Television News and the Supreme Court

Article excerpt

* Television News and the Supreme Court. Elliot E. Slotnick and Jennifer A. Segal. Cambridge, UK & Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998. 264 pp. $21.95 pbk.

Two political scientists, Elliot E. Slotnick of The Ohio State University and Jennifer A. Segal of the University Kentucky, team up to provide a highly readable scholarly examination of the ways in which the media, particularly television news, (mis)inform the public about the Supreme Court. The authors premise their study on the belief that television news should afford citizens a free flow of accurate, thorough, and balanced information about the High Court. The authors conclude that television news has failed its democratic duty and has left the public ill informed about the Court.

While this book is colored broadly by the authors' normative values, the work provides rare analysis of the institutional and professional barriers-from both the Court and the media-that inhibit ideal coverage of this institution. Springing from a concise discussion of the unique and central role of television news in informing the public about government, the authors use two major rulings and two Court terms to illustrate the judicial and media norms and practices that impede the flow of information.

Much of the text is comprised of rich, lengthy quotations from leading Supreme Court reporters in television and print media that provide readers with unusually candid insights into the Court and into the process of covering the Court. However, the authors are too willing to let the quotes speak for themselves. The authors leave critical analysis to the reader, particularly in the second chapter, which "relie[s] mostly on the reporters' own perceptions" (87). On occasion, the work adopts both the tone and the perspective of the reporters. In a noteworthy example, the authors convey reporters' views that the Supreme Court press corps is a "collegial beat" of "elite" "regulars" who "shar[e] information on a routine basis," "help each other with quotes," "always watch each other and try to find out what's the lead," and "provide each other's own best counsel." Yet Slotnick and Segal endorse Lyle Denniston's view that these practices constitute only "an illusion" of pack journalism.

Rather than condemn reporters' practices, the authors conclude that television management and network "mov[es] from a serious concern with journalistic standards to the age of infotainment" (63) are to blame. …