Gorsuch, Sotomayor: That NPR report on a masking feud was bogus; UPDATE: Roberts denies too

It seemed bogus at the time too, or at least so curiously worded as to call it into question, as Allahpundit pointed out. Today, the two subjects of Nina Totenberg’s big NPR scoop about a masking feud at the Supreme Court called it “false.” However, some are wondering whether the wording in this denial is as careful as Totenberg’s in the initial report:

The Talmudic parsing of the language began almost immediately, including from Barnes at The Washington Post, where he eventually concluded that the point of the statement was a broad denial:

The short statement was apparently issued in response to a report from National Public Radio Supreme Court Nina Totenberg, although it did not address some of the reporting. …

Totenberg reported: “Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked. Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form or other asked the other justices to mask up. They all did except Gorsuch, who, as it happens, sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone.”

The statement by the two justices did not address those specifics.

But it was apparently aimed at countering the report, which made Gorsuch a trending topic on Twitter and sparked media commentary.

Shannon Bream, whose beat for Fox News includes the Supreme Court, had argued that it smelled bad from the beginning. She told Bret Baier last night that her source said neither John Roberts nor Sonia Sotomayor asked Neil Gorsuch to mask up around her, and therefore Gorsuch hadn’t ever refused such a request:

“I am told that is not accurate,” Bream said of NPR’s version of events.

“A source at the Supreme Court says there have been no blanket admonition or request from Chief Justice Roberts that the other justices begin wearing masks to arguments,” Bream continued. “The source further stated Justice Sotomayor did not make any such request to Justice Gorsuch. I’m told, given that fact, there was also no refusal by Justice Gorsuch.”

Bream added that all the justices are vaccinated and boosted against COVID and undergo regular testing.

That would answer the immediate pushback on the new statement from the two justices. A number of people point out that Totenberg’s initial report was that Roberts made the request, not Sotomayor, and that the justices’ statement still leaves that possibility open. That ignores Bream’s reporting as well as this from Gorsuch’s law clerk Mike Davis:

Allahpundit linked Davis’ initial tweet, but Davis also made this point downstream in his Twitter thread:

Bream’s source says the request never happened in the first place too, but let’s put that aside for a moment. If indeed Totenberg’s reporting was accurate in that narrow sense, why would Sotomayor have issued this joint statement with Gorsuch? She’s the aggrieved party in Totenberg’s reporting, and perhaps even the source of the leak (or her aides). Why push that out there only to issue a statement calling it “false”?

That may be a question that Totenberg should ask her source for this story. Let’s not forget the broader thrust of her report, which was to cast the conservative wing as extreme, ambitious, and fracturing:

That doesn’t exactly line up with the language in the joint statement highlighting their relationship as “warm colleagues and friends.” It sounds suspiciously like NPR and Totenberg needed material for a narrative more than an accurate look at the inner workings of the court, especially as it chews on highly controversial topics like Roe v Wade and vaccine/test mandates.

And this last bit from Barnes more or less seals Totenberg’s fate on this report:

On the bench Wednesday, all of the justices again were masked, although a few took their face coverings off for brief periods. Sotomayor again participated remotely.

D’oh! So much for the NPR narrative.

Update: Chief Justice John Roberts denies it too:

So much for the attempts to revive the story through parsing language.