ProPublica often practices what you might call Potemkin journalism — dressing up non-stories with neutral-sounding reporting verbiage and lots of graphs and pictures that seem important at first glance, but in actuality tell us very little.
One of the best examples of the practice can be found in today’s smearing of Clarence Thomas, a hobbyhorse of leftists since 1991. In it we learn that the Supreme Court justice has a super-rich friend. And that super-rich friend, GOP donor Harlan Crow, invites Thomas on “luxury” vacations from time to time at his “private resort,” “sprawling ranch,” “all-male retreat,” and on his “superyacht.” As all the adjectives strongly suggest, all of it is very upscale. Most of the luxury vacations that happen “virtually every year,” it seems, have Clarence and Ginni Thomas spending “about a week” during the summer as guests at one of Crow’s resorts in the Adirondacks.
Here is a little taste of the pretend journalism:
There’s evidence Thomas has taken even more trips on the superyacht. Crow often gave his guests custom polo shirts commemorating their vacations, according to staff. ProPublica found photographs of Thomas wearing at least two of those shirts. In one, he wears a blue polo shirt embroidered with the Michaela Rose’s logo and the words “March 2007” and “Greek Islands.”
There are, indeed, lots of incriminating pictures in the piece — even a shot of a signed book! — because people who do furtive, illegal, corrupt stuff always wear commemorative custom-made polo shirts of their trips and then take lots of snapshots. Evidence, indeed.
The internet has “exploded” with comments from the usual suspects mischaracterizing the trips as bribes, though everything reported by ProPublica is completely legal and unrelated to Thomas’ work on the court. Well, perhaps I should say all this is very related to his work on the court, just not in the way ProPublica insinuates.
Thomas’ venial sin is not caring what the media or elites think of him. His mortal sins are practicing and believing in originalism and bucking the racial stereotypes of the left. That’s the only reason The Washington Post keeps publishing deep dives into Ginni Thomas’ completely legal political activism.
Thomas has zero legal obligation to disclose where he goes on vacation to journalists or anyone else — whether they are “luxury” trips or not. The idea that Thomas is secretly engaging in these activities because he fails to provide the editors at ProPublica or The New York Times with his itinerary is beyond preposterous. The only even debatable part of the disclosures would be his failure to report private flights as transportation expenses. (A genuine piece of journalism would have investigated the practices of all justices on this front.) But the idea, as one “expert” claims in the piece, that spending time on a friend’s yacht should be reported as transportation, rather than a vacation, is also nonsensical.
While the purpose of ProPublica’s piece is to frame all this as unethical, it offers not a single substantive instance of anything remotely approaching a conflict of interest. No cases involving Harlan Crow have ever reached Thomas. And there are no examples of Thomas having changed his positions to accommodate anyone. ProPublica takes an embarrassing stab at making this contention by noting that Thomas’s criticism of an old Chevron-related case means that he’s adopted a concept “newly popular on the right, that would limit government regulation.” Yes, limiting government regulation is a wholly newfangled idea within Federalist Society circles. Pulitzer on the way.
But, of course, leftists can’t believe anyone has a good-faith position in opposition to their own. A person can either be bought by nefarious moneymen, be misled by nefarious moneymen, or be nefarious themselves. Those are the choices.
You want to write about Thomas’ vacations, fine. A Supreme Court justice is a public figure. The real story here is a boring one. Then again, the decades-long smearing of Thomas is unprecedented in modern American history. And with renewed efforts to delegitimize any court bound to constitutional limits — which is what all this is really about — it’s only going to get worse.