Supreme Court Headline Ethics: Our News Media, Misleading Rather Than Informing

The Supreme Court handed down its decision in Arizona v. United States today. This was the eagerly awaited case that addresses the issue of what the states can do to stem the tide of illegal immigration without encroaching on Federal authority, when Federal authority appears unwilling to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.

The decision was complex. Three provisions of the law were found to be preempted by Federal law and thus struck down, but they were provisions that have seldom been discussed in teh news media during the year-long controversy over the Arizona measure. The fourth provision covered in the opinion, the core of the law and the aspect of it that Democrats and illegal immigration advocates called “racial profiling,” was upheld, but with a caveat: if it was enforced in a fashion that violated Constitutional rights or raised preemption issues, it could be overturned later.

Meanwhile, after being smeared by the Obama Administration’s allies as politically-driven and without integrity, the split among the Justices defied the slander of its critics. Chief Justice Roberts joined the liberal wing of the Court to overturn the three provisions of the law.  Arch conservative and Bush appointee Justice Alito concurred with the banning of one of the three provisions. Hispanic Justice Sotomayor voted to uphold the papers-checking provision that the man who appointed her, President Obama, falsely described as allowing police to “harass” Hispanic citizens who were “eating ice cream” with their kids.

In short, like most Supreme Court decisions, the final opinions defied one-line analysis. This means that honest, ethical, objective and competent news sources shouldn’t and wouldn’t try to summarize the substance of the decision in a headline that was sure to mislead a reader who didn’t take the time to read the rest of the story (or, in truth, the actual opinions themselves, since the journalists who write stories about court cases generally do a terrible job). Yet here is sampling, gleaned from a Google search, of what the various publications, news networks and websites offered as headings. Judge for yourself how objective and fair they are: Continue reading