- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Last month, George Washington University Law professor Jonathan Turley seemingly had a major scoop on the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times. “[Supreme Court nominee John Roberts] was asked by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral,” Mr. Turley wrote. “Roberts appeared nonplused and according to sources in the meeting, answered after a long pause that he would probably have to recuse himself.”

Judge Roberts is a Catholic. So, to say that he would recuse himself from a case that goes against Catholic doctrine would mean that Judge Roberts would be unable to judge cases involving abortion, the death penalty and gay “marriage,” to name but a few issues on which the Catholic Church holds views contrary to some state and federal laws. In short, what Mr. Durbin (supposedly) asked Judge Roberts to admit was whether he was unfit for the bench. And Judge Roberts apparently said he was. But Mr. Turley’s “scoop” that Mr. Roberts would have to recuse himself fell apart almost immediately.

As Charles Hurt of The Washington Times reported, Mr. Turley’s sources, as it turns out, were Mr. Durbin himself and the senator’s press secretary, Joe Shoemaker. The former provided Mr. Turley with the story; the latter confirmed it. It must then have suprised Mr. Turley when Mr. Durbin’s office publicly denied the story the day it ran. The professor, Mr. Shoemaker said, “got his facts wrong.”

While Mr. Turley certainly didn’t get them right, a reporter is only as good as his sources. Mr. Turley says he has his written notes of his interview with Mr. Durbin, as well as a voice message from Mr. Shoemaker confirming the veracity of his column. In a message left the night before, Mr. Shoemaker stressed that “the only condition under which you [Mr. Turley] can use [the story] is not to identify our office, not identify Durbin, and to say that this came up in the course of several meetings with several senators.” Mr. Turley obviously didn’t do so, but he counters that the senator was well aware that their interview was on-the-record.

Either Mr. Durbin was utterly confused about what Judge Roberts actually said — not likely since his office denied the story the day after it ran — or the senator was caught making a statement to the professor that he knew was wrong. In any case, Mr. Durbin owes Mr. Turley, Judge Roberts and the public an apology.

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