I was obligated to list certain items as gifts on my 2008 Financial Disclose Report. Neither charge is valid.”

The New York Times’ Adam Liptak writes that Alito “appears to have a good relationship with The Journal’s opinion pages, which published a wide-ranging interview with him in April.”

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi and Robert Barnes called it “an unusual public venture by a Supreme Court justice into the highly opinionated realm of a newspaper editorial page. And it drew criticism late Tuesday for effectively leaking elements of ProPublica’s still-in-progress journalism — with the assistance of the Journal’s editorial page editors.”

Farhi and Barnes heard from Chris Roberts, the vice chair of the Society for Professional Journalists’ standards and ethics committee, who said it was “pretty rinky-dink for a Supreme Court justice to use journalism ethics against journalists.” SPJ ethics chair Fred Brown told them the Journal’s decision to publish Alito’s opinion piece before the ProPublica story it criticized was “an affront to professional courtesy and professional standards.”

In April, Kaplan, Elliott and Mierjeski broke a similar story about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who for more than two decades has been treated to luxury vacations by billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow. Thomas had also not reported those gifts.

Tired of Wordle? The Washington Post introduces fraternal twin ‘Keyword’

The Washington Post launched a new word game called Keyword on Tuesday, part of a growing trend of major news organizations building or acquiring games.

Keyword represents the second recent addition to the Post’s catalog of games, which now also includes daily news quiz On The Record.

When playing Keyword, it’s difficult to not notice the similarity to the smash hit Wordle, the homegrown word game The New York Times purchased last year.

While Keyword is technically a spin on crossword puzzles (and won’t kick you out after five turns), trying out different letters to make up a central word highlighted in green squares feels like déjà vu.

Full disclosure: I was frustrated trying to figure out the last letter, and eventually entered every single key on my keyboard until the square turned green. The penalty for bad picks is nonexistent, taking out a bit of the high-pressure fun of whittling down your Wordle guesses.

The similarity doesn’t stop there. Games have been a boon for The Times in recent years, where news alone is no longer the main driver of subscriptions. It seems the Post is looking to capture some of that magic as it reimagines its product for 2023.

“It is our mission to serve our readers and part of that is providing a range of offerings outside the boundaries of conventional news products,” Jessica Gilbert, head of product at The Post, said in a press release announcing Keyword. “Keyword is the next endeavor to ensure that our readers continue to find new and exciting ways to engage with The Post.”

ProPublica staff unionize

Journalists and business staff at ProPublica announced Wednesday that they are unionizing with the NewsGuild of New York.

More than 90% of eligible staff have signed union cards and requested that the company voluntarily recognize the union. ProPublica, which has more than 180 employees and is the largest investigative newsroom in the country, is one of the few outlets of its size and stature that does not have a union.

The announcement comes 15 years after ProPublica started publishing. In their mission statement, workers wrote that they view a union as essential to ensuring stability through changes in leadership or “turbulence” within the media industry.

“We want a ProPublica where employees feel safe to speak up about journalistic standards or workplace problems without fear of repercussions. We want pay transparency and a raise pool that stays ahead of inflation,” they wrote. “We want clearly defined work processes and investments in editors, as well as business, specialty and production staffs that keep pace with the organization’s ever-increasing size, in order to avoid production crunches that force employees to work unpredictable schedules without paid overtime. We want clear and consistent work and story expectations. We want a ProPublica that supports internal career development of an increasingly young and diverse staff.”

ProPublica president Robin Sparkman and editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg told staff Wednesday that they plan to recognize the union “once the details are worked out” with the organizing committee. At Sparkman’s first all-staff meeting in June 2021, she told employees that they were welcome to unionize if they wanted.

“ProPublica has a long history of productive collaboration on core issues notably diversity, equity, inclusion and retention,” Sparkman and Engelberg wrote in a message to staff. “We share the union’s desire to ensure that the ProPublica of tomorrow is as strong, if not stronger, as it is today.”

Many large news outlets in the United States, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press, have been unionized for decades. Others, including the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Insider and Vice, have unionized more recently as their staffs join a larger organizing movement within media.

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Annie Aguiar is an audience engagement producer for Poynter’s newsroom. She was previously a state issues reporter for the Lansing State Journal and graduated from…
Annie Aguiar
Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
Angela Fu
Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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