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Wall Street Journal Editor: ProPublica’s ‘Comically Incompetent’ on Thomas

by | Apr 25, 2023

By Tim Graham

Liberal journalists deeply hate Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, so the latest liberal-funded journalism by ProPublica has been promoted by other media outlets. But Wall Street Journal editorial features editor James Taranto savagely criticized this reporting on Friday under the headline “Justice Clarence Thomas and the Plague of Bad Reporting.

This is Taranto’s second article on what he calls “comically incompetent journalism” on Thomas. After the first, a Denver Post editor tweeted against him for attacking good journalists, which spurred this memorable quote: 

I would never attack good journalists, if only for fear of harming an endangered species. My contention is that the ProPublica troika’s work is a travesty of journalism, and I am increasingly disinclined to credit them with practicing journalism at all.

Taranto’s largest point is that Thomas was guilty of an error on his public disclosures about his friend Harlan Crow buying his childhood home, and Taranto pointed out this has also happened with liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and now Ketanji Brown Jackson. But none of those drew the slightest whiff of outrage from ProPublica liberals.

Justice Thomas’s decision to amend his disclosure is so insignificant that ProPublica, which discovered and hyped the omission, hasn’t bothered to claim vindication or to report the amendment at all. Justin Elliott, a member of the site’s anti-Thomas troika, tweeted the CNN story but didn’t mention the amended disclosure. Instead he touted the revelation that “Harlan Crow is not charging Justice Thomas’ mother rent.”

ProPublica has responded to my article with silence. It has neither acknowledged the errors in its reporting nor claimed that there were any errors in mine. The attitude seems to be that they’re entitled to their own opinion and to their own facts. 

Taranto pointed out that Thomas’s beneficial relationship with Harlan Crow is similar to liberal Justice William Brennan:

They’re the sort of story that deserves a few hundred words on page 4, and that a single competent reporter should be able to handle. That describes an exemplary 1991 piece by the Post’s Ruth Marcus (now a columnist) headlined “Brennan Discloses Gifts From Local Developer.”

Charles E. Smith, a friend of Justice William Brennan, gave Brennan and his wife cash gifts of $20,000 and forgave $60,000 in mortgage principal before Brennan retired, then forgave another $60,000 after he took senior status in 1990.

Brennan told Ms. Marcus that Smith intended the money as “recognition for my public service,” that it “reflected only the affection and generosity of a dear friend,” and that Smith and his companies never had “any matters before the court or that were affected by court decisions”—all of which is also true of Justice Thomas and Mr. Crow.

Ms. Marcus quoted the American Bar Association’s Code of Judicial Conduct, which suggested that it was acceptable for Brennan to accept the gifts, and Stephen Gillers, a “New York University legal ethics expert,” who said: “If it’s a close personal friend and there’s no direct or indirect appearance before the judge, it’s tolerable but not something you want to encourage.”

But now the Post is quoting Gillers in an amazing flip-flop: “Any presumption in favor of Thomas’s integrity and commitment to comply with the law is gone. His assurances and promises cannot be trusted. Is there more? What’s the whole story? The nation needs to know.”

Shameless, but Gillers is a liberal Democrat who argued in a 2004 New York Times op-ed that John Kerry should choose Bill Clinton as his running mate. 

Editor’s note. This appeared at Newsbusters and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Media Bias