Here's the Post headline today:
Obama Makes Empathy a Requirement for Court
Pretty much lifted right from GOP talking points, right? Conservatives have latched onto the idea that "empathy" is the top priority for Obama's upcoming SCOTUS justice pick, even though that evidence is quite thin. And conservatives think that Obama's supposed interest in "empathy" is a really big deal. So, voilà, so does the Post.
But "requirement"? That's a huge stretch, and one the daily never justifies. Here's as close as the article comes to making the case [emphasis added]:
When President Obama talks about the traits he admires in a Supreme Court justice, he ticks the predictable boxes -- intellect, integrity, respect for the Constitution and the law. And sometimes he talks about Lilly Ledbetter and the quality he defines as empathy.
Note how Obama only "sometimes" brings up "empathy." (Lilly Ledbetter is in reference to a recent SCOTUS case.) Yet just two paragraphs later the Post declares Obama is "making empathy a core qualification."
There's simply no proof that that's the case. Indeed, the article only points to one instance in which Obama has even mentioned empathy in references to justices. Ever. But now it's become a "requirement"? Plus, the Post ignores that fact that, as Media Matters has pointed out, conservative Republican senators in the past have pointed to "empathy" as being a key trait that successful justices must have. i.e. It's not a new idea, and it hardly seems newsworthy.
But the Post dutifully follows the GOP spin and treats "empathy" is a hugely important code word.
Nobody loves a process whodunit like the Beltway press corps. Mostly because they're easy to cover and contain virtually nothing of lasting substance. Which means the Pelosi/torture story has become a D.C. blockbuster as far as the press is concerned. (The rest of the country? Probably not so much.)
But in order to keep the story afloat, key facts must be ignored. And (surprise!) they are. Perfect example today comes from Carolyn Lochhead at the San Francisco Chronicle, who adopts the prerequisite breathless tone to lay out the facts [emphasis added]:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting blog-thrashed daily over what she knew when regarding torture memos, a tempest that began, ironically, enough when her ally President Obama released the Bush torture memos and she upped the ante with her calls for a truth commission... In the end, it could all come down to Pelosi's statements versus CIA notes.
According to Lochhead it's those CIA notes that hold the key to Pelosi's future:
The worst-case scenario for her pits her word against CIA notes in suspect briefings that by their nature grossly limited Congressional oversight.
What does Lochhead then promptly fail to mention in her report? The fact that the head of the CIA informed Congress that the CIA notes in question may not be accurate or reliable. Isn't that sort of a key fact when claiming that a battle royal shaping up between Pelosi and the CIA notes?
Not according to today's press corps.
At least it worked in Philly, where the Inquirer turned to disgraced Torture Memo Man John Yoo to write a monthly column. Why would the newspaper want someone like Yoo to pontificate in its pages? According to today's report in the NYTimes, it's because the Inquirer was trying to counter claims that the paper has a liberal bias.
Score one for Newsbusters!
From the Times:
"There was a conscious effort on our part to counter some of the criticism of The Inquirer as being a knee-jerk liberal publication," [Inquirer editorial page editor Harold] Jackson said. "We made a conscious effort to add some conservative voices to our mix."
Guess that's why the Inquirer also tapped former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum to pen a column (at five times the normal pay rate), because the paper was trying to counter criticism from the right-wing. Nothing wrong with diversity on the Op-ed pages, although as Media Matters has noted, if U.S. newspaper lack an opinion voice there, it's a liberal one.
But also keep in mind that the Inquirer serves an hugely Democratic city in a state that, according to voting patterns, is galloping away from the GOP. But under pressure from the right, the Inquirer scrambles to hire a discredited voice like Yoo's, and a politician like Santorum, who PA. voters overwhelmingly rejected at the polls.
Meanwhile, our fave part of the Times article was this passage:
"What I liked about John Yoo is he's a Philadelphian," [publisher Brian] Tierney said. "He went to Episcopal Academy, where I went to school."
Yoo is perfect for the job because he went to the same exclusive, private high school as the publisher!
UPDATE: Philly's Will Bunch makes some important points.
I'm pretty sure "false" doesn't mean "well, we have no real way of knowing whether it's true or not, but for now, we lean towards thinking it probably isn't, though we reserve the right to change our minds later."
But that's what PolitiFact seems to think it means. The St. Petersburg Times fact-checking web site declares Nancy Pelosi's claim that the Bush administration didn't tell her it was using torture "false," though it pretty much acknowledges it lacks solid basis for doing so:
At PolitiFact, we normally would be reluctant to make a Truth-O-Meter ruling in a he-said, she-said situation, but in this case, the evidence goes beyond the competing accounts from Pelosi and Goss. We are persuaded by the CIA timeline, which the agency says is based on "an extensive review of (the CIA's) electronic and hardcopy files."
It's also important to note that the timeline that contradicts Pelosi was put together at the behest of an administration controlled by her own party. That document provides compelling -- albeit sparsely worded -- evidence that Pelosi's recollection is incorrect. There may be further evidence on this that emerges in the future. Rep, Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has asked Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta to release the CIA briefing notes that the timeline is based on. We reserve the right to change our ruling if new information emerges that contradicts the CIA timeline, but for now, we rule Pelosi's statement False.
Believe it or not, this actually overstates the evidence against Pelosi. Earlier, PolitiFact admitted that the CIA timeline does not directly contradict Pelosi:
Although Goss says waterboarding was part of the discussion, there's nothing in the CIA timeline that states it was specifically discussed in the briefing Pelosi attended. So if we stick strictly to public documents released so far, there's no conclusive evidence that Pelosi was briefed on waterboarding.
So, at one point, PolitiFact tells us that the CIA timeline does not say waterboarding was discussed in the meeting Pelosi attended. Later, in order to justify its conclusion that Pelosi's claim not to have been told about waterboarding is "false," PolitiFact tells us the CIA timeline "contradicts" Pelosi and provides "compelling" evidence that her memory is incorrect. Well, which is it?
The real problem here is PolitiFact's insistance on declaring Pelosi's statement "true" or "false," when the painfully obvious reality is that PolitiFact just doesn't know whether it is true or false. Other media would be wise to take PolitiFact's conclusion with a grain of salt.
Given that, as a government official, John Yoo was an architect of the Bush administration's torture policies and tried to secure for George W. Bush near-dictatorial powers, it probably goes without saying that he isn't much of a columnist.
Let's say it anyway.
Right out of the gate, in the first column in which Yoo is identified as a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, Yoo displays naked partisan hypocrisy, blasting President Obama for citing empathy as a quality a Supreme Court justice should possess after Yoo himself had praised Clarence Thomas for displaying that very quality.
Yoo then claims Obama is shifting his stance on empathy: "Obama's call for emotive judges contradicts his moderate campaign positions."
Shifting your position with the political winds, as Yoo has done, is one thing. Following such a shift with an attack on someone else for doing exactly what you have just done is taking partisan hackery to another level.
But that's not all! This is John Yoo we're talking about -- one of the villains behind the Bush administration's use of torture and its shameless power-grabs. You think he's going to stop at some hypocritical nonsense about "empathy"? No way.
Yoo went on to argue that Obama should not appoint an "activist" judge, thus mindlessly repeating the stupid talking point every Republican has used to attack every Democratic judicial nominee (actual or potential) since the dawn of time.
But in Yoo's case, the attack is particularly silly. See, right there at the end of Yoo's column, his bio line notes "He has served as a law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas." And Yoo has lavished praise upon his former boss. And Clarence Thomas is, by one measure, the single most activist member of the Supreme Court.
No, John Yoo probably can't do as much harm to America as a Phildelphia Inquirer columnist as he did as a government official. But that won't stop him from trying.
UPDATE: More from Yoo's column: "Obama could make a pick based solely on race or sex - though it's not clear why the most empathetic judges are minorities or women - to please parts of his coalition." Nobody wants Obama to make a pick "based solely on race or sex." Nobody. If Obama picked, for example, Yoo's unindicted co-conspirator Alberto Gonzales, for example, he'd have a bunch of unhappy liberals on his hands. It is, of course, too much to expect a man who argues in favor of torture and unchecked executive power to bother with niceties like accurately describing the positions of the people he is arguing with, but the slur that women and minorities don't care about qualifications shouldn't go unrebutted.
And more Yoo:
If Obama shoots for empathy ... he will give Senate Republicans yet another opportunity to rally around a unifying issue where they better represent the majority of Americans.
He's kidding, right? John Yoo doesn't even represent himself when it comes to whether judges should possess empathy. He thinks he's going to rally the majority of Americans to oppose empathy? Come on.
Appearing on MSNBC and defending her father's unprecedented campaign to smear the newly seated POTUS, something no exiting VP has ever done, (at least not in modern American politics), daughter Cheney claims there's a double standard because the press treats former VP Al Gore kindly, but not her father.
Addressing Post columnist Eugene Robinson, who has been critical of Cheney's anti-Obama publicity tour, Liz Cheney noted:
I haven't seen similar columns from you or anybody else saying things like, Al Gore should to back to Tennessee. Al Gore, somebody's who's very vocal and very much out there. So is there a double standard here. And should vice presidents only speak if they're saying something you agree with?
Al Gore is "out there" and "vocal," says Cheney, blissfully ignoring the fact that Gore waited nearly two years before he publicly criticized the Bush administration, whereas her father waited, what, two months?
But yeah, other than that, the comparison's a perfect one.