NYT continues to portray Sotomayor as a hothead on the bench

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

And more importantly, the Times continues to indicate how it, and the rest of the serious press, is going to tell whatever tale it wants about the judge. The coverage of Sotomayor has become so detached from legal reality, I think, that journalists no longer feel any compunction to reflect the facts.

In other words, it's open season.

The Saturday Times article reads like it was ghostwritten by her critics, with the A1 premise being that the decision in the controversial Ricci case involving the New Haven firefighters was extraordinary and, if you read between the Times' line, just utterly bewildering. The Times emphasis is that the failure of Sotomayor and two other judges to issue a lengthy ruling in Ricci was completely baffling (But was it? Not likely.)

Anyway, the article leans very heavily on the hype. Here's how the article opens [emphasis added].

Near the end of a long and heated appeals court argument over whether New Haven was entitled to throw out a promotional exam because black firefighters had performed poorly on it, a lawyer for white firefighters challenging that decision made a point that bothered Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

"Firefighters die every week in this country," the lawyer, Karen Lee Torre said. Using the test, she said, could save lives.

"Counsel," Judge Sotomayor responded, "we're not suggesting that unqualified people be hired. The city's not suggesting that. All right?"

The exchange was unusually charged.

The Times never bothers to explain why the exchange qualifies as being "unusually charged." Apparently readers are supposed to notice (and be aghast by?) Sotomayor's hostile tone. My guess though, is that some veterans litigators will read the Times' description and laugh out loud at the idea that the exchange cited--the type of caustic back-and-forth that takes place everyday in American courtrooms--was somehow "unusually charged."

But that's the tale the Times wants to tell about Sotomayor.

Also, please note that the same Times reporter, Adam Liptak, who insisted the above exchange was "unusually charged," pulled the same stunt last week in another article which painted the veteran judge as being too bossy on the bench:

Sotomayor's Blunt Style Raises Issue of Temperament

In that piece, Liptak again picked out an ho-hum exchange between Sotomayor and and lawyer (she cut him off mid-sentence!) and pretended it was all quite odd and that "detractors" thought it was a big deal. Of course, you can't recall the press ever giving credence to the claim that male SCOTUS nominees on the bench were too bossy, because I don't think it's even been done before. The Times itself has certainly not shown any previous interest in the topic.

But notice the trend. Twice now in eight days the Times, on its front page, has cited pedestrian exchanges between Sotomayor and lawyers and pretended the were "unusually charged" and borderline shocking.

The Times is going to tell whatever story it wants about Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

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