Alito Slams ProPublica’s Reporting on Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court

In a new recording, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito lashes out at the news organization ProPublica, describing the news organization’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Supreme Court as driven by political animus, insisting: “They don’t like our decisions.”

Alito was captured on tape at a June 3 event hosted by the Supreme Court Historical Society. The recording was provided exclusively to Rolling Stone by Lauren Windsor, the liberal documentary maker, who has paid annual dues to the society and spent $500 for a ticket to attend the dinner. Windsor’s colleague, Ally Sammarco, attended as well, and spoke with Alito, recording their conversation. 

The questioner approached Alito with flattery, calling him an “American hero,” and engaged the justice in a discussion of media scrutiny of the Supreme Court: “Why do you think the Supreme Court is being so attacked and being so targeted by the media these days?”

Alito answered: “They don’t like our decisions, and they don’t like how they anticipate we may decide some cases that are coming up. That’s the beginning of the end of it,” he said. But Alito didn’t stop there. He volunteered: “There are groups that are very well-funded by ideological groups that have spearheaded these attacks. That’s what it is.”

Asked to elaborate, Alito got specific. “ProPublica,” he said. “ProPublica gets a lot of money, and they have spent a fortune investigating Clarence Thomas, for example. You know, everything he’s ever done in his entire life.” Alito then pulled his own experience into the conversation. “And they’ve done some of that to me, too,” he said. “They look for any little thing they can find, and they try to make something out of it.”

The Supreme Court’s nine unelected jurists are entrusted with vast powers to shape individual and collective rights in America. In 2024, ProPublica won a Pulitzer Prize for its “groundbreaking and ambitious reporting” on the high court and “how a small group of politically influential billionaires wooed justices with lavish gifts and travel.”

In essence, Alito is now accusing ProPublica of being unduly influenced by the media organization’s own financial patrons. A spokesperson for ProPublica defended its investigative journalism to Rolling Stone. “ProPublica exposes abuses of power no matter which party is in charge and our newsroom operates with fierce independence,” the spokesperson said. “No donors are made aware of stories before they are published, nor do they have a say as to which stories reporters pursue.” The news organization claims more than 55,000 donors of “every stripe” and also posts a list of its “larger donors,” which includes many mainstream foundations. 

In a series of stories over 2023, ProPublica reporters uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of private travel and vacations taken by Thomas and paid for by Crow. ProPublica found Crow also bought a house from Thomas and paid his grandnephew’s boarding school tuition. Another friend of Thomas loaned him $267,000 to buy a luxury RV and then forgave all or most of the loan. ProPublica separately revealed that Alito flew on a private jet paid for by the billionaire financier Paul Singer during a 2008 luxury vacation in Alaska. 

When ProPublica reached out to Alito for comment in June 2023 for its story, he declined to comment. Instead, he preempted their story with an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal defending his decision not to report the Alaska excursion on his ethics forms. ProPublica later wrote that, through this strange maneuver, Alito had accused the media outlet of “misleading readers in a story that hadn’t yet been published.” 

Though Alito dismissed the outlet’s reporting as focused on “little” things, ProPublica’s stories prompted the court to issue a new code of conduct, signed by all nine justices, in November 2023. A statement by the court said the document “largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”

Following ProPublica’s reporting, Thomas disclosed a new private jet trip provided by Crow and a real estate deal with the billionaire donor which had featured prominently in ProPublica’s reporting. A statement accompanying the disclosure by Thomas’s attorney acknowledged “prior reporting errors” but called them “strictly inadvertent.” 

Last week, Thomas’ 2023 financial disclosure was released to the public. He included a note amending his 2019 financial disclosure to acknowledge two free vacations he received from Crow — trips that were previously reported by ProPublica — writing that the items were “inadvertently omitted at the time of filing.”

“The fact that Clarence Thomas amended his past filings to formally disclose trips that were paid for by billionaire Harlan Crow speaks for itself,” adds the ProPublica spokesperson. “Those gifts, and Justice Alito’s fishing trip to Alaska with a person whose hedge fund later had a case decided by the Supreme Court, would not have been publicly known without our reporting.”

Windsor has released two additional recordings from the Supreme Court Historical Society — both of which were provided as exclusives to Rolling Stone. In the first recorded conversation, Alito spoke about the difficulty of expecting the left and right to live “peacefully” given their “differences on fundamental things that really can’t be compromised.” He also said he agreed with the idea that people in America who believe in God must fight “to return our country to a place of godliness.”

In the second recording, Windsor spoke with the justice’s wife, Martha-Ann Alito, who complained about having “to look across the lagoon at the Pride flag for the next month,” and discussed wanting to design and fly her own flag with the Italian word for “shame,” apparently in response.

Windsor has been working on a documentary, “Gonzo for Democracy,” which will chronicle the growth of Trumpism, election denial, and religious extremism. 


She tells Rolling Stone that Alito’s comments about ProPublica are “really indicative of the sort of grievance that he carries — or this sort of thumbing his nose at ethical standards he thinks he should not be subjected to.” 

She adds, “I don’t think anybody in their right mind would consider a free RV, your nephew’s tuition, or buying your mother’s house a ‘little thing.’ These are all purchases from a donor — gifts from a donor — that I think any reasonable person would consider to be extraordinary.”

Leave a Comment