Top major news orgs try to explain!


Counting to six can be hard: The statement is bannered across the top of this morning's New York Times.

Counting to five (or to six) can be hard! As you can see by clicking here, the Times banner headlines say this:

A 6-to-3 Ruling Ends Fifty Years of Federal Abortion Rights

We were a bit surprised—perhaps almost a bit confused—by the banner headline's reference to that "6-to-3 ruling." 

We were surprised by the baldness of that headline. In fairness to whoever wrote the headline, the Times report, by Adam Liptak, starts off exactly like this:

LIPTAK (6/25/22): The Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion after almost 50 years in a decision that will transform American life, reshape the nation’s politics and lead to all but total bans on the procedure in about half of the states.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 decision, one of the most momentous from the court in decades.

You can hardly blame the headline writer for citing a "6-to-3 ruling." According to the published text of the front-page report, Alito had written for the majority in a "6-to-3 decision" as the Court "overturned Roe v. Wade."

That said, we were hardly the only ones who were perhaps a bit confused by the statistics. Later in the front-page report, Liptak offers this:

LIPTAK: The decision left important questions unanswered and revealed tensions among the five justices in the majority. 

Dearest readers, it's just as we've told you. At the very top of our upper-end press corps, statistics can be very hard!

The question we ask should be obvious. If there were only "five justices in the majority," why does that banner headline refer to a "6-to-3 ruling?" Also, why does Liptak's text cite a "6-to-3 decision?"

In fairness, Liptak makes a few fuzzy attempts to explain the confusion. That said, we've looked at the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Reuters, and no one presents a more muddled picture than our tribe's greatest newspaper does.

At the Washington Post, the editorial board tells a different story in a very explicit way. Headline included, this is the way the Washington Post's editorial begins:

The Supreme Court’s radical abortion ruling begins a dangerous new era

In a reckless fit of judicial activism that will redound for generations, the Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, the half-century-old precedent that declared that Americans have a constitutional right to obtain abortions. It is hard to exaggerate how wrongheaded, radical and dangerous this ruling is, and not just for anyone who could ever become pregnant. A 5-to-4 majority has thrust the country and the court itself into a perilous new era, one in which the court is no longer a defender of key personal rights.

Consolidating the work of these two newspapers, a 5-to-4 majority somehow created a 6-to-3 decision!

As noted, the Times produced the murkiest work among the four major news orgs whose presentations we've reviewed. In print editions of the Washington Post, the corresponding front-page report starts like this, double headline included:

Roe v. Wade struck down
Roberts says court went too far, doesn't join majority

The Supreme Court on Friday overturned the fundamental right to abortion established nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade, a stunning reversal that could alter the nation’s political landscape and leaves states free to drastically reduce or even outlaw a procedure that abortion rights groups said is key to women’s equality and independence.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The vote was 6 to 3 to uphold a restrictive Mississippi law. But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. did not join the opinion and criticized his conservative colleagues for taking the additional step of overturning Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a subsequent case decided in the early 1990s that reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion.

According to that front-page report, Chief Justice Roberts didn't "join the opinion" which overturned Roe. Indeed, we're told that he didn't "join the majority" right in that second headline.

The Post's report may leave the typical reader wondering how these procedures work. How can a Justice vote to "uphold a law" without "joining the opinion?" Exactly how does that work?

In truth, we haven't seen a single news org which explained this matter with care. For our money, the New York Times' banner about the "6-to-3 ruling" created the most confusion.

Readers, can we talk? Here in our human world, counting to six can be hard! Also, consider this timeless bromide:

The man with one watch always knows the time. The man with two watches is never quite sure!

That's the old joke called "Goldberg's Law," a joke we learned from Paul Reiser. In the current case, the citizen with one newspaper may think he knows the size of the vote. The citizen with several newspapers may no longer be sure.

As anyone with cable knows, we humans don't always reason especially well. That's even true at the highest ends of high academic culture, a point the later Wittgenstein kept trying to establish. 

This fascinating problem surfaces when people try to explain the theory of relativity or Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Such tasks are extremely hard to achieve. In wonderfully amusing ways, we humans tend not to notice the fact that we constantly try and fail.

Earlier this week, Kevin Drum was willing to take The Gödel Challenge. For our money, he didn't succeed at this task, but so what? Neither has anyone else! 

(Your assessment of his effort may differ.)

According to the leading authority on the topic, Gödel was one of the three most significant logicians in the history of the western world. But what exactly did Gödel prove? And did his work even make sense?

Did this greatest logician's work make sense? For an array of reasons, we're prepared to believe that the answer could be no. 

Of course, the fact that no one can explain what Gödel actually did makes this question hard to resolve. In our view, it's a deeply human story.

We hope to return to the topic soon. But all of a sudden, Roe is gone, defeated by a 6-3 ruling by a five-vote majority.

How did we manage to reach this place? Our blue tribe's incompetence comes center stage when such a question is asked and answered.

We may review the history next week. It involves Al Gore's troubling three-button suits, and You-Know-Who's endless clowning.

Our tribe has gamboled and played for a very long time. Given the way our human brains are wired, it's quite hard for us to see this.


  1. Somerby seems to be complaining because life is complex and sometimes you need to think in order to understand things.

    Why would most people care whether it was a 5 or 6-person majority? Roe v Wade was overturned either way.

  2. I need commentary wherein our conduct is not addressed or mentioned.

    1. I take it you are being sarcastic. (Especially the part about “our” conduct…) Are you familiar with actual liberal blogs? There is a great deal of criticism of liberals and the Democratic Party. And the media by the way. Somerby isn’t alone in this, not that his fans would be aware of it. Comments critical of Somerby are based upon his specific posts, not simply because he is critical of liberals.

    2. Hey, where's that one psycho commenter?

    3. 1:08: he’s below at 1:13

    4. If you can't tell who the psychotic commenter is, maybe it's you?

    5. 5:08: Cecilia hasn’t commented on this post yet.

    6. @5:08 Good example of how NOT to follow Somerby's admonition to listen to others.

    7. "A police officer was put on leave after he became too emotional at a rally in support of Roe v. Wade and he punched his Democratic opponent for state Senate, who happens to be a mother of four, The Providence Journal reported."

    8. @8:13 -- I guess different people have different ways of "listening".

    9. Hey girl, where you been? You going to lay out a half dozen 750 word paranoid misreadings?

    10. Somerby should be impressed that 8:14 can count beyond 6 -- all the way up to 750 words!

    11. Don't know about you, but I've been around all day.

  3. So Somerby decides clowning is the appropriate response to this decision, which has been correctly reported by the newspapers.


  4. If your tribe's Politburo says it's 6-to-3, then 6-to-3 it is, dear Bob.

    See here:

  5. What did Godel do exactly? He proved the existence of god, but that may not impress Somerby much as a non-believer. No doubt Somerby would find that too hard to follow too. This implies that hell is peopled by stupid philosophy students.

  6. I was assured by Democrats that "Republicans are never going to overturn Roe. It's their cash cow they use to string along the stupid evangelicals."

    So I voted for Trump and boy is my face red!

  7. This 6-3/5/4 business is confusing, but it doesn't matter: Roberts is trying to have it both ways. And Bob. S. is making a mountain out of manure, for no particular reason.

  8. Summary by the Root:

    "In June alone, the conservative-slanted Supreme Court voted to weaken Miranda rights, required states to fund private religious schools, protected border patrol agents from excessive force claims, and lessened the requirements for concealed carry laws. As of this morning, Roe v. Wade has officially been undone, but as hinted in a concurrent opinion written by Justice Clarance Thomas, more rights might be on the way out.

    Yes, Justice Thomas, whose wife was trying to text and email her way to overturn the 2020 Presidential election, says the court should revisit cases concerning contraception access, same-sex marriage, and relationships."

    Meanwhile, Somerby is concerned because different newspapers may provide different versions of the same news -- to his complete and utter confusion, apparently.

    It would be much easier for everyone if the government just put out one newspaper read by all people, banning all others, then we would all know and agree upon the same facts, which the benevolent government and Dear Leader made all the decisions for us. Our tiny little minds need not grapple with uncertainties, such as how many votes Roe v Wade over overturned by. Similarly, women need not worry what rights they have left -- the answer will be none. O happy day!

    1. Despite being pro-choice, I agree with the Conservatives that from a legal POV Roe was wrongly decided. Decisions regarding contraceptives and gay marriage were also wrongly decided IMO. However, unlike Roe, if these decisions were reversed, I don't think that any state would ban unmarried people from buying contraceptives. Regarding gay marriage, I am less optimistic. I think some states would prohibit gay marriage, but I think they would create some sort of comparable alternative legal relationship.

      I don't think these decisions will be reversed however, because Alito's Roe decision specifically said that they didn't need reversing the way Roe did. So, I don't think a majority of the justices would vote to reverse them.

    2. Do you agree with the Founding Fathers about Clarence Thomas' marriage to a white women?
      Clarence Thomas, the strict originalist on the Supreme Court of the United States, doesn't.
      Or perhaps, Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court just makes it up as he goes along.

    3. The Supreme Court is completely illegitimate at this point. They're just making it up as they go now.

      Dark Money and the Courts
      The Far Right is pursuing an audacious effort to capture America’s courts. Fueled by $250 million in secret “dark money” contributions, they seek to enact a radical social and economic agenda they could never achieve legislatively. This page shares reporting on the secret donor network behind the Far Right’s attempt to turn the judiciary into a tool for partisan and corporate interests. Learn more, including what you can do to protect a fair judiciary.

    4. @8:10 - Liberal Justices made up a Constitutional right to abortion. Conservative Justices just undid this judicial overreach. They returned the abortion question to the democratic process.

      If conservative Justices were behaving as you suggest, they would find a pretext to rule that the Constitution bans abortion, regardless of what each state wants. They would take the decision away from the democratic process in their preferred direction.

      @3:25 - you don't help your cause by citing history. The Republican Party was founded to end slavery, which, of course, they did. Democrats fought to retain slavery. They fought to institute and maintain Jim Crow. However, I don't blame today's Democrats or the misdeeds of past Democrats.

    5. Roe v Wade was enacted by a conservative supreme court. Saying that liberal justices made up a right to abortion isn't quite true. The court, via a series of judgments, argued that there is a right to privacy that encompasses things such as inter-racial marriage, sex acts in the bedroom between married couples, and yes, health care choices between a woman and her doctor. The decision was 7-2 with Rehnquist and White dissenting. The majority was: Blackmun, joined by Burger, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, Marshall, Powell. Five of those were Republican-appointed justices, only 2 were appointed by Democratic presidents.

    6. Roe was subsequently upheld by a series of Republican justices in the 50 years it was in effect.

    7. I doubt you have considered these argument, David, provided in an editorial in today's NY Times:

      The author argues that the 13th amendment prohibits interference with bodily autonomy as part of its restriction against slavery. Black female slaves were forced to procreate in order to create more wealth for slaveowners by increasing the number of slaves. Forcing any woman to give birth is akin to slavery, interferes with bodily autonomy, and violates the 13th Amendment.

    8. @1:25 PM
      What is this "womyn" you speak of, dear dembot?
      Even Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is a million times smarter than all of you liberals, doesn't know what it is.

      ...anyway, outta curiosity: how do you force anyone to give birth? Sounds like liberal bullshit.

    9. Thanks for the link @1:25. It's a clever argument. In fact, it's a stronger argument than the one the SC used to decide Roe v Wade.

      The problem with Goodwin's argument is that she is taking words to mean something different from what that phrase was intended to mean when it was written.

      The last portion of her column makes a good argument for choice as policy. I agree with her, but bad policy isn't necessarily un-Constitutional.

      Her new argument may relate to a question of whether a future liberal SC would re-institute a right to abortion. Do you think they would?

    10. How can you presume to know what was intended when Amendment 13 was written? I assume that you are referring to the context of slavery, but requiring a woman to carry a baby is slavery, especially when the pregnancy results from incest or rape, but also when laws restrict contraception. The Amendment is non-specific about what a slave may be compelled to do -- it issues a blanket prohibition on slavery and specifically interference with bodily autonomy, because it was prohibiting the forced births associated with slavery. A forced bith is a forced birth, whether in the 1800s or today. Preventing women from crossing state lines would be interfering with autonomy too, as well as the Constitution's right to travel.

    11. Yes. Also anti-jaywalking ordinances are slavery.

    12. @2:15 You're correct that we cannot know for sure what was meant by the 12th and 14th Amendments. However, we can make a reasonable judgment based on historical evidence. From the day those Amendments were enacted until yesterday, nobody thought they meant what Goodwin suggested. Even the Justices who wrote the original Roe decision didn't use this idea. AFAIK there are no historical writings showing thinkers who held this opinion.

    13. The opinion piece is about the 13th Amendment. The prohibition against slavery was not just about picking cotton or working in the kitchen of a colonial house. It is about all forms of slavery. Compelling a woman to bear a child against her will is slavery.

      The 12th Amendment is about selection of the VP and President, and has nothing to do with Roe v Wade. The 14th Amendment says: "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law". Compelling a woman to give birth, prohibiting her from using a medical intervention that would save her life, as in an ectopic pregnancy, is certainly interference with both life and liberty. Given the uncertainties of pregnancy, the prevalence of complications and the mortality rate in this country, compelling a woman to give birth without access to modern medical treatment, is an infringment of a woman's consitutional rights.

      Women have definitely interpreted the constitution to mean that they have the right to choose their own health care -- and that has been true under Roe v Wade for the past 49 years. You cannot say that women do not think this, especially given that you are not female and do not have any idea what it means to give birth. And I do not think you are sufficiently familiar with feminist writing to say that there are no "historical writings" showing thinkers who held this opinion either.

      It is certainly true that few men at the time the Constitution was written would have given women rights under it, but that doesn't make their opinions right or appropriate for our times, when medicine is very different than it was in the late 1700s. Unfortunately, the likelihood of death in childbirth was much higher, but it was attributed to God's will. I hope you are not going to impose such views on today's women.

    14. @2:46 - I fully agree that the right to abortion is right for our times.

    15. Because of the overpopulation?

  9. If you would have told me five years ago I'd be planning to vote Republican in November after the last two weeks of SCOTUS rulings I'd have said you were off your rocker.

    But if you'd have told me Democrats would be pushing a movement to encourage puberty blockers for my grade school aged kids and later allow legal genital mutilation, calling it "care" and with a Democratic president coming out with a statement that his administration will facilitate this barbaric lunacy, I would say you were off your rocker there too.

    R it is.

    1. Hope your kids aren’t really atypical, given your attitudes. Who left the door open and let in more of these right wing paid disinformation specialists (aka trolls)?

    2. If they somehow become anguished over the idea they should look like the stereotype of the sex they're not, I'll seek mental health services for them. Hopefully the trend of abusing them with surgery or puberty blockers will be over and the doctors who did it serving long sentences by then.

    3. Good, then the mental health person can also explain to you what your children are upset about.

      There is an interesting book called "As Nature Made Him" by John Colapinto. It is about a child who had a circumcision accident at birth, who was then raised as a girl. It will give you some appreciation of what it is like for a child who feels male to be raised as a sex that doesn't match how he feels as a person. This book was written before the current right-wing attack on trans people and it is from a medical and psychiatric perspective, but it shows pretty clearly why children suffer and how parents and the medical community have tried to help them, historically. I'm sure there are other good books out there that you might also read on this topic.

      You do not have to wait for your own kids to have difficulties before trying to understand and have empathy for other people's kids.

  10. The general point that Roberts had voted differently in
    the two cases was confused in the general coverage.
    A little googling was enough to clarify what had happened.
    Was this understandable or an example of our
    terrible media? Perhaps a little bit of both.
    That Bob finds this so significant is predictable.

    1. Why is it “understandable” that the media is unable to clarify and accurately inform the public so that their own headlines make sense?

      You hold Somerby to a far higher standard than you do the American media and that’s because he doesn’t tell you that you’re pretty every day.

    2. Cecelia,
      The Onion already explained everything you need to know abut the Republican Supreme Court.

    3. Anonymouse 6:54am, I know the Onion is the Anonymouse news source of choice, but Somerby was criticizing more widely read outlets

  11. If Obama had governed wisely, there would have been no Trump presidency, and Roe still law of the land

    1. Bingo. Obama should have made drinking Draino a federal crime.

  12. “How did we manage to reach this place? Our blue tribe's incompetence comes center stage when such a question is asked and answered.”

    I keep coming back to this, and it doesn’t make complete sense.

    Roe v Wade being overturned isn’t due solely to “liberal incompetence.”

    First of all, there are millions of people who wanted it overturned. It’s a difficult issue to find a middle ground. So, blaming liberal incompetence overlooks this fact.

    Second, not every setback like this is due to liberal incompetence. Conservatives also have agency.

    For example, I wouldn’t describe liberal failure to enact a comprehensive solution to global warming as liberal incompetence. I’d say it was a failure of the United States to do this. There are two major parties, only one of which really acknowledges global warming, despite the science. You can’t exactly enact legislation that will end up costing significant amounts of money and will restructure certain aspects of society without some sort of buy-in from the Others, or at least their elites, because such legislation will go nowhere, and if enacted, will be massively resisted by conservatives, despite the existential problem that global warming presents.

    Of course Somerby wants to frame every liberal setback as an example of liberal “incompetence” because he wants to mock and gloat at liberals. He says he hates tribalism but then always becomes a tribalist himself so that he can find some way to blame liberals.

    A final analogy I will list is that of the Civil War. You could view that as a result of Lincoln’s incompetence, since he kept talking about unity and friendship, and the south seceded anyway. Wouldn’t this view, that Lincoln was incompetent, likely come from a hater of Lincoln who wanted to gaslight him?

  13. Short of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to an abortion, nothing would have completely protected this right. Any law enacted would be subject to being the overruled by the Supreme Court. And unless Somerby knows some way to both ensure a permanent “liberal” majority in the house and senate and to ensure that every Supreme Court justice would rule in favor of Roe (or a federal law enacted to guarantee it), then he needs to stop with the mockery. You also have to remember that he keeps telling us that Dems need to win in red states. But guess what? Red states tend to vote for anti-choice candidates. It’s a catch-22 he has constructed.

  14. Here is an article about Jane's Revenge, the right's new bogeyman, from Digby's blog:

  15. A new faction in the cult of the unloved, the modern left.

    1. You missed the part where the article says the organization doesn't exist.

  16. Talk about saying the quiet part out loud:

    "Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) told a crowd at a rally held alongside former president Donald Trump that the supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade was a “victory for white life,” The Guardian reports."

  17. For those still interested in Godel:

  18. If Clarence Thomas could keep it in his pants when a woman tries to overthrow the United States Capitol in the name of white supremacy, he wouldn't look like such a hypocrite.

  19. Who does this sound like?

    "We liberals really need to get our act together. How is it that after 50 years we're apparently still not able to defend abortion in any kind of simple, convincing way that appeals to anyone who's not already on our side?"

    Not everything important can be explained simply.


    1. "we're apparently still not able to defend abortion in any kind of simple..."

      Why, sure you can: abortion is like slavery!
      Wait... no, sorry: no abortion is like slavery!
      ...or something.

    2. A large majority of the country didn't support the overturning of Roe v Wade. How then are people supposedly not convinced? How then have liberals failed?

      For Mao: Women have the right to make their own health care decisions. Singling them out and saying they do not have such a right, makes women second-class citizens and violates the Constitution. Forced pregnancy, especially for women who have become pregnant via rape or incest, IS slavery. It is wrong to condemn a woman to death due to pregnancy complications while there is a medical alternative, especially when the fetus is not viable. It is further wrong for the Supreme Court to impose the religious beliefs of a minority on the majority of people in our country, who do not share those beliefs. A woman's health decisions are between her and her doctor and must not be dictated by the government.

    3. The opinion piece on whether reproductive freedom is guaranteed by the constitution was written by Michelle Goodwin. Here is her bio:

      Ms. Goodwin is a chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, and author of “Policing The Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood.”

      I will take her opinion over Mao's, given that she is a law professor and he is a paid Russian troll.

      See the NY Times if you want to read her article.

  20. If we take the moderate Republicans at their word they're so moderate, then, maybe they're the people MLK talked about being in the way