As a journalist, I'm all for reporting the news, but when it comes to the first day of hearings into Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts to be US Supreme Court Chief Justice, there was no justification for the page-one play the story got in most papers in the country, including the New York Times (which made it the Tuesday lead story).

If there was ever a dog-bites-man story, it was this one, which reported that Roberts had promised he would keep an "open mind" and be "open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench," and that he would exercise "restraint" and honor "precedent." Heck, ol' "Jeff Gannon" could have written that piece.

Certainly had Roberts said the opposite of any of these meaningless platitudes, it would have been a legit page-one story. Imagine if he had opened the hearings with a statement saying he would have a closed mind! Imagine he he’d said he would not feel constrained by high court precedent! Or that he would not exercise restraint! Or supposing he had said he planned to ignore the views of his colleagues on the bench and go his own way!

Any one of those statements would have justified a page-one story. Probably even a banner headline.

As the Times explained in paragraph three, the first afternoon of hearings on the Roberts nomination "amounted to a scripted political ritual." So, the paper might have added, did their coverage.

All the reporting of this staged event could have gone nicely on the inside pages of the national paper of record.

Which is where most publications have instead put the real story about this nomination: the absurd lengths to which the Bush Administration has gone to withhold from public and Senate view the public records of Roberts' views while he was working as an assistant solicitor general for the White House. (The Times did run a story on this on page one Sept. 13, but below the lead non-story about Roberts' platitudes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.) Most TV news programs don't even get into the matter of withheld documents.

The White House position on these crucial papers is that they are protected by the attorney-client relationship, as though the President of the US and the administration of the Executive Branch were some private client. In fact, the Solicitor General's office is a public office, and its attorneys are working for us, the American public, which has an absolute right to know what its attorneys think and do.

For other stories by Lindorff, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .