The Washington Post said it learned of the Alito flag story 3 years ago and chose not to publish it.

NEW YORK (AP) — Nine days after The New York Times reported on the political symbolism of an upside-down American flag flying at the home of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the Washington Post has admitted that he had told the same story more than three years ago. and decided not to publish it.

The Post story was both an extraordinary example of journalistic introspection and an illustration of how media coverage of the Supreme Court has changed since the incident itself, shortly after January. 6, 2021, Capitole Insurance.

That day, some of the protesters marching in support of former President Donald Trump carried the flag upside down. Both newspapers reported that the same symbol was displayed outside Alito’s home in Fairfax County, Virginia, before President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Alito said his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, raised the flag as part of a dispute with neighbors who had placed “personally offensive” signs aimed at them. Judges traditionally avoid partisan symbols to maintain an appearance of neutrality in political conflicts that might be brought before them.

For journalists, this raises a question: Should a public official’s family be held to the same standards as that public official themselves?


The temperature, in its history which took place on May 16, said he “recently obtained” photographs of the flag that few people were outside Alito’s house. The post office, in his own story Saturdaysaid he was informed of the story in January 2021 and investigated, choosing not to write about it because it appeared Alito’s wife was responsible and he did not It was not clear that the neighborhood dispute was about politics.

“It was a surprising admission from such a major news organization,” said Jesse Holland, associate dean of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and a former journalist who covered the Supreme Court for five years. “It’s very, very rare for a major news organization to say they probably would have made a different decision. »

However, nowhere in the article does the Post say its decision more than three years ago was wrong, and a spokesperson declined Tuesday to provide further details.

Kathleen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, said it was a bad decision. And, she added, if she had been at the Post, she would have advocated for the paper to be more open.

Although Martha-Ann Alito is entitled to her own opinions, a flag like this should not be displayed in front of the home of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Culver said. “It’s a flag that flies in the face of the neutrality that the Supreme Court is supposed to uphold,” she said.

When a now-retired Post reporter visited Alito’s home in January 2021, after the flag was removed, Martha-Ann Alito pointed out that an upside-down flag has long been interpreted as a symbol of distress, the newspaper said.


The Semafor publication reported that Cameron Barr, then editor of the Post, said he took responsibility for the decision. He said he suggested the newspaper write about the neighborhood conflict, with the flag as an element. But it didn’t happen, and Barr regretted not pushing harder. Barr leaves office in 2023.

Holland, who covered the Supreme Court for The Associated Press, said he could understand a ruling being made that the action of a government official’s wife is not news.

“One of the things we try not to do is condemn a person for the actions of their spouse,” he said. “What if it was the action of Sam Alito’s wife, should we hold him responsible for something his wife did?”

A longtime court reporter may have concluded that writing it wasn’t worth alienating someone so important in the field, he said. Yet Martha-Ann Alito has now gained attention for her opinions related to the 2020 election, in much the same way as Justice. Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginny Thomas. Both men are in the position of help decide cases it involves the consequences of elections.

Martha-Ann Alito needs to be aware that she shares a home with a Supreme Court justice, Culver said. The display of the flag, even if she was responsible for it, remains a story.

The Post’s decision reflects the long-standing view of some media outlets that the Supreme Court should be covered by the decisions it makes, not as a political institution, she said.

The Post’s initial decision came before the unprecedented crisis leak of a draft decision This nullifies a woman’s right to an abortion, she said. ProPublica also won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service earlier this month for its reporting showing how billionaires gave expensive gifts to Supreme Court justices and paid for their travel.

“It is high time,” she declared, “that journalists put aside their deference to the court. »


David Bauder writes about media for the Associated Press. Follow him at

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