NBC Nightly News was the sole Big Three network evening newscast on Friday to cover the controversy surrounding Justice Antonin Scalia's comments during oral arguments in an affirmative action case. Both Lester Holt and Pete Williams spotlighted how "gasps were heard inside the Supreme Court this week over something said by Justice Antonin Scalia." Williams zeroed in how "some called the comments racist. Others said, he was just plain wrong." [video below]
Holt pointed out the "gasps" right away during his introduction to Williams' report. The correspondent first noted that "the University of Texas at Austin says to achieve a level of campus diversity that improves learning, race must be a factor in admissions. But could it be, Justice Antonin Scalia asked, that affirmative action harms some students?"
After playing two clips from Justice Scalia's remarks, Williams himself pointed how the conservative jurist's words "produced a few gasps in the courtroom," and continued with how unidentified commentators called them "racist." He continued with a soundbite from a representative of the NAACP, as well as a soundbite from an opponent of affirmative action. The NBC journalist concluded the segment by underlining that "it's hard to predict how the Court will rule, but there's no mystery about Justice Scalia. He has voted against affirmative action in the past, and will almost certainly do it again."
It should be pointed out that while Williams played audio from Scalia, he did not include the actual portion of the oral arguments where the gasps occurred.
The full transcript of Pete Williams's report from the December 11, 2015 edition of NBC Nightly News:
LESTER HOLT: Back in this country, gasps were heard inside the Supreme Court this week over something said by Justice Antonin Scalia. He made a remark about African-Americans and academic performance — concerning a case challenging affirmative action.
Tonight, NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams has the audio recording of it, to allow you to hear this comment for yourself.
[NBC News Graphic: "Controversial Comment"]
PETE WILLIAMS (voice-over): The University of Texas at Austin says to achieve a level of campus diversity that improves learning, race must be a factor in admissions. But could it be, Justice Antonin Scalia asked, that affirmative action harms some students?
JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA (audio recording from Supreme Court proceedings): There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to — to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school — a slower-track school — where they do well.
WILLIAMS: He said some studies show that most black scientists do not come from elite universities.
SCALIA: They came from lesser schools, where they do not feel that they're — that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too — too fast for them.
WILLIAMS: That produced a few gasps in the courtroom. Some called the comments racist. Others said, he was just plain wrong.
SHERRYILYN IFILL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: I think it was the language of the 'lesser, slower' schools that stung. All of the evidence shows that black students, like most students, fare best when they go to the best school that they can get into, because they are challenged in that environment.
WILLIAMS: But some opponents of using race in admissions say Scalia had a point, despite how he said it.
STUART TAYLOR, JR., AFFIRMATIVE ACTION OPPONENT: To bring people into universities, where they're not nearly as well prepared academically –— grades, test scores, anything else — as their classmates, they're likely to struggle academically.
WILLIAMS (on-camera): It's hard to predict how the Court will rule, but there's no mystery about Justice Scalia. He has voted against affirmative action in the past, and will almost certainly do it again. Pete Williams, NBC News, at the Supreme Court.