NPR’s Fake News From the SCOTUS

Written by Tim Graham

CNN anchor Brianna Keilar is hosting a temporary program pompously titled “Democracy In Peril.” On Jan. 18, Keilar huffed: “We can’t discuss the tsunami of disinformation, jeopardizing American democracy, without talking about the mothership, Fox.”

On the very same day, NPR U.S. Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg aired a story claiming that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was callously ignoring requests from Chief Justice John Roberts to wear a mask during oral arguments in deference to diabetes-suffering colleague Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Fox News reporter Shannon Bream, using a different source, appeared on “Special Report with Bret Baier” and announced it was not true that Roberts made any such request, or that Sotomayor expressed anything to Gorsuch on this matter.

In his “Reliable Sources” newsletter, CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote, “NPR’s incredibly well-sourced Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg published a scoop on Tuesday about Justice Sonia Sotomayor attending SCOTUS conferences remotely because Justice Neil Gorsuch keeps refusing to wear a mask. She cited multiple sources. Later in the day, Fox’s Shannon Bream cited her own source and disputed NPR’s story. In essence, Bream was absolving Gorsuch … CNN’s Ariane de Vogue, meantime, matched key parts of NPR’s reporting.”

Sadly for NPR and CNN, statements came out from the court that exposed this story as fake news. First, Gorsuch and Sotomayor issued a statement saying, “Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false.” NPR and Totenberg legalistically insisted they never reported an argument between these justices. Then Roberts added his denial that directly contradicted NPR’s story: “I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench.”

NPR’s anonymously sourced information had devolved into misinformation, and Fox News had reported the truth. But NPR’s David Gura (a former MSNBC weekend host) doubled down, tweeting he was “surprised at how many Supreme Court correspondents I admire are passing along a statement from two justices that is at best false without any context whatsoever.”

NPR lamely defended itself by claiming, “The NPR report said the chief justice’s ask to the justices had come ‘in some form.’ NPR stands by its reporting.” So, they’re suggesting Roberts is dishonestly denying whatever “form” they nebulously claim.

But if CNN wants to debate who has engaged in a “tsunami of disinformation,” they could always look at all the liberal media outlets and leftist Twitterati who piled on Totenberg’s discredited reporting. Drew Holden assembled one of his typically long Twitter threads of all of the aggressive media pickups of the NPR report.

On MSNBC, Democrat hack Brian Fallon said that based on Totenberg’s “terrific reporting,” he thought, “what a mean-spirited, almost ghoulish person Gorsuch is.” Joy Reid fussed Gorsuch “could not be bothered to extend a lifesaving courtesy to his co-worker.” Eddie Glaude tweeted, “These people are monsters.”

After her story crashed and burned, Totenberg came back to NPR and noted, “Sotomayor and Gorsuch issued a statement saying that she did not ask him to wear a mask. NPR’s report did not say that she did. And the chief justice issued a statement saying that he, quote, ‘did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other justice to wear a mask on the bench.'” She didn’t note to NPR listeners that Roberts directly denied what NPR claimed.

For conservatives, this fiasco underlines that Totenberg’s long taxpayer-funded career has been a partisan exercise in kissing liberal rings (especially her very public friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and raining fire on conservative judges with investigative attacks. You have to guess that Clarence Thomas was laughing heartily behind his mask.

Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and host of the NewsBusters Podcast. His career at the Media Research Center began in February 1989 as associate editor of MediaWatch, the monthly newsletter of the MRC before the Internet era.