Bryan Garner Is Not Happy With the Dallas Morning News

Bryan Garner is the leading English lexicographer working today. His Garner’s Modern American Usage sits on a desk between me and Krista. If you care about words and how they’re used, you need to buy a copy. While you’re waiting for Amazon to deliver it, read this profile of Garner that we published awhile back.

Garner’s most recent book is Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, which he co-wrote with Justice Antonin Scalia. To promote the book, the two gave a talk on January 28 to 1,700 people at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium. To say that Garner did not enjoy the coverage he and Scalia received in the paper would be an understatement. He has written an open letter to the paper. A taste:

Tasha Tsiaperas seriously misreported the gist of the joint presentation at SMU. She quotes me as saying, “I will tell you that my political beliefs are different from those of Justice Scalia” and reports that “Garner supports gay marriage and favors stricter gun control laws.” But she fails to follow up with the only reason that mentioning these issues or the authors’ political differences is relevant: Justice Scalia and I worked through 700 cases while writing our 600-page book and have not found a single case on which we disagree about legal interpretation. The point is that judicial textualism leads to consistent results, regardless of political bent.

But more disturbingly, she ends her short piece quoting Justice Scalia as saying of the Constitution: “It’s not a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead.” End of piece. That may make an eye-catching headline (as in your online edition), but it’s a serious distortion. Here is what he actually said:

“I used to say that the Constitution is not a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead. But I’ve gotten better. I no longer say that. The truth is that the Constitution is not one that morphs. It’s an enduring Constitution, not a changing Constitution. That is what I’ve meant when I’ve said that the Constitution is dead.”

He adds this postscript:

Why is it that when Justice Ginsburg spoke to a smaller audience in the same auditorium, she received front-page coverage? Justice Scalia speaks about an important new book that has been hailed as a “major event in American legal culture,” and it is relegated to page 8B of the Metro section underneath a notice that Rene Castilla, previously an unsuccessful candidate for Irving City Council, will be running again for that position — and just opposite a notice about Carrollton Christian Academy’s upcoming “kindergarten sneak-a-peek.”

Full disclosure: Tsiaperas, then writing under a different last name, worked for our People Newspapers in 2008. She can’t be blamed for how the paper played her story (nor for the fact that she, a relative newbie, was sent to cover an event that was perhaps better suited to a more seasoned reporter). And it’s possible that the draft she turned in included the full quote from Scalia; an editor might have trimmed it. (Though I doubt it, given how such an edit changes the meaning of what Scalia said.) I’ve asked Tsiaperas for a response and will add it to this post when I get it.


  • PRL

    Good for Garner for calling the DMN out on this… Sounds like lazy reporting more than anything else.

  • JNo

    I used to hate being trimmed by copy editors, but they wouldn’t have done so to make a sentence have a completely different meaning. The reporter dropped the ball.

    Being found on 8B, on the other hand, is just the luck of the draw of that news day cycle. The DMN should not be accountable.

  • Avid Reader

    I do not think either story warranted front page; but the DMN is 100% in charge of and accountable for story placement. “Just the luck of the draw” assumes that they haphazardly throw together the order based on literally a draw.