Journalism is known by another term, the “Fourth Estate,” because it is used to keep an eye on the three branches of government.
But recently, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy decided that he should keep an eye over the young journalists of a high school newspaper.
Acording to the New York Times, on Oct. 28, Justice Kennedy addressed an assembly of students at Dalton High School in Manhattan, an event that was reported on by the school’s newspaper. However, instead of reporting the event in the paper’s next issue, the newspaper instead contained a short message from the editors explaining that there had been some “publication constraints” and that their next issue would contain the story on Justice Kennedy’s talk, as well as an “explanation of the regrettable delay.”
The publication restraints that the editors were referring to was Justice Kennedy requesting to review the article written about his talk before it was printed in the school’s paper. After his office had made a few “tweaks” to his quotes, the story was returned to the paper for printing. The New York Times article writes that the court’s public information officer, Kathleen Arberg, said the Kennedy’s ambition was to ensure the quotes accurately reflected what he had wished to communicate to students.
The same New York Times article quotes Frank D. LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, noting that the actions of Justice Kennedy were questionable. LaMonte points out that even though Dalton is a high school publication, the request for prepublication review sends a wrong message to these aspiring journalists.
It would be understandable if Justice Kennedy requested a copy of the newspaper after print, but to go as far as to edit the draft for “accuracy” is fairly taboo in the journalism field. Justice Kennedy knew that he would be quoted for the school newspaper and was responsible for speaking accordingly. His intervention raises questions of the First Amendment and sends the wrong message to the aspiring journalists that he dealt with.
Perhaps worse than Justice Kennedy’s interference in the process of journalism is the head of Dalton High School, Ellen Stein, who, according the New York Times article, agreed with Justice Kennedy’s fact-checking of the student’s article. By submitting her students to Kennedy’s demands, Stein has bestowed the wrong lesson in her aspiring journalist students.
It is remarkable that those who are suppose to help shape the future of these young minds would infringe on their rights as reporters and guide them in a direction which could possibly warp their understanding of how the field operates.
Stein should have told her students not to be bullied; that in order to become credible journalists, their stories should be unbiased and that it is up to them to report the story and provide accurate quotes. As one of the nation’s most vigilant defenders of constitutional rights, Kennedy should have not exploited these young journalists because of their age and inexperience. As a Supreme Court Justice, shouldn’t he have known that he was abusing the rights of the student journalists by regulating their press?
What Justice Kennedy fails to realize is that by suppressing these young journalists’ rights, no matter how small it may be, it will damage his judicial reputation in the journalism world.
His actions hopefully opened the eyes of the students to pay close attention to politics, participate in the government, and become great journalists. In a non-intentional way one can say that Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy reinforced the importance and integrity of the “Fourth Estate.”