A story published by NPR on Tuesday went viral within liberal media circles, which alleged that Gorsuch refused to wear a mask while on the bench next to Sotomayor, who has diabetes and makes her vulnerable to COVID, despite having been asked by Roberts.
“Now, though, the situation had changed with the omicron surge, and according to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked,” NPR’s chief legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg wrote. “Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form 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.”
Fox News’ Shannon Bream reported Tuesday on “Special Report” that NPR’s reporting was “not accurate,” according to a source, saying there was never a request by Roberts for everyone to wear masks, Sotomayor never made such a request to Gorsuch and Gorsuch never refused to wear a mask.
On Wednesday, Gorsuch and Sotomayor issued an unprecedented joint statement declaring the NPR’s story “false.”
“Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends,” the statement read.
That did not satisfy liberals in the media, who continued to defend NPR’s report.
“That’s not what the reporting said, though. It said that Chief Justice Roberts asked him,” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reacted.
“But… the report was that Roberts asked him to wear a mask, not Sotomayor. So… I don’t get this statement,” The Nation correspondent Elie Mystal similarly tweeted. “Is this another fake comma gaslighting from Team Gorsuch thing?”
“I invite anyone here to put their sources up against Nina Totenberg’s,” New York Magazine senior correspondent Irin Carmon challenged NPR’s critics.
NPR reporter David Gura went even futher, suggesting Gorsuch and Sotomayor were lying, writing, “I surprised at how many Supreme Court correspondents I admire are passing along a statement from two justices that is at best false without any context whatsoever.”
NPR similarly defended its report, telling Fox News, “NPR stands by Nina Totenberg’s reporting. Totenberg never reported that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask, or did she report that anyone admonished him.”
The statement was made before the chief justice weighed in.
“I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench,” Roberts said.
Some of NPR’s defenders continued to back the botched report even after Roberts’ statement. The Nation’s Mystal, for example, said critics are “certainly free to believe the Chief Justice over the reporter on this.”
Responding to Roberts’ statement, NPR told Fox News, “We stand by her reporting,” indicating Totenberg will have “another story coming out” imminently.
Totenberg doubled down on her reporting, writing in a follow-up article, “What is incontrovertible is that all the justices have at once started wearing masks—except Gorsuch. Meanwhile, Justice Sotomayor has stayed out of the courtroom. Instead, she has participated remotely in the court’s arguments and the justices’ weekly conference, where they discuss the cases and vote on them.”
Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this story.