Justice Scalia's death breeds rampant press speculation

Good morning.

  1. What does Obama do?
    The death of Justice Antonin Scalia sent the press scurrying, with most of cable TV's first-string hosts not around on a Saturday night (Bret Baier at Fox was one notable and smart exception) that included a formal statement by President Obama, who was sartorially off-key in surfacing without a necktie post-golf in Rancho Mirage, California.

    The topic opened the Republican debate in South Carolina and launched instant punditry. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin contended, "Scalia himself ranks among the most influential Justices in American history, alongside such figures as John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and William Brennan." (The New Yorker) Despite obvious defeats in various areas, notably abortion, "he was the most important Supreme Court justice of his era." (The New York Times)

    By this morning The New York Times has at least 14 columns and stories, including a Paul Krugman opus with the hyperbolic headline "How America Was Lost," writing of an impending "constitutional crisis." (The New York Times)

    The more sober of the early analyses — in particular, on whether Obama could install a recess appointment while Congress is on break or another form of temporary fill-in — comes from Lyle Denniston, a top Supreme Court reporter who labors for SCOTUSblog. "The bottom line is that, if President Obama is to successfully name a new Supreme Court Justice, he will have to run the gauntlet of the Republican-controlled Senate, and prevail there. The only real chance of that: if he picks a nominee so universally admired that it would be too embarrassing for the Senate not to respond." (SCOTUSblog)

  2. John Oliver, journalist?
    His HBO show resumed last night. And, for sure, "You can't build jokes on sand. You can't be wrong about something — otherwise that joke just disintegrates...You try to be as rigorous as you can in terms of fact-checking because your responsibility is to make sure that your joke is structurally sound." But is what he does investigative journalism? "No," he says, quite succinctly. (NPR)
  3. The GOP debate
    Who won in South Carolina Saturday night? "Everyone has a different spin." (Greenville Online) It was the "biggest and most heated verbal brawl of the season as Donald Trump berated Jeb Bush and even struck out at other members of the Bush family..." (Post and Courier) Others in the South Carolina media focused on the predictable response that the next president should pick Scalia's replacement. (Aiken Standard) Nationally, there were the now pro forma lists of purported winners and losers. (The Washington Post) And there was mention of a weird exchange in which Marco Rubio accused Ted Cruz of not being able to speak Spanish. (CNN) As far as production of the debate, John Dickerson of CBS News hosted a debate for the second time and was terrific. When the federal commission that oversees general election debates convenes, he should surely be among a top echelon of prospective moderator choices.
  4. 97-year-old, Chicago freelancer win Polk Awards
    The George Polk Awards for Journalism honored meritorious work, including The New York Times for a hidden history of the Navy Seals, The Washington Post for a database on killings by police officers, The Associated Press on abuse of workers in the seafood industry, The Wall Street Journal for looking into a Silicon Valley blood testing company, and the Tampa Bay Times for showing the link between declining black student achievement and the de facto resegregation of five schools in Pinellas County.

    Two off-the-beaten-track winners were Jet magazine's Simeon Booker, 97, for lifetime achievement that includes coverage of the 1955 murder of Chicago teenager Emmett Till In Mississippi, and Jamie Kalven, a Chicago freelancer and human rights activist who beat the local media pack in breaking stories about the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald that contradicted the official line. (The New York Times)

  5. Addendum to Scalia obituary
    The New York Times' Scalia obituary indicated that he'd had a falling out with Geoffrey Stone, a prominent University of Chicago law professor over Stone's 2007 interpretation of a court decision involving the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

    Stone had noted that all five justices in the majority were Roman Catholic, while the four who are not "all followed clear and settled precedent." The obituary said Scalia was furious and decided he'd never appear again at the university (where he once taught) until Stone, a former dean of the law school, was no longer on the faculty. I tracked down Stone Sunday. He said they had made up.

    "Yes. He very graciously came back to the Law School after we made up and gave a lecture, taught a class, and met with faculty, students, and alumni. He asked me to introduce him at several of the events, and he hired several Chicago clerks in the years since." Stone was moved himself Sunday to write about their relationship and his own take on Scalia's impact, according him somewhat less influence than some analysts contend. (The Daily Beast)

  6. Trump, Sanders and disdain for journalism
    Peggy Noonan assessed the Trump and Sanders "rebellion" Saturday and argued that its disdain for elites includes "establishment journalism." For eight months, the journalists have been "simultaneously at Donald Trump's feet...and at his throat." She touches a topic broached by CNN's Jake Tapper, who finds elitism in some takes on Trump backers. That take, she writes, lets journalists "avoid taking seriously Mr. Trump's issues: illegal immigration and Washington's 15-year, bipartisan refusal to stop it; political correctness and how it is strangling a free people; and trade policies that have left the American working class displaced, adrift and denigrated." (The Wall Street Journal).
  7. Breaking the Scalia story
    The staff of the San Antonio Express-News went into action after a tip about Scalia's death. First came a tip. Then a reporter who happened to be near the ranch Scalia was staying about seven hours away from San Antonio saw a hearse (later discovered to be a decoy) pull up to the ranch. Then came more legwork. (Poynter)

    Ultimately they learned he'd been at a party the night before, went back to his room to bed and didn't show at breakfast Saturday. Gary Martin, politics editor, said in an email exchange that there were seven people bylined or tagged on the story and three others (photo and online) involved. His people were across the street from the ranch when the hearse arrived but didn't report the body actually moved by hearse. From tip to confirmation was about two and a half hours.

  8. Bloomberg's editor on not covering his boss
    Kathy Kiely, an editor at Bloomberg Politics, quit when it was clear that the company wouldn't let her political reporters do much reporting on a New York Times disclosure that Michael Bloomberg was mulling an independent presidential run. John Micklethwait, Bloomberg's editor in chief, calls her resignation "'a little odd,' given the company’s stated policy of not covering itself or its founder to avoid the appearance of bias. 'If he did declare, then we would probably come up with a more formal set of things, and that’s something I’m looking at with Washington people,' Mr. Micklethwait said." One would hope so. Again, it's Bloomberg's own terminal straitjacket; a set of rules essentially not letting reporters report on the company or its boss. (The New York Times)
  9. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
    Sally Ramirez is now news director for KHOU in Houston, Texas. Previously, she was assistant news director for KGW in Portland, Oregon. (Rick Gevers) | Job of the day: Philadelphia Media Network is seeking a social media producer. Get your resumes in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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