December 08, 2005

Results-Oriented Journalism

The Senate Republican Conference and Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand (C-SPAN's Washington Journal, 12/6/05) have done a great job of rebutting a Knight Ridder article that claims Judge Alito "has worked quietly but resolutely to weave a conservative legal agenda into the fabric of the nation's laws" during his 15 years on the Third Circuit. Now it's time to look at the methods by which Knight Ridder reached its faulty conclusion.

The basis for Knight Ridder's claim is a "review of Alito's record [which] reveals decisions so consistent that it appears results do matter to him." In other words, Alito stands accused of being a results-oriented judge. However, it turns out that it is Knight Ridder's methods and not Alito's decisions that are results-oriented. A meaningful analysis of Judge Alito's record would have looked to see if Alito bent the law and skewed his legal reasoning to reach certain outcomes. But that would have required analysts with a deep knowledge of the law. Instead, the review of Alito's record was performed by two reporters and a "researcher."

The results were predictably shoddy. The article's evidence that Alito is results-oriented consists not of legal analysis, but of little more than counting outcomes. For example, Alito is said to have sided with 4 of 18 discrimination plaintiffs, 12 out of 60 defendants in criminal appeals, 2 out of 10 death row inmates, and 7 of 24 noncitizens in immigration cases. In other words, the article is based on an utterly results-oriented analysis. How's that for the pot calling the kettle black?

The article reveals more than the poor quality of Knight Ridder's research. It also tells us something about the quality of the arguments typically made against Judge Alito. In fact, the article is a classic example of the results-oriented perspective that leads many journalists, politicians and liberal activists to believe that a judge, like Alito, who adheres faithfully to the law – rather than reflexively ruling for the "sympathetic" party – must have a conservative agenda.

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