If you had a reporter who was an abortion-rights activist, spoke publicly against religious conservatives and George Bush, and wept openly at a recent Simon and Garfunkel concert, what beat would you assign her? Certainly not music -- and certainly not the Supreme Court, right?
Think again. The New York Times has no problem at all with keeping Linda Greenhouse in just that plum beat.
Ever since she marched in a 1989 abortion-rights rally, readers who don't share her political opinions have questioned Greenhouse's coverage of politically divisive court rulings.
NPR's awesomely named David Folkenflik had a fascinating story on All Things Considered that raises new issues arising from a June speech Greenhouse gave at Harvard:
Greenhouse went on to charge that since then, the U.S. government had "turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha and other places around the world -- [such as] the U.S. Congress."
She also observed a "sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism. To say that these last few years have been dispiriting is an understatement."
A few weeks after that speech, the Supreme Court knocked down some of the government's assertion of executive powers involving detainees at Guantanamo. And the court will soon hear arguments in an abortion case.
I think it's interesting that this speech was given in June to 800 people and the first most anyone has heard about it is months later. Greenhouse's political biases aren't exactly hidden, but it is also surprising that she's this open about her leftist views.
I noted problems Greenhouse had in covering a January abortion ruling, but her personal biases aren't necessarily reflected in her coverage.
Still, it's hard to imagine a reporter with similarly extreme conservative views having such a plum position at the Times or winning a Pulitzer.
Folkenflik's piece had a few other great nuggets:
Sandy Rowe, editor of the Oregonian and a past chairwoman of the executive committee of the Pulitzer Prize board. Rowe praises Greenhouse's work -- but questions her judgment.
"If she or any other reporter stakes out a strong position on an issue that is still evolving both in society and before the courts, yes, I think that is problematic," Rowe says.
Greenhouse tells NPR, "I said what I said in a public place. Let the chips fall where they may."
Again, can anyone imagine where the chips would fall for a New York Times Supreme Court reporter who equated abortion to murder?
Jack Nelson, former Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, blanches at hearing of Greenhouse's remarks, but agrees with her tough critique of the White House.
"If I was the Washington bureau chief and she was my Supreme Court reporter, I might have to answer to the editors in L.A. for that," Nelson says. "But I would do my best to support her."
Asked if he would defend Greenhouse had she said something he disagreed with, however, Nelson laughed -- and said he would take issue if she had backed Bush policy.
What is Jack Nelson thinking? He would support reporters who expressed one bias but not another? People who've read surveys of reporters personal political views aren't necessarily surprised by such statements, but shouldn't these people be keeping these things secret?
Anyway, great story idea. It will be interesting to see if Times editors take any action here.