Like many journalists, Vox senior correspondent Ian Millhiser has prewritten obituaries for many public figures.
This isn’t unusual, nor is the fact that he updates them. One would expect him to; these pieces are designed to go out with minimal delay when someone well-known dies in order to capitalize on interest surrounding his or her death, and the details need to be as up-to-date as possible. Call it grim if you like, but it’s part of the job.
It’s a little unusual, however, for someone like Millhiser to let us all know, via Twitter, that it’s been such a boring month he’s spending his time tidying up his obits.
“August is a slow month so I’m spending my morning updating some of my prewritten obituaries,” he tweeted Tuesday morning, the New York Post reported.
It’s quite a bit more unusual — indeed, one might say ghastly — to post a screenshot of a prewritten, poison-pen obituary of Justice Samuel Alito along with the tweet.
It’s now been removed — but, as they say, the internet is forever.
“It’s considered to be quite gauche to speak ill of the recently deceased,” Millhiser’s obit began. “So, if you are the type of person who is easily offended by breaches of etiquette, you probably want to stop reading this piece right now.”
“Justice Samuel Alito, who died on XXXX, was not devoid of any positive traits,” he continued, noting the justice was “a highly effective advocate for conservative causes.”
“The problem is that Justice Alito was, indeed, one of the Republican Party’s leading Supreme Court advocates — but he embraced this role while he was a sitting justice.”
“Over the course of her life, Ginsburg witnessed the full range of American possibility, from the New Deal and the Great Society to the death of Jim Crow and the rise of feminism. Her life traced the most hopeful era in American history; her death seems poised to usher in a new era of liberal pessimism about our future.”
Indeed, the main quarrel he had with her at the time was that she died while Donald Trump was president: “Justice Ginsburg’s death very likely means a sixth Republican appointee and Trump’s third. On issues ranging from abortion to elections to health care, the Supreme Court may now be entirely dominated by conservatives.”
Granted, Vox is a quite liberal publication and Millhiser hardly feigns a Tom Brokaw-like just-telling-it-like-it-is stab at objectivity on his best days, so it’s not the difference in tone that’s the problem.
Rather, it’s the fact that, since the unprecedented leak of the decision that would eventually overturn Roe v. Wade, certain elements on the left seem to be skirting with dog whistles to the basest members of the base that if the court could be reduced to something they consider more — ahem — judicially manageable for them, they might not mind.
The most blatant of these dog whistles — really, just a whistle, considering the transparent nature of the gesture — was the hashtag activist group Ruth Sent Us. Taking its name from the aforementioned Ginsburg, Ruth Sent Us publicized the addresses of Republican-appointed justices on social media.
In the wake of this move, Alito — the author of the decision overturning Roe — and his family were reportedly moved to an undisclosed location due to the security threat that protests outside justices’ homes created.
Was this tweet a threat against Justice Alito?
A man was arrested and charged with attempted murder near the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in early June, meanwhile; Nicholas John Roske was taken into custody with a gun, a knife, pepper spray and other weapons. He reportedly told police he thought killing Kavanaugh would “give his life a purpose.”
Thus, you can see why posting a screenshot of a prewrite of Alito’s obit doesn’t just come off as creepy, but also more than a bit problematic — and Twitter responded accordingly.
Other tweets — now deleted along with his — called him a “sick f***er” and said he was “trying to inspire someone to murder a Supreme Court Justice.”
Millhiser didn’t respond when reached by the New York Post for comment. No apology — or reference — to the tweet had been made as of Friday morning.
To be fair to Millhiser, this isn’t someone with a track record like Ruth Sent Us. He’s not posting justices’ addresses with a tacit nudge nudge, wink wink, do what thou wilt with that information, but don’t hold us responsible.
That said, he’s a senior correspondent with one of the most prominent political outlets on the left, not just a random, irresponsible pro-abortion activist group — and, mind you, he’s openly done more than a little rumination over what death can mean to the composition of the Supreme Court.
After all, going back to his piece on Ginsburg, he noted that before her death, “the power to shape our Constitution was split between four liberals, four archconservatives, and Chief Justice John Roberts — a conservative whose respect for institutions and for procedural regularity has sometimes tempered his fellow conservatives’ tendencies.”
Roberts, of course, didn’t want to do away with Roe v. Wade. Neither would anyone Joe Biden might appoint to the Supreme Court, for that matter.
Millhiser was well aware of this fact — as well as the threats justices have endured since the Roe leak — when he made the ill-considered decision to post this screenshot.
If it’s gauche to speak ill of the recently deceased, then it’s considerably more gauche for Millhiser to speak creepily and openly about those whose deaths one might be led to believe he’d welcome as politically advantageous.
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