Another Silly Media Hoax: Maskgate


One media personality is still on her beat since I first arrived in Washington DC in late 1978. She is National Public Radio’s award-winning legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, who just celebrated her 78th birthday. The Washington and New York media axis has celebrated her intrepid coverage of politics and the secretive Supreme Court for more than 50 years. A “founding mother” of NPR, she’s called.

If you’ve listened to taxpayer-funded NPR at anytime over the past 40 or so years, you’ve heard her. Her first big story after arriving in Washington was a profile on the then-76-year-old Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover. It reportedly enraged him. It used to be that taking on powerful insider Washington establishment figures was The Ticket to stardom. Those were the days.

She was once fired for plagiarism (she has that in common with the President of the United States). She attended but apparently never graduated from Boston University. BU graduate and US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), famed Economics major, at least matriculated. Despite being a legal affairs correspondent, Totenberg has no formal legal training (she studied Journalism at BU, which appears on par with their Economics program, based on AOC’s vaunted policy pronouncements and work).

Nina Totenberg interviews a close friend, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

One biography refers to her as an actress. She did appear as herself in a fun 1993 movie, Dave, starring Kevin Kline, along with other well-known Washington media celebrities. She also made appearances in two other movies, including The Distinguished Gentleman, starring Eddie Murphy, and Original Intent: The Battle for Americaa leftist documentary attacking the judicial philosophy of the Bush 41 Administration and specifically Justice Clarence Thomas. Heady stuff for a journalist-cum-celebrity.

She has long moved comfortably amidst Washington’s Democratic political and media elite. She married a Democratic US Senator, the late Floyd Haskell (D-CO), not long before he was soundly defeated for reelection in 1978 by the late Bill Armstrong (R-CO).

Her legal reporting is also legendary. From a biography published at the Jewish Women’s Archive. Perhaps you’ll spot a trend:

Nina Totenberg, one of the best-known journalists at National Public Radio (NPR), is well-known for reporting behind-the-scenes stories of political and legal developments and presenting them in a comprehensible format to the general public. Her reports played a role in placing the subject of sexual harassment on the national agenda during the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U. S. Supreme Court. Moving in circles of Washington’s political elite, Totenberg stood out as a close friend of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who officiated at Totenberg’s second marriage. Totenberg maintains that personal relationships do not influence her reporting.

Feel free to laugh after that last sentence.

She also broke the story about one of President Reagan’s Supreme Court nominees, Federal Appeals Court Judge Douglas Ginsberg’s (no apparent relation to Ruth) marijuana smoking (how quaint!), while teaching law at Harvard in the 1960s, forcing him to withdraw. Ginsberg was replaced by now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was succeeded in 2017 by Neil Gorsuch.

This neatly segues to the week’s latest breaking story from Totenberg, based on the new media “ethic” of an anonymous source. It frankly smacks of gossip, but it’s the kind that official Washington loves.

It was pretty jarring earlier this month when the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court took the bench for the first time since the omicron surge over the holidays. All were now wearing masks. All, that is, except Justice Neil Gorsuch. What’s more, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was not there at all, choosing instead to participate through a microphone setup in her chambers.

Sotomayor has diabetes, a condition that puts her at high risk for serious illness, or even death, from COVID-19. She has been the only justice to wear a mask on the bench since last fall when, amid a marked decline in COVID-19 cases, the justices resumed in-person arguments for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

Now, though, the situation had changed with the omicron surge, and according to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked. Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form asked the other justices to mask up.

They all did. Except Gorsuch, who, as it happens, sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone.

Gorsuch, from the beginning of his tenure, has proved a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court.

No editorializing in this story, nope, just straight news. Are there no editors at NPR? Oh, wait, yes there are. Because they apparently don’t run in Nina’s lofty social circles, she is free to ignore them. And she does.

Mask Denier and Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Although some of her wording was strange, the break itself isn’t the real story. It’s her doubling down in the face of two denials by the court, including one by the Chief Justice. She’s basically calling them liars. Worse was the Washington Democratic media’s echo chamber piling on, well documented by independent journalist Drew Holden on Twitter. Here’s how he started.

Then Justices Gorsuch and Sotomayor issued a joint statement denying the critical part of the story. Chief Justice John Roberts also followed up to deny that he ever asked justices to wear masks on the bench.

From The Daily Beast: “In a statement, Gorsuch and Sotomayor said: ‘Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.’ In his statement, Roberts said, ‘I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench.’”

Both Totenberg and NPR stand behind the story, despite official denials. Who are you going to believe?

If you’re the mainstream media and their usual suspects in the Washington echo chamber, it’s Totenberg. A few samples, again courtesy of Drew Holden and the Washington Examiner, starting with often-wrong-but-never-in-doubt and always civil Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, and then the DC media elite’s favorite go-to “conservative,” Bill Kristol.

Neither has apologized for nor retracted their comments, to the best of my knowledge. Why should they, since Totenberg hasn’t, either? As Holden notes, “From Russiagate to Covington Catholic and beyond, we see so many of these stories: they *feel* right to reporters/outlets, and so they get repeated, but then they prove to be false.” It simply confirmed their own biases about conservatives and public officials they don’t like, facts be damned. And as often happen, a dubious “breaking story” gets repeated unquestionably by other media.

Here are a few more fellow-traveling pearl-clutchers, just for good measure, including a founder of the Lincoln Project and of course Commander Sulu. Models of civility.

Never overestimate the media’s ability to perpetrate hoaxes, especially hate crimes. Examples: Steele dossier and Trump-Russia collusion hoax; the Jussie Smollett race-baiting “MAGA country” hoax; the Bubba Wallace NASCAR garage noose hoax; the Covington Catholic Boys hoax (from which Nick Sandmann has collected at least one large settlement); several false reports about Kyle Rittenhouse. And now this.

Just because you want to believe something doesn’t make it accurate. And a journalist’s prime directive is, or should be, a relentless pursuit of the truth, not a relentless promotion of a narrative. Perhaps when you’re part of a vaunted elite social class in Washington, maintaining your status and keeping those speech and dinner invitations coming appears more important than your duty.

Totenberg, her allies, and their useful idiots may think they’re undermining a conservative majority on the Supreme Court or perhaps pressuring them to rule in a preferred way in several upcoming cases. That won’t work. I guess it will make them look good at (or, at least get invited to) their next dinner party in tony Kalorama. I hope they remember their masks. Too bad Pearl Mesta isn’t around to host it. Wait, don’t the Obamas still live in northwest Washington? And Washington Post publisher Jeff Bezos?

The Washington Examiner editorializes it well:

Why did so many people fall for this fake news? The answer is obvious: They already disliked Gorsuch because of his views, so they gladly jumped on a story that, in their minds, confirmed they were right to dislike him.

Every single person who elevated NPR’s false reporting and used it to insult Gorsuch should admit the error and apologize. But they won’t — because as they proved this week, they’re not honest, nor are they interested in the truth. They’re partisans, and they deserve to be dismissed as such.

The American people see through it, and it’s the media that’s undermining itself, and rather effectively. The latest polling proves it. Maybe someone will encourage Totenberg, at age 78, to make the leap to retirement. The water’s fine, Nina.

2022 Edelman Trust Barometer

Maybe Senators, fresh off preserving their filibuster, can take a new look at whether NPR or its affiliates are worthy of a single taxpayer dollar when their appropriation bill comes up later this year. I know how I’d vote.

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There are 14 comments.

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  1. Nohaaj Coolidge

    It’s nice for our side to know the truth, but the reality is, the masses hear only the Totenberg story, and they hear it inflated and reverberated infinitely in the MSM, without correction.  There is still a vast number of Americans who KNOW that Trump is a white supremacist, colluded with Russia, Has a pee tape with hookers, that Nick Sandmann is a racist, that Juicy Smollei did endure a near lynching at the hands of Maga hatted hicks in Chicago.  Why would they think otherwise? Even our own Susan was taken in by the always fake news that Trump and DeSantis were at odds. (subsequently corrected) 

    We live in a world where there are two realities, ours and the left’s. And the left’s reality is the only side that receives widespread publication and amplification. 

    • #1
  2. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball

    Where are the misinformation algorithm’s when stuff like this is published?  This woman is shameless.

    • #2
  3. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow

    Nohaaj (View Comment):
    We live in a world where there are two realities, ours and the left’s. And the left’s reality is the only side that receives widespread publication and amplification. 

    That’s why we have Ricochet! Currently a voice in the wilderness, but with the guys at The Daily Wire, and Tucker, and (gasp) the incomparable Joe Rogan, and maybe the phial of Galadriel, as well as many other small points of enlightenment out there, we skeptical, irascible bastards will keep the truth alive.

    • #3
  4. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to listen to NPR a lot. I enjoyed Car Talk, Prairie Home Companion, Fresh Air, Weekend Edition, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me… All the things. I was really considering giving money, even though I already give through taxes. But I almost became an NPR member. Then came Nina Totenberg’s nasty, partisan attacks on Clarence Thomas’ nomination for Supreme Court Justice and I’ve never again considered giving money to NPR any more than I’d give to the DNC, because… Same-Same.

    • #4
  5. genferei Member

    And a journalist’s prime directive is, or should be, a relentless pursuit of the truth, not a relentless promotion of a narrative

    No. Never has been. Never will be. Continuing to believe this progressive fable is handing the press a position and power they do not and cannot deserve. 

    There is nothing wrong with normies watching the “news” on ABC etc, as long as they don’t believe it. After all, no-one really believes that Coke Adds Life or that professional wrestling is a pure athletic contest. But as long as the progressive myth that journalism is or could be about “truth” persists, folks will be confused.

    Journalists are (cheap) entertainers. They should be treated with an amused contempt. Anyone who professes to believe what they say should be – gently or severely – corrected. 

    • #5
  6. DaveSchmidt Coolidge

    I was a loyal listener to NPR news until they stretched all credibility in their coverage of Bill Clinton.   I loved the shows like Car Talk and PHC.  Wait, Wait was toxic from the beginning.  I would listen until it got unbearable.  When I found I could no longer get past the 5 minute mark I just stopped tuning in.  

    • #6
  7. Architectus Coolidge

    When I first heard about the story, I wondered if there were simply some misunderstanding or miscommunication.  Then I heard the very clear denials from all those actually involved, and thought it was curious that a reporter could get a story so totally wrong.  Then I heard that it was Nina (The Hack) Totenberg, and it all made sense.  

    • #7
  8. GlennAmurgis Coolidge

    Of course Kristol and his suckups at the bulwark will push the lefty line – What was the scam, “The Weekly Standard” or “The Bulwark”?

    • #8
  9. Sandy Member

    Very funny piece on NPR by Tucker.  Also we learn from the North Country Public Radio website that four on-air hosts quit last year, and three were women of color.  Uh-oh!  In the same article we learn that there are no trans/non-binary/gender nonconforming persons and no American Indian/Alaskan native/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian persons.  I mean to say, no wonder Nina was needed to give things a boost.

    • #9
  10. Columbo Member

    Of course azzhat Kristol is on the wrong side of any story. What an insecure and cowardly dolt, with entirely zero self awareness.

    • #10
  11. Sandy Member

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Of course azzhat Kristol is on the wrong side of any story. What an insecure and cowardly dolt, with entirely zero self awareness.

    I don’t see him as a dolt. I think it’s worse than that. He has crossed the street and he’s sticking with his nasty new neighbors. 

    • #11
  12. Columbo Member

    Sandy (View Comment):

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Of course azzhat Kristol is on the wrong side of any story. What an insecure and cowardly dolt, with entirely zero self awareness.

    I don’t see him as a dolt. I think it’s worse than that. He has crossed the street and he’s sticking with his nasty new neighbors.

    Yes, I replaced the non-CoC word that I wanted to use with dolt. You’re right ‘dolt’ is not the correct word. He has been shown to be a fool, due to his biases against conservatives who choose to act on their beliefs and make him look bad by comparison.

    • #12
  13. CACrabtree Coolidge

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Of course azzhat Kristol is on the wrong side of any story. What an insecure and cowardly dolt, with entirely zero self awareness.

    Looks a bit like those recruiting posters in 1930s Germany.

    • #13
  14. J Ro Member
    J Ro

    For goodness sake, can all these pre-Boomers on the public teat please retire already!

    Our country seems to be run by almost 80-somethings. Enough!

    • #14
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