A Justice’s Sense of Privilege
By BOB HERBERT
Antoinette Konz is a young education reporter for The Hattiesburg American, a daily newspaper with a circulation of about 25,000 in Hattiesburg, Miss. Ms. Konz, 25, has only been in the business for a couple of years, so her outlook hasn’t been soiled by the cranks and the criminals, and the pretzel-shaped politicians that so many of us have been covering for too many years to count.
She considered it a big deal when one of the schools on her beat, the Presbyterian Christian High School, invited her to cover a speech that was delivered last Wednesday by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
About 300 people, many of them students, filled the school’s gymnasium for the speech. They greeted Justice Scalia with a standing ovation.
Ms. Konz and a reporter for The Associated Press, Denise Grones, were seated in the front row. They began to take notes. And when Justice Scalia began speaking, they clicked on their tape recorders.
What’s important about this story is that Justice Scalia is a big shot. Not only is he a member in good standing of the nation’s most august court, he’s almost always among those mentioned as a possible future chief justice.
Compared with him, Ms. Konz and Ms. Grones are nobodies.
Justice Scalia, the big shot, does not like reporters to turn tape recorders on when he’s talking, whether that action is protected by the Constitution of the United States or not. He doesn’t like it. And he doesn’t permit it.
“Thirty-five minutes into the speech we were approached by a woman who identified herself as a deputy U.S. marshal,” Ms. Konz told me in a telephone conversation on Friday. “She said that we should not be recording and that she needed to have our tapes.”
In the U.S., this is a no-no. Justice Scalia and his colleagues on the court are responsible for guaranteeing such safeguards against tyranny as freedom of the press. In fact, the speech Mr. Scalia was giving at the very moment the marshal moved against the two reporters was about the importance of the Constitution.
Ms. Konz said neither she nor Ms. Grones wanted to comply with the marshal’s demand.
“It was very distracting, very embarrassing,” she said. “We were still trying to listen to what he was saying.”
The marshal, Melanie Rube, insisted.
The A.P. reporter tried to explain that she had a digital recording device, so there was no tape to give up. Ms. Konz said the deputy seemed baffled by that.
Eventually both recordings were seized.
Ms. Konz told me: “All I was doing with that tape recorder was making sure that I was not going to misquote the justice. My only intention was to report his words accurately.”