TOPICS > Politics

Justice Scalia Apologizes to Reporters, Revises Print Media Policy

BY Admin  April 13, 2004 at 4:30 PM EST

During the April 7 incident, the marshal ordered two reporters to erase their recordings at the end of a half-hour speech by the justice at the Hattiesburg’s Presbyterian Christian High School. The reporters, Antoinette Konz of the Hattiesburg American and Denise Grones of the Associated Press, initially balked at handing over their recordings, but complied when Deputy Marshal Melanie Rube reiterated her demand.

The U.S. Marshal Services defended Rube’s actions, pointing to the justice’s longstanding prohibition of any recording of his public remarks. Though this policy was not announced at the high school event, the ban had been announced at an earlier speech Scalia gave at a local college, which both reporters had attended.

“I have written to the reporters involved, extending my apology,” Scalia said in an April 9 letter to Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which had protested the marshal’s actions. The committee posted the letter on its Web site Monday.

Calling the organization’s concern “well justified,” Scalia wrote: “I was as upset as you were” to learn of the deputy marshal’s action, which, he said, “was not taken at my direction.”

In the letters to Grones and Konz, which the reporters received Tuesday, Scalia explained he had a long-running policy of refusing radio and television coverage of his public appearances.

“It has been the policy of the American judiciary not to thrust themselves into the public eye, where they might come to be regarded as politicians seeking public favor,” Scalia wrote.

Scalia acknowledged that an announcement had been made during his appearance at William Carey College had not been repeated at the high school event.

“I abhor as much as any American the prospect of a law enforcement officer’s seizing a reporter’s notes or recording,” he wrote. “The marshals were doing what they believed to be their job, and the fault was mine in not assuring that the ground rules had been clarified.”

“I have learned my lesson (at your expense), and shall certainly be more careful in the future. Indeed, in the future I will make it clear that recording for use of the print media is no problem at all,” Scalia concluded in the letter.

Konz accepted the apology, but she said she was still troubled that her tape was seized by the marshal and was returned to her only after Konz promised to delete the justice’s speech from it.

“I think it was very honorable for the justice to send a letter of apology … however, the issue remains that the tapes shouldn’t have been seized to begin with,” Konz said, as quoted in the Hattiesburg American.

Grones said Tuesday she was “happy Justice Scalia understands the value of a reporter doing his or her job. Print reporters usually depend heavily on their recorders to ensure accurate quotes, and that’s what I was doing that day.”

Still, Scalia’s apology has not entirely quelled criticism over the April 7 incident.

Scalia said in his letters that the controversy had prompted him to revise his press policy “so as to permit recording for use of the print media” to “promote accurate reporting” and to avoid misquoting his public statements, but said he would maintain his ban against the broadcast press.

“The electronic media have in the past respected my First Amendment right not to speak on radio or television when I do not wish to do so and I am sure that courtesy will continue,” Scalia wrote to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, protested that distinction in an open letter sent to Scalia Monday.

“There is no legal basis for such discrimination,” Cochran wrote. “To exclude television cameras and audio recording is the equivalent of taking away pencil and paper from print reporters.”

Frank Fisher, the Associated Press’s Jackson, Miss., bureau chief, and Jon Broadbooks, executive editor of the Hattiesburg American, each expressed gratitude for Scalia’s apologies but noted disappointment over the different treatment for broadcast reporters.

“We are pleased Justice Scalia has acknowledged that it was wrong for federal law enforcement officers to force reporters to erase their tapes,” Fisher told the AP.

“But the justice also ordered a television crew to leave a public reception before the speech, and newspaper photographers were initially told not to take pictures. We think that deserves an apology, too,” Fisher said.

Broadbooks also cautioned that the issue of the deputy U.S. marshal’s possibly unlawful conduct remained unresolved. Both news organizations have protested to federal authorities.

The 1980 Privacy Protection Act says government agents investigating a crime may not “search for or seize any work product materials possessed by a person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast or other similar form of public communication.”

A spokeswoman with the U.S. Marshals Service, Mavis Dezulovich, said Monday that a complaint from the news organizations was being reviewed, but added that “it could take days or weeks” for the review to be completed.