Most Clarence Thomas hit pieces can’t stand up to perfunctory scrutiny. But the newest doesn’t even make any sense.
In a new five-person-bylined article, anti-Supreme Court outfit ProPublica takes a decades-old offhand complaint the justice made about his salary and spins it into a nefarious conspiracy. In 2000, Thomas apparently groused about his pay to “vocal conservative” Rep. Cliff Stearns. (The justice was hardly alone. It was a big issue in the 2000s.)
This interaction, we are informed, “set off a flurry of activity across the judiciary and Capitol Hill.” By “flurry of activity,” ProPublica means a single memo in which the possibility of raising justices’ salaries was discussed.
Like all SCOTUS smears, the piece is loaded with performative journalistic jargon – “newly unearthed documents,” for instance – meant to make it look like ProPublica is engaging in acts of reporting rather than activism.
Thomas, for example, doesn’t merely have rich friends like every other important person in D.C. He hangs out with a “coterie of ultrarich men.” Thomas doesn’t attend policy gatherings like every other important person in Washington. He jets off to “off-the-record” conferences at a “five-star beach resort” and sails on a “162-foot yacht” – alternatively known as a “superyacht.”
Painting completely innocuous and standard behavior as weird and scurrilous is a hallmark of the constant effort to smear Thomas. Hey, look at Thomas and his “high-end RV” and look at that “elite circle” he’s running with. Oh, sure, they give out scholarships to thousands of kids, but everyone knows what it’s really about: Thomas is a puppet of wealthy white folks.
“Precisely what led so many people to offer Thomas money and other gifts remains an open question,” notes ProPublica. This is the key sentence in the article. What “precisely” led anti-SCOTUS dark money groups to send ProPublica millions is not an open question.
Innuendo masquerading as reporting is the point. Its purposeful implication is that Thomas can be bought. By my estimation, at least two-thirds of the article rehashes the outlet’s previous stories about Thomas’ relationship with Harlan Crow, who never had a case in front of the justice.
The hit lacks any evidence Thomas engaged in unethical behavior to benefit anyone, much less himself. Nothing prohibits justices from attending conferences. Nothing prohibits them from having friends. Nothing prohibits them from taking out loans to buy a house or an RV. Nothing prohibits them from whining about their salaries. If anything, the story only confirms that Thomas, one of the least wealthy members of the court, would rather grouse about a lack of money-making opportunities than seek them out unethically.
But it’s also important to remember that no single story about “conservative” SCOTUS justices really matters in and of itself. The quality of the journalism isn’t the point. The quality sucks. The point is flooding the zone.
Much like the Russia collusion hoax, this is a compounding smear. The point is to sell the effort as an emerging story and organic journalism. The payoff never comes.
It all allows establishment media outlets to casually mention the “ethics” “controversies” that “surround” or “swirl around” Thomas. It allows anti-court pundits, who have no problem with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson pulling in millions in book deals from billion-dollar corporate entities, to pretend that “democracy” is under threat from the court. It allows half-wit senators to spin conspiracy theories and thousands of full-blown nitwits to get “Clarence Thomas” trending on X. It helps Democrats delegitimize the high court, the purpose of the entire project.
All non-leftist justices have been the target of these sloppy hits, but there is a fervent disdain for Thomas, who’s committed the gravest sin of defying the Left’s racial stereotypes. He shows contempt for a media that’s been trying to destroy him for more than 30 years by remaining consistently “conservative.”
His enemies have yet to offer any instance where this justice has deviated from his long-held legal philosophy of adherence to the Constitution as written. And that’s the real problem.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist. Harsanyi is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of five books — the most recent, “Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent.” His work has appeared in National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Reason, New York Post and numerous other publications. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.