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Thursday, Mar 30, 2006, 8:34 am

Supreme Liar Scalia

By Brian Zick

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A couple days back, the Boston Hearld reported a story (noted here) about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making an obscene gesture to a reporter, while attending church services at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

In a letter to the paper's editor, Scalia denied he had done anything improper, claiming the reporter "misinterpreted the gesture" he made. He then sneeringly derided the reporter's character, and he essentially accused the Herald staff of anti-Italian prejudice from "watching too many episodes of the Sopranos."

The Herald describes Scalia's letter:
 “Your reporter, an up-and-coming ‘gotcha’ star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people. . .,” Scalia wrote to Executive Editor Kenneth A. Chandler. “I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said, ‘That’s Sicilian,’ and explained its meaning.”

In his letter, Scalia goes on to cite Luigi Barzini’s book, “The Italians”: “ ‘The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means: “I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out.” ’ ”

“From watching too many episodes of the Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene - especially when made by an ‘Italian jurist.’ (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)”

Today the Herald published the photo and acount of the photographer, who maintains the Herald's original reporting was absolutely right.

“It’s inaccurate and deceptive of him to say there was no vulgarity in the moment,” said Peter Smith, the Boston University assistant photojournalism professor who made the shot.

Despite Scalia’s insistence that the Sicilian gesture was not offensive and had been incorrectly characterized by the Herald as obscene, the photographer said the newspaper “got the story right.”

Smith said the jurist “immediately knew he’d made a mistake, and said, ‘You’re not going to print that, are you?’ ”

Smith was working as a freelance photographer for the Boston archdiocese’s weekly newspaper at a special Mass for lawyers Sunday when a Herald reporter asked the justice how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship.

“The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ ” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.

The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”

Perhaps the good Catholic Scalia can expound on the meaning of the 9th Commandment:
"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour" (Ex. 20:16)

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