I've heard of contempt of court, but open contempt for a judge? That’s apparently OK if that judge is Roy Moore.
Like this headline. " 'Not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama': State's chief justice ousted over anti-gay-marriage order," crows The Los Angeles Times. And that's just the most blatant of several tactics in several articles meant to manipulate your view of the case.
Moore, the always controversial chief justice of Alabama, was suspended after telling its probate judges not to issue gay marriage licenses even after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized them. That drew fire not only from the usual liberal groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center -- which filed the complaint that launched the probe -- but also their acolytes in mainstream media.
But before dissecting individual specimens, let's take a workmanlike example -- the Associated Press account, run by CBS News:
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s defiance of federal court rulings on same-sex marriage violated judicial ethics, a disciplinary court ruled on Friday before suspending him for the rest of his term.
The punishment effectively removes Moore from office without the nine-member Alabama Court of the Judiciary officially ousting him. Given his age, he will not be able to run for chief justice again under state law.
Moore was found to have encouraged probate judges to deny marriage licenses to gay couples six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that everyone has a fundamental right to marry in all 50 states.
Not that Moore skirts controversy. He's the same guy who put a stone monument of the Ten Commandments in a court building, then refused to remove it. So the Court of Judiciary -- the same panel involved here -- tossed him out in 2003. Yet he was re-elected years later.
All of that is in the 400-word AP article, but the Los Angeles Times goes further. Right from the lede, you can tell where things are going:
Roy Moore, the conservative Alabama chief justice who ordered probate judges across the state not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was ousted from his position Friday after an ethics panel found him guilty of violating the canons of judicial ethics.
The 69-year-old Baptist, who was removed outright from his position more than a decade ago, was suspended without pay for the remainder of his term. He cannot be reelected because of age restrictions.
Yep, the framing device of "conservative" shouts from the first line. A further shout-out in the second paragraph: "Baptist." Never mind that Baptists in Alabama are even more common than Catholics in New York or Chicago and not all Baptists down in that part of the Bible Belt are social conservatives. For many secular media, "conservative" and "Baptist" are synonyms for "bad" and/or "backward."
Oh, and that sneer about being an "Ayatollah"? That came from the guy who originally went after Moore:
Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center — which filed the initial ethics complaint against Moore — said in a statement that Moore had disgraced his office by putting his personal religious beliefs above his duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the panel had done Alabama citizens a great service.
"Moore was elected to be a judge, not a preacher. It's something that he never seemed to understand," Cohen said. "The people of Alabama who cherish the rule of law are not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama."
Granted, as the accuser, SPLC belongs in the article. But of the 12 articles I reviewed, the Los Angeles Times is the only one that used the insult. And plugging it into a tabloid-type headline? That's like saying, "You tell 'em, Richard!"
The paper does offer a tantalizing quote on the other side:
Ultimately, the court fashioned a Solomonic resolution that effectively removed Moore from office while avoiding the appearance of overriding the preference of Alabama voters who elected him to office, said Ronald Krotoszynski, a law professor at the University of Alabama.
However, there is no follow up. The Times could have put that question to the judiciary court, but it didn’t. It only quotes Moore's attorney, Mat Staver of Liberty Council, who accuses the court of resorting to suspension because it didn’t have nine votes for a removal.
Alabama-based Al.com, as you might expect, wrote the longest account of the case at nearly 2,000 words. And it's the only one I saw that quotes Moore's reaction at length -- albeit solely in his written reply, not a live quote. An excerpt:
During the trial which lasted approximately four hours, the JIC produced no witnesses, no affidavits, and no evidence to meet their burden of proving by "clear and convincing" evidence that the Administrative order of January 6, 2016 violated the Canons of Judicial Ethics.
This was a politically motivated effort by radical homosexual and transgender groups to remove me as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court because of outspoken opposition to their immoral agenda.
Most other media use mainly the soundbite about the "politically motivated effort" by gay groups. But I saw no one ask Moore for evidence.
Also interesting was Moore's charge that his accusers "produced no witnesses, no affidavits, and no evidence." Al.com should have asked the court if that was true.
NPR gets its own licks in, though more subtly. It approvingly quotes its own reporter Debbie Elliott, saying Moore "forced the debate last year when he issued orders in conflict with a Mobile, Ala., federal judge's ruling that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage."
Got that? It wasn't the federal judge who forced the debate; it was Moore in his answer. Noted.
Other articles slip in their own code words.
For two New York papers, Moore is first and foremost a conservative. The New York Times calls Moore an "outspoken conservative." In the Wall Street Journal, he's "known for his outspoken socially conservative views."
Now, these labels apply to Moore. That's not the issue. The problem is that only one side gets labeled. Richard Cohen of the SPLC, for examples, is not deemed an "outspoken liberal," although both articles include him.
Finally, Reuters conjures some guilt by association in the form of a '60s-era segregationist: He’s been "compared to a modern-day George Wallace, the former Alabama governor who made the iconic 'stand in the school house door' in defiance of federal rulings to integrate schools."
Who made that comparison?
Doesn't say. My guess would be Reuters.