Tracing Rumor Of John Roberts' Retirement Rumors of Chief Justice John Roberts' retirement from the Supreme Court spread Thursday like wildfire. The blog Above the Law traced the rumor back to a Georgetown law professor who was trying to teach his students the importance of using reliable sources. David Lat of Above the Law discusses how a simple college lesson spun out of control.
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Tracing Rumor Of John Roberts' Retirement

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Tracing Rumor Of John Roberts' Retirement

Law

Tracing Rumor Of John Roberts' Retirement

Tracing Rumor Of John Roberts' Retirement

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Rumors of Chief Justice John Roberts' retirement from the Supreme Court spread Thursday like wildfire. The blog Above the Law traced the rumor back to a Georgetown law professor who was trying to teach his students the importance of using reliable sources. David Lat of Above the Law discusses how a simple college lesson spun out of control.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

For a brief but frantic time yesterday, Chief Justice John Roberts was stepping down from the Supreme Court. That is, if you read the gossip Web site RadarOnline. Turns out of course that the 55-year-old chief justice is nowhere close to leaving the court. This was a rumor spun seemingly out of thin air and that spread like crazy before it was quelled. So, how did it start? Well, David Lat, the founder and managing editor of the blog Above the Law has been tracking the John Roberts rumor down to its source. And David, you have run this back to a first-year criminal law class at Georgetown Law School. What happened yesterday?

Mr. DAVID LAT (Founder and Managing Editor, Above the Law): Professor Peter Tague was teaching his first-year criminal law class and shortly after the class started at 9 a.m. Eastern Time, he informed the students that he would be giving them a piece of information, that we understand from one student, he told them not to share. And that piece of information coming from Professor Tague was that Chief Justice John Roberts was going to be stepping down from the high court imminently.

BLOCK: And why did he say this?

Mr. LAT: It appears that he was giving a lecture about the use and reliability of unnamed informants in law enforcement. And he also wanted to demonstrate to the students how sometimes a seemingly reliable source, e.g., a Georgetown law professor, can give people information that might be incorrect.

BLOCK: Okay. But at the time all the students knew was that they had this information which they were told not to spread. So, of course, what did they do?

Mr. LAT: Yes.

BLOCK: They pulled out their Blackberries and their iPhones and they started spreading it.

Mr. LAT: That's right. And, also, with law schools having Internet, they were already online and they started, it seems, G-chatting and instant messaging their friends and family. So there were definitely many ways in which they could share this with others.

BLOCK: And how widely did this rumor circulate?

Mr. LAT: It went to all over the place. It seemed to first arrive at RadarOnline, but it also was on The Huffington Post. It was on a host of other legal blogs. It was featured on the Drudge Report. It was going all over the place. Everyone was trying to figure out what was going on.

BLOCK: Well, and that includes our own Nina Totenberg who was in the Supreme Court press room, and she said everybody was on the floor laughing about this. But did the court actually have to respond to the rumor?

Mr. LAT: Well, after we heard about the Radar report, we reached out to a number of sources. We did reach out to the public information office at the court. We also reached out to a number of other sources of ours at the court, unofficial ones. And everyone that we talked to reacted as Nina Totenberg did. They viewed this as somewhat ridiculous and nobody had heard anything about this.

BLOCK: Well, it doesn't take long. The bad information gets disseminated around 9 o'clock, and I guess it's by 9:30 that the professor, Peter Tague, let's his class in on what this is all about, right?

Mr. LAT: That's right. The exact timing is a little unclear, sometime between 9:30 and 10, it seems. Professor Tague informs the students that what he had told them was, in fact, not true. And that he was trying to demonstrate to them the danger of relying too heavily on unnamed sources, as well as the point that sometimes a reliable source can give you bad information.

BLOCK: You know, my favorite posting on RadarOnline, if you scroll down past, you know, Charlie Sheen's plea deal and the photo spread of the Sexiest Web Vixens, you just can get to this exclusive update. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will not step down, RadarOnline says. And then it says, despite considering resigning, RadarOnline.com has exclusively learned that he will stay on the bench.

Mr. LAT: Yes. We found that a little bit amusing as well. We have no evidence that the chief justice even seriously considered retirement. So I don't know what the basis was for their claim that he seriously considered it, but then walked back from the brink.

BLOCK: Well, David, thanks for telling us about Chief Justice John Roberts' non-retirement.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAT: No problem. My pleasure, Melissa.

BLOCK: David Lat is founder and managing editor of Above the Law, that's a blog about the legal profession.

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