How To Be A Smart Supreme Court Coverage Reader

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Today’s high-profile consideration of the Friedrichs case against mandatory union fees is a great opportunity to think about media coverage of the Supreme Court and school law issues in general.

So far as I’ve seen, much of the coverage has focused on the complex legal issues and precedents, the conservative support for the Friedrichs complaint and the union opposition.

There’s also been a lot of spinning and speculation passed along by media outlets, which isn’t in my view what journalists should be spending their time on, and some obvious gaps in the reporting (like where the education reform advocacy groups stand on the issue).

For some help and advice about how to read (and perhaps cover) Friedrichs, check out this recent “On The Media” segment (Bench Press), which suggests that readers should exercise a lot of skepticism when consuming the glut of coverage we’re going to see — and that journalists could try and do a bunch better. 

Listen to the segment below, featuring veteran Supreme Court reporters Amy Howe, Adam Liptak, Dahlia Lithwick and Nina Totenberg, or skim the “Consumer’s Guide” above.

According to OTM, Supreme Court coverage can be problematically superficial and inaccurate. The segment explains how plaintiffs are essential “cast” as leading players — a reality rarely revealed to readers — and recommends going to established, specialized sources like SCOTUSblog rather than mainstream or beat reporters who may understand the political dynamics better than the legalities.  

For example, SCOTUSblog rounds up mainstream media coverage previewing the debate and provides some same-day analysis that is probably going to be more knowledgeable and accurate than others’ hot takes on what happens and “what it might mean.” There’s also a writeup of the session from EdWeek’s Mark Walsh over at School Law Blog. 

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.