SPJ ethics leaders comment on Alito’s preemptive rebuttal

The Wall Street Journal published an essay written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, titled “ProPublica Misleads Its Readers,” on June 20. Alito’s essay has been considered an unusual step of “prebutting” a ProPublica article that hadn’t been published yet. The ProPublica article investigates Alito accepting gifts from major GOP donor Paul Singer. The preemptive rebuttal has brought into question the ethics of publishing a defense when the original article hasn’t been published yet.

In an article for The Washington Post, SPJ Professional Standards and Ethics Committee Chair Fred Brown said the Journal’s decision to publish the column was “an affront to professional courtesy and professional standards.” SPJ Professional Standards and Ethics Committee Vice Chair Chris Roberts said, “It’s pretty rinky-dink for a Supreme Court justice to use journalism ethics against journalists.”

SPJ Director of Ethics and Diversity Rod Hicks told The New York Times, “It’s quite uncommon for a news outlet to allow an official to use its platform to respond to questions from a different outlet. And it’s totally unheard of to post that response before the other outlet even publishes its story. If not ethics, professional courtesy should have restrained The Journal.”

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