November 15, 2007

Difference Between the First and the Follow-Ups

by PG

Astonishingly, Newhouse's LawBeat blog scolds Supreme Court reporters for not covering the story of retired justice O'Connor's husband's forming a new relationship at his Alzheimer's home. Mark Obbie and many others don't seem to understand the difference between the original news report by a local Arizona TV station and the subsequent retreadings. The TV report focused on the Alzheimer's aspect of the story; Mr. O'Connor and his son Scott initially are introduced simply by their names, with their connection to the justice mentioned only after the subject of the report -- how Alzheimer's patients may fall in love with someone new -- has been clearly established, in part by noting other patients at the same care facility who have done the same. The mention of Justice O'Connor is actually necessary to this telling of the story, because she is contrasted with a spouse who was much less understanding of his wife's interest in another man. The total news report is 2 minutes, 51 seconds; the Justice O'Connor connection is noted halfway through.

In contrast, the USA Today story by O'Connor's biographer and repeated tellings on specifically law-oriented blogs, especially the initial tacky headline on Above the Law, are much less interested in Alzheimer's and instead focus on the Justice O'Connor aspect of the story. On the one hand, this makes sense; biographers of Supreme Court justices and other legally-oriented writers have no particular reason to report on Alzheimer's any more than they would Parkinson's. On the other hand, their blatant lack of interest in the medical side of the story devolves it into mere gossip mongering. The reason for the O'Connors to have cooperated in the story -- to help raise awareness and show that at least one spouse can be happy for her ill husband -- is completely lost if the story is about Justice O'Connor rather than about this Alzheimer's behavior.

Hopefully Obbie will figure out that's why Supreme Court reporters don't consider this story to be worth their notice. Properly told, it's about a medical condition and thus belongs in the Health or Life section, not in the Legal one. ATL is openly a gossip site, so its coverage is unsurprising. But I doubt even Dahlia Lithwick, who has declared it her mission to demystify the Supreme Court, would want to explain why law geeks should know or care about how a particular disease has affected the behavior of someone who was never even a well-known attorney in private practice.

November 15, 2007 03:18 PM | TrackBack
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