This is an ironic day in American political life, a day in which lots of labels are being tossed around by journalists -- in some cases, once again, with little thought given to whether those labels are still relevant or accurate.
That thunderclap you just heard was, of course, the news that Justice Antonin Scalia had died. The timing is stunning, to say the least, with a White House race unfolding and a U.S. Supreme court schedule packed with major cases linked to the First Amendment and church-state issues.
There is too much coverage, already, to try to take a look at it all. But let me make a few suggestions for some guidelines for readers as they dig into the coverage.
Look for coverage that quotes Scalia's friends as well as his enemies. You will know that you're in good company, in terms of journalism, when you hit features that note that some of his fiercest opponents, when it came time to argue law, were also among his closest friends.
Scalia was a conservative in several senses of that word, especially when it came to law and to faith. Yet, like the word "liberal," that is a word that is often of little use when discussing matters of law and now politics. Right now, an old-school First Amendment liberal, or literalist, increasingly looks like a cultural conservative.
So look for stories that refuse to pin simplistic labels on Scalia.
Also note that the written work of this justice -- famous and infamous for his use of wit and sarcasm -- is reduced to one of those shallow verbs that journalists use when, basically, they want to call someone simplistic or even dumb: