The legal gossip and commentary blog “Above the Law” is a useful source of inside-baseball stories about the machinations and peccadilloes of law firms, lawyers, judges and law students, and occasional hard news of special interest to lawyers. Today it sported an intriguing headline:
Samuel Alito Gets A Supreme Benchslap
…which was filed under the categories of Justice Alito, The Supreme Court, and benchslaps. The latter is legal jargon for a reprimand from a judge. The Supreme Court reprimanding one of its own justices is big news, and unprecedented. Like many others, I clicked on the link, and read a jaw-dropping, insulting rebuke of Justice Alito by Chief Justice Roberts, banishing him to “to a minor appellate jurisdiction” until he writes ” a few decisions in some lower-pressure situations” and is ready to return.
The post explained at the end of the quote that Justice Alito had been temporarily removed from the Supreme Court and appointed to the Eleventh Circuit, and that, according to reports, Alito will be replaced by Judge Ricardo Gonzalez of the District of Puerto Rico.
Then Above the Law’s writer, Staci Zaretski, revealed that…
(This quote comes from The Onion, a satirical news site, but that in no way takes away from the overall awesomeness of imagining a Supreme Court justice being demoted as a form of spanking.)
Ah. So you just wasted my time, then.
I had begun to suspect that the Roberts quote was fake, both for its use of the neckname “Sammie” for one of his brethren, and also because it sounded so much like a manager’s explanation for why a player was being sent to the minors. Nevertheless, posting a fake story, announced with a plausible headline, is unprofessional and unfair to ABL readers:
1. It is shameless click bait. (I’m not linking to the site anywhere in this post.)
2. It is a breach of trust, something you would think a legal website would take seriously.
3. The gag just expresses the writer’s contempt for Alito, making it self-indulgent and irrelevant to the site.
4. It’s a fake story, presented as a real story. I got an e-mail alert about it. Zaretski doesn’t even have the April Fools Day excuse, which, as you may know, I don’t think is an excuse at all when news sites mislead their readers.
So when will we know that a shocking Above the Law headline isn’t a spoof, a lie, or a borrowed satire? I guess we’ll just have to click on the link and read the article to find out, right?
Not me. Now I know I can’t trust anything I read on the site, until I get to the fine print. Neither can anyone else, at least until the website acknowledges its mistake and promises never to post fake headlines again.
I’ll be waiting.