Justice Scalia issues apologies over destruction of tapes

Reporter's Privilege | Feature | April 13, 2004

    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Confidentiality/Privilege    

Justice Scalia issues apologies over destruction of tapes

  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has apologized to reporters for the actions of a U.S. marshal who forced them to erase their audiotape recordings during a public speech he made last week.

April 13, 2004 -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote letters of apology to two Mississippi reporters who were forced by a U.S. marshal to erase their audiotape recordings of Scalia's remarks at a local high school last week.

In a letter dated April 9, two days after the incident, Scalia wrote to reporter Antoinette Konz of The Hattiesburg American , and reporter Denise Grones of The Associated Press' Jackson bureau. "I imagine that is an upsetting and indeed enraging experience, and I want you to know how it happened," Scalia wrote, according to copies of the letters obtained from both news organizations.

Scalia went on to explain his reasons for refusing to allow radio and television coverage of his public appearances. "It has been the tradition of the American judiciary not to thrust themselves into the public eye, where they might come to be regarded as politicians seeking public favor," he wrote.

Scalia also explained that the U.S. marshal's seizure of the tape recorders during his speech at Presbyterian Christian School in Hattiesburg was a mistake. "The marshals were doing what they believed to be their job" to enforce Scalia's policy of prohibiting video and audio recordings of his speeches.

"To tell the truth, even if [the ground rules] had been clarified and some reporter had broken them, I would not have wanted the tape erased," he wrote. "I have learned my lesson (at your expense) and shall certainly be more careful in the future. Indeed, in the future I will make clear that recording for use of the print media is no problem at all."

In a separate response to a protest letter sent by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on April 8, Scalia wrote, "You are correct that the action was not taken at my direction; I was as upset as you were."

In response to the Reporters Committee's request that he permit recording of his speeches, Scalia wrote that he is "undertaking" to revise his personal policy to allow print reporters to do so. He suggested, ironically, that he was misquoted in the reports of his speech in Mississippi, saying that he hopes his new policy will "promote accurate reporting, so that no one will quote me as having said that '[p]eople just don't revere [the Constitution] like they used to.' "

The Reporters Committee had also asked Scalia to change his long-standing policy against appearing on television or radio. In response to that request, Scalia wrote, "The electronic media in the past respected my First Amendment right not to speak on radio or television when I do not wish to do so, and I am sure that courtesy will continue."

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, objected to that policy in a letter sent to Scalia yesterday, and posted on the organization's Web site.

"There is no legal basis for such discrimination," she wrote. "To exclude television cameras and audio recording is the equivalent of taking away pencil and paper from print reporters."

-- KM

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