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The Washington Post originally decided not to report on the story of Justice Samuel Alito’s wife displaying an upside-down American flag outside their home in 2021 because it was believed to be a personal matter related to a dispute with neighbors. The former Supreme Court reporter for the paper, Robert Barnes, had visited the Alito’s home and was met with a response from Martha-Ann Alito claiming that the flag was an international signal of distress. The flag, a symbol used by former President Trump’s supporters who falsely claim that President Biden did not win the 2020 election, was seen flying at their home in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot. Alito later stated in an interview with Fox News that his wife was the one who hung the flag in response to insults from a neighbor.

Cameron Barr, the former senior managing editor at the Washington Post, took responsibility for the decision not to run the story at the time. He explained his reasoning for not publishing it, citing that it seemed more about Martha-Ann Alito than her husband, Justice Alito. Barr acknowledged that in hindsight, he should have pushed harder for the story to be covered. The decision not to report on the flag incident was seen as cautious and deferential, particularly in light of the recent conservative majority on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. There are now calls from some members of the media and Democratic lawmakers for Justice Alito to recuse himself from cases related to Donald Trump, while conservatives believe the story is being used to undermine the credibility of the Supreme Court.

The confrontation between the Washington Post reporter and Martha-Ann Alito resulted in her instructing the reporter to ask their neighbors about the situation and to leave their property. Following the initial report by the New York Times, another symbol associated with Trump supporters, an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, was observed flying at a beach house owned by the Alitos in New Jersey. The flag, also known as the Pine Tree flag, has historical significance dating back to the Revolutionary War. This additional detail further added to the controversy surrounding the Alitos and their display of symbols linked to Trump supporters and election conspiracy theories.

The Washington Post’s decision to initially pass on the story of Justice Alito’s wife displaying an upside-down American flag at their home was based on the understanding that it was a personal matter unrelated to politics. The involvement of former Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes, who was met with resistance by Martha-Ann Alito during his visit to their home, contributed to the newspaper’s decision not to report on the incident. However, with the recent attention drawn to the flag incident by the New York Times and subsequent developments involving the display of another symbol linked to Trump supporters, the story has garnered further interest and criticism of Justice Alito. The controversy surrounding the flags displayed by the Alitos has reignited discussions about the role of Supreme Court justices in politics and the implications of their personal actions on their professional responsibilities.

Despite the initial decision by the Washington Post not to report on the flag incident involving Justice Alito’s wife, the story eventually gained traction after being covered by other media outlets. The response from both critics and supporters of Justice Alito highlights the divisive nature of the controversy and the broader implications for public perception of the Supreme Court. Calls for Justice Alito to recuse himself from cases related to Donald Trump have added to the pressure on him to address the issue publicly. The revelation of multiple instances of controversial flag displays at properties owned by the Alitos has further deepened the scrutiny on the couple and their ties to symbols associated with Trump supporters and the events of the 2020 election.

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