Antonin Scalia Got So Upset Reading the Washington Post That He Canceled His Subscription

Don't you want your Supreme Court justices to be a bit more unflappable than that?

Antonin Scalia is a character.

That much is clear from the highly engaging interview with the Supreme Court justice in New York this week. Some of his critics find his personality singularly grating. Personally, I can't help but find the man likable, and I came away from the interview thinking how fun it would be to debate him over a meal (perhaps focusing on his assumptions about executive power and the way they have, in my view, caused him and his colleagues to fail in one of their duties). That issue aside, one of his answers bothered me even as I liked others a lot.

Here's the exchange that occurred when Scalia was asked about his reading habits:

What’s your media diet? Where do you get your news?
Well, we get newspapers in the morning.

“We” meaning the justices?
No! Maureen and I.

Oh, you and your wife …
I usually skim them. We just get The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times. We used to get the Washington Post, but it just … went too far for me. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

What tipped you over the edge?
It was the treatment of almost any conservative issue. It was slanted and often nasty. And, you know, why should I get upset every morning? I don’t think I’m the only one. I think they lost subscriptions partly because they became so shrilly, shrilly liberal.

So no New York Times, either?
No New York Times, no Post.

And do you look at anything online?
I get most of my news, probably, driving back and forth to work, on the radio.

Not NPR?
Sometimes NPR. But not usually.

Talk guys?
Talk guys, usually.

Do you have a favorite?
You know who my favorite is? My good friend Bill Bennett. He’s off the air by the time I’m driving in, but I listen to him sometimes when I’m shaving. He has a wonderful talk show. It’s very thoughtful. He has good callers. I think they keep off stupid people.

This attitude drives me nuts.

The Wall Street Journal is a great newspaper. If I subscribed to that and one other newspaper, The Washington Times wouldn't be my choice, but to each his own. What surprised me was that Scalia canceled the Washington Post because it upset him every morning. In my experience, people trained as attorneys are far more likely than the average American to read and engage with intellectual content without getting emotionally upset by it. That's part of the job. 

It's a useful trait too.

All kinds of assumptions with which I disagree are breezily embedded into The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, talk radio, and every other mass-media outlet. Does it upset me, emotionally? Extremely rarely, and when that happens, I feel foolish. If a news source upsets you every day, hey, life's too short to subscribe, but somehow I imagined Scalia wouldn't be so exquisitely sensitive, in part because getting upset so easily over ideology has a significant downside. 

Whatever one thinks of the Washington Post and its place on the ideological spectrum—I guarantee that I object to its establishment mentality and neoconservative tendencies every bit as much as Scalia objects to its liberalism—the newspaper employs many tremendous talents and publishes lots of great stuff. As a consequence of being unable to control his emotional reaction to the Post's political biases, Scalia has missed reading Barton Gellman's reporting on the NSA, any number of Gene Weingarten masterpieces, Philip Kennicott's art and architecture criticism, the newspaper's reporting on Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, its masterful "Citizen K Street" lobbying series, and all sorts of other top-notch journalism. 

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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