Accuracy in Media

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made some controversial remarks while at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court, where he allegedly threatened two of the sitting justices of partisanship. Schumer’s remarks were condemned by President Donald Trump, and the mainstream media failed to note Schumer’s aggressive wording.

“I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” Schumer said. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.” Schumer was speaking at a pro-choice rally outside of the court since the court took up the case on a Louisiana abortion law known as June Medical Services v. Russo.

The mainstream media published articles and analyses on Schumer’s comments, and all included parts of Roberts’ statement. The media agreed that Roberts’ rebuttal was unusual, considering the Supreme Court rarely comments on the news cycle. The outlets also published Schumer’s follow-up statements, in which his office said that the senator was referring to the political price that Republican senators will pay for putting Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court bench.

But some of the left-leaning outlets failed to recognize the aggressive wording that Schumer used, such as “you will pay the price” and “you won’t know what hit you.” Politico called Schumer’s words “pointed comments” and did not write about the dangerous precedent that Schumer’s alleged threat would create. ABC News did not specifically comment on the wording and chose to quote Republican Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to highlight the alleged physical violence threat. Barrasso said the following:

“To me this sounds like he’s talking about a physical price, violence. These are members of the Supreme Court — he the minority leader of the United States. … I believe these statements are outrageous. They’re uncalled for. They’re out of bounds. And on their face, they appear to invite violence against members of the Supreme Court.”

NBC News correctly wrote that it was Schumer who suggested that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh “won’t know what hit” them, which debunked Schumer’s follow-up statement. Fox News cited multiple reactions to Schumer’s original comments, such as Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and the American Bar Association. The ABA said it was “deeply troubled” about Schumer’s comments and said that this kind of comment is “never acceptable.”

Schumer’s remarks were met with a rare statement from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who said, “Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous.” He said, “Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”

The majority of media outlets pointed to President Donald Trump’s past criticism of liberal-leaning justices, such as Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump called on them to recuse themselves from cases involving his administration, but the media did not explain how calling for recusal is a far different tactic than an alleged physical threat to sitting Supreme Court justices.

The mainstream media’s coverage of Schumer’s comments was a mixed bag, with some outlets accurately providing context, while others did not. Politico and ABC News did not explicitly criticize or elaborate why Schumer’s comments were problematic and viewed as a threat, while NBC News and Fox News included the context of his comments. Both Politico and ABC News should learn from this experience and work on providing accurate context in their reporting.

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