Misjudging Roberts – Newsweek dismisses accurate information on judge’s record


Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Media analysis, critiques and activism


August 2, 2005

Like much of the mainstream media coverage, Newsweek magazine’s August 1 cover story on Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts was overwhelmingly positive. But Newsweek went even further than most, dismissing as inaccurate stories that depicted Roberts as a conservative partisan—even though it was Newsweek, in fact, that was getting the stories wrong.

Newsweek led off its report by saying that “true believers on the left and the right, hoping to rouse their armies for a showdown over John Roberts, immediately trumpeted two ‘facts’… Both intriguing items about Roberts, widely reported in the mainstream media, served as fodder for the talkshow blab wars. Problem is, they aren’t true.”

The first supposed falsehood: “Liberal bloggers floated conspiracy theories about the behind-the-scenes role he played on Bush’s legal team in the epic court fight after the 2000 election, a contribution that supposedly earned the president’s undying gratitude.” The reality, according to Newsweek: “Roberts’s role in the case of Bush v. Gore was minimal, according to colleagues who worked with him. Roberts did briefly go to Florida to be on hand as a legal consultant, but he was preoccupied with working on the adoption of a baby son.”

As it turns out, the liberal bloggers’ “conspiracy theories” were closer to the mark, as more careful reporting revealed that Roberts was an important part of the Bush legal team. According to a report in the Miami Herald (7/27/05), Roberts worked “as legal consultant, lawsuit editor and prep coach for arguments before the nation’s highest court, according to the man who drafted him for the job.” The Herald noted that Roberts was considered one of the top names for the effort, which he worked on for “a week to 10 days”; as Bush adviser Ted Cruz told the paper, “There was no one better for the job.”

Newsweek’s other gotcha: “Right-wingers smugly assumed Roberts’s membership in the Federalist Society, an organization that has taken on an almost cultish mystique as both incubator and old boys’ network for conservative jurists and lawyers in Washington.” Here Newsweek was following the line of the White House, which went so far as to demand corrections from media outlets that had reported Roberts was a Federalist Society member. But as the Washington Post revealed (7/25/05), Roberts was not only listed in the group’s 1997-98 leadership directory—he’s named as a member of the Washington chapter’s steering committee.

Dismissing these accurate stories served to bolster Newsweek’s claim that Roberts was “conservative, but apolitical,” and that his confirmation was a sure thing. As the magazine put it, “Roberts’s marginal involvement as a political activist is revealing. It suggests that Roberts is not the hard-line ideologue that true believers on both sides had hoped for… Barring unforeseen and unlikely bombshells, Roberts seems destined to be confirmed without the kind of stormy melodrama that boosts cable-TV ratings and fills the coffers of activist groups in Washington.”

Indeed, Newsweek could hardly contain its enthusiasm about a nominee who “sees the law as a set of time-tested rules that allow people to work out their differences and to trust each other—a body of principles and precedents that bring order and predictability to civic life, which have the effect not of dividing, but of harmonizing and unifying society.” The magazine concluded that “from all that can be gleaned about Roberts, he will decide each case, one at a time, with great intellectual rigor and honesty.”

Given that Newsweek led its story with mischaracterizations about Roberts’ record, “intellectual rigor and honesty” would compel the magazine to set the record straight for its readers. But this week’s issue of the magazine (8/8/05) did not correct the article’s inaccurate assertions.

Ask Newsweek to correct the inaccurate claims in its August 1 story about John G. Roberts’ role in the Florida recount and his connections to the Federalist Society.


To read the Newsweek article, go to:

Your donation to FAIR makes a difference:

The Oh Really? Factor

FAIR SHIRTS: Get your “Don’t Trust the Corporate Media” shirt today at FAIR’s online store:

FAIR produces CounterSpin, a weekly radio show heard on over 130 stations in the U.S. and Canada. To find the CounterSpin station nearest you, visit

Feel free to respond to FAIR ( ). We can’t reply to everything, but we will look at each message. We especially appreciate documented examples of media bias or censorship. And please send copies of your email correspondence with media outlets, including any responses, to .

You can subscribe to FAIR-L at our web site: . Our subscriber list is kept confidential.


(212) 633-6700


You are currently subscribed to fair-l as:
To unsubscribe send a blank email to:

NOTE: To change your address, simply unsubscribe your old address, and re-subscribe with your new address.

Back to Main Index