Things Get Salty at NPR Between Totenberg, Editors Over Botched SCOTUS Mask Story


The palace intrigue at NPR HQ has hit a fever pitch in the aftermath of the “news” outlet’s most recognizable court reporter Nina Totenberg filing a story Tuesday on alleged tensions between Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor over mask-wearing that the two Justices and Chief Justice John Roberts shot down the next day.


In the original story, Totenberg claimed her court sources told her that the supposed dispute over Gorsuch not wearing a mask to court proceedings led Sotomayor to decide recently to join the court from her chambers via microphone when hearing cases and from home via telephone for their weekly conferences.

Central to Sotomayor’s supposed decision was that Roberts “in some form asked the other justices to mask up” in deference to the alleged concerns of Sotomayor, who is diabetic and at high risk for catching COVID, but that Gorsuch allegedly refused.

Not surprisingly, the story went viral on social media, leading to a predictable round of condemnations for Gorsuch from The Usual Suspects. It was also picked up by national news outlets like CNN, CNBC, and The USA Today.

But, as noted above, according to the Justices themselves the story was false. Gorsuch and Sotomayor issued a rare joint public statement saying that “Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.” Roberts issued a rare public statement not long after, saying simply “I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench.”


Fox News also reported – before the statements were even issued – that their court sources said the story was untrue.

The blowback against NPR over the botched story has been pretty intense, with readers demanding answers as to what went wrong. Predictably, the left latched on to Sotomayor’s and Gorsuch’s statement, proclaiming they didn’t actually debunk what Totenberg reported. But Roberts’ statement nullified all that, and behind the scenes tensions have been rising at NPR between Totenberg and the public editor, forcing NPR to take sides.

After a “clarification” from public editor Kelly McBride was issued, where she said that Totenberg should have used better wording than “asked in some form,” Totenberg threw a tantrum:

“She can write any godd**n thing she wants, whether or not I think it’s true,” Totenberg told The Daily Beast on Thursday night. “She’s not clarifying anything!”

Totenberg laughed, and added: “I haven’t even looked at it, and I don’t care to look at it because I report to the news division, she does not report to the news division.”


“A non-denial denial from two of them doesn’t work,” Totenberg said, referring to the statement from Sotomayor and Gorsuch. As to Roberts, she said, “the other just refuses to accept the fact that I did not say that he requested that people do anything, but in some form did.”

“I have got nothing to say, except that I am sticking by my reporting,” Totenberg said, while eating dinner. “I think it is absolutely valid.”


Complicating matters is the fact that apparently, NPR doesn’t stand by their public editor, either:

A spokesperson for NPR told The Daily Beast late Thursday that “we stand behind Nina Totenberg’s reporting.” The NPR official added: “The public editor is independent and does not speak for NPR.”

If Totenberg’s behavior isn’t the epitome of a self-important divaesque elitist Beltway reporter, I don’t know what is.

But beyond the observation that Totenberg’s expletive-laced denials don’t really add up is the fact that the Public Editor’s “clarification” was off the mark for reasons that Totenberg inadvertently suggested and more.

First off, the word games from Totenberg and McBride don’t cancel out Roberts’ blanket statement. Second, McBride seemed to want to keep hope alive that the underlying narrative of Totenberg’s piece – that the Justices don’t get along – was accurate. But even that was wrong or at the very least disputed by the Justices themselves, as John Sexton from our sister site Hot Air observed in response to the tweet from the public editor, which has been ratio’d:


Simply put, there are no winners at NPR on this story, not Totenberg, not NPR, and not the public editor. The only winners here are conservatives who have just added this story to their long list of reasons as to why the defunding of NPR needs to happen – and the sooner the better.

Flashback: #DefundNPR Trends After NPR Caught Spreading Fake News About Louisville Incident Involving Car and Protesters


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