Klonoff and administrators of the Portland, Ore., college pressured the paper’s editor not to publish a story about Roberts’s visit until the Supreme Court approved it. Deadlines passed, and the Pioneer Log went to press without a story about what it would have said was the “highest-ranking federal official to visit LC since President Gerald Ford came to Palatine Hill in 1975.”
Since the April 4 visit, it has been nothing but regrets and apologies about the “misunderstanding.” The court’s public information officer, Kathleen Arberg, said her office seeks approval of promotional materials about a justice’s visit, but not about news articles.
Klonoff declined to be interviewed about the episode, but sent yet another apology via e-mail.
“In hindsight, I should not have submitted the article for review by anyone, even the high court,” Klonoff wrote. “I have apologized to the students and learned a valuable lesson. I am committed to upholding the First Amendment, and I strongly value freedom of the press.”
It should be noted up front that there is no indication that Roberts asked for approval of the student story. His appearances at law schools have been heavily covered and broadcast — the Oregonian ran a piece about the Portland event — and there’s no reason to think that the chief justice of the United States was antsy about how he would be portrayed in the Pioneer Log.
But it might say something about the perception that the justices are different from other public officials when it comes to news coverage, as Klonoff’s “even the high court” comment indicates. A justice’s visit is especially prestigious for a law school, and deference is often extended even when not sought.
There is no hard and fast rule about covering the justices off the bench. Each of the nine sets the rules — sometimes by dictating terms of the coverage or forbidding any at all. Unlike most public officials, the justices do not even routinely make their public schedules known.
Several years ago, Regent University School of Law sent out a triumphant announcement that Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. would be the keynote speaker at its 25th anniversary gala. But inquiring reporters were later told that the justice had decided against news coverage of his speech to more than 600 celebrants.
Justice Antonin Scalia generally closes his appearances to television cameras and allows reporters to bring tape recorders only for note-taking purposes. He apologized when overzealous federal marshals seized recorders from reporters at an event about a decade ago.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently barred coverage of an event she held in Washington with actress Rita Moreno. The two talked before a packed house of paying customers about their lives and new books. The Washington Post’s Reliable Source columnists were able to piece together a pretty full account, however, relying on Tweets from the crowd.