I know that in law school they teach aspiring litigants never to ask a question in court that you don't know the answer to, but my LSATs were awful so I'll go ahead anyway. This obsessive (and dreadful) coverage of the "Latina woman" comment got me wondering, if, in recent American history, a nominated Supreme Court justice has ever been subjected to such extraordinary scrutiny for something he/she said about the law* outside of the courtroom?
Seems to me these mini-nomination dramas have always been about what the nominated judge has said or written inside the courtroom. That it was the nominee's legal rendering that were put under the microscope and dubbed to be fair game for politicians and the press to go over endlessly.
But the "Latina woman" quote, which is virtually the only line of drama the press can find to hype anymore, was taken from a campus speech eight years ago. Just thinking back to the two most recent confirmation hearings, did Justices Roberts or Alito have to spend an inordinate amount of time answer to speeches they gave, or were they questioned intently about their legal writings?
To me, the AP was way off base when it claimed [emphasis added]:
Sotomayor's public comments are as much a part of the hearings as her lengthy judicial record.
In terms of the hearings, and especially the press coverage, Sotomayor's public comments are the story. Period. And why doesn't the AP try to explain why that's the case? The AP, like the rest of the press covering the hearings, has simply embraced this new idea that public comments are now the center of Supreme Court confirmations.
Again, I don't know the answer for sure, but my hunch is that a speech given outside the courtroom has never played this kind of central role in a nomination hearing in recent memory; not the way the "Latina woman" speech has dominated the news this week. (And for the last month.)
For instance, as Jamison has noted, during the Samuel Alito hearing, there was a minor interest over the fact that, in a job application for the Reagan administration, the nominee had once touted the fact that he'd been a member of an exclusive club at Princeton that tried the limit the number of minorities admitted on campus. So yes, that was non-legal work and it did come up. But in no way did those references at Alito's hearing match the onslaught of "Latina woman" attention.
So, if I'm right, my second point is why has the press embraced this new standard for the first Hispanic woman ever nominated for the highest court in the land? Why has the press decided that what Sotomayor has decided and written from the bench is of relatively little interest, but a campus speech relentlessly hyped by the GOP suddenly passes the threshold for nomination news?
Why has the press adopted a whole new standard for Sotomayor?
*Obviously, the Clarence Thomas nomination hearing ended up focusing a lot of things that were said and done outside the courtroom. But that controversy had little to do with what Thomas said about the law outside the courtroom, and more to do with Thomas' alleged personal misbehavior.
The Note's supposed to be a morning tip sheet that tells the Beltway's CW crowd which Beltway reporters that day are regurgitating the Beltway CW. (That's considered a good thing.) The Note routinely leans on conservative media sources for daily insights, and rarely links to openly liberal or progressive sites because they're not part of The Village.
Sometimes though, the Note doesn't even bother with linking to articles or columns. Instead, The Note simply reprints emails from GOP sources. (Why mess around with CW middlemen, right?)
Like the Note did today:
From a senior Republican strategist: "Do Democrats really want to engage on this? . . .
1. The Obama administration is doing this now in Pakistan through drones (and hopefully are pursuing al Qaeda anywhere they are) . . . 2. I think most people in most Congressional districts want the administration to kill terrorists. . . . 3.Dems prove that they leak classified information and it probably wasn't a bad idea not to share with them and tip off those al Qaeda leaders."
The Note wanted to make sure readers knew exactly why the Obama administration was wrong to press the CIA about possible law-breaking activities (that's the dominant CW, btw), and who better for The Note to quote, unfiltered, than a Republican political consultant?
I previously mocked the WSJ's editorial page for completely ignoring the Sanford infidelity and abuse-of-power story even though the same WSJ editorial page spent the decade of the 1990's evangelizing about Bill Clinton's infidelity and alleged abuse of power.
Screaming double standard, right?
Well, TPMuckraker reports that right before the Sanford scandal broke, back when there were general news stories about the governorship MIA status, a writer from the Journal's editorial page emailed a Sanford aide to complain about how awful and mean the news coverage of Sanford was.
In fact, the WSJ editorial page staffer mocked his own paper's Sanford coverage:
"Someone at WSJ should be fired for today's story. Ridiculous."
When people thought Sanford had simply disappeared and left the state of South Carolina without anybody in charge, the Journal editorial page thought the news coverage was "ridiculous."
And then when Sanford admitted he'd traveled overseas to meet with his girlfriend and had previously spent taxpayer money to meet her, the Journal's editorial page lost complete interest in the story and, as far as I know, has never once addressed the story in print.
Quite embarrassing, even for the Journal crew.
CQ rushes to join the Beltway pack by hyping the news that Judge Sonia Sotomayor used the now-infamous phrase "wise Latina woman" phrase many times. CQ assures us it's a very, very big deal:
Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor delivered multiple speeches between 1994 and 2003 in which she suggested "a wise Latina woman" or "wise woman" judge might "reach a better conclusion" than a male judge.
We've been over this countless times, but every day the press simply proves our point over and over and over: the press refuses--categorically refuses--to note that Sotomayor made that remark in reference to sex and gender discrimination cases. She did not, as the press, including CQ, obediently claims, make a sweeping claim about the superiority of Latina judges vs. white males.
This "Latina woman" reporting really has become a stunning example of journalism malpractice. The only good news is that readers are now wise to it. Here's the very first comment posted under the CQ debacle:
Why didn't the author of this CQ piece tell his/her readers if Sotomayor was speaking about race and gender discrimination cases in these instances as well?
Do you love lack of context?
Couldn't have said it better myself.
Just a final comment on the pointless 'controversy' last week about a deceiving image of Barack Obama at the G8 summit last week; an innocent image Drudge posted while suggesting Obama had been leering at an underage girl.
As Media Matters reported, the image was first spotted online at the right-wing fever swamp site, Free Republic, which first gained national attention in the 1990's for its unhinged hatred of all-things Clinton, and which recently has played host to an assassination fantasy of Barack Obama and where commenters* denounced his young daughter as a "street whore." Within minutes of being posted at Free Republic, Drudge picked up the G8 photo and 'serious' journalists then quickly treated it as a news event.
My parting thought is that this is not the first time we've seen this sort of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance coordination between the Free Republic, Drudge and the Beltway press. Last year during the Democratic primary season, Drudge posted a photo of Obama dressed in African garb. The shot was taken years earlier when the young senator had visited Africa.
Drudge, in one of his patterned fictitious 'exclusives,' claimed that staffers for Sen. Hillary Clinton had been emailing the image around. Zero proof was ever presented to back up the absurd claim, but that didn't' stop the Beltway press (and sadly, large chunks of the liberal blogosphere) from treating the Drudge scoop as a very big deal and turning the pointless Obama image into a scandal. Sort of like with last week's pointless G8 image.
Here's the Freeper connection, as I noted in Bloggers on the Bus:
The snapshot was actually first published online in September 2006, by a news site called Geeska Afrika, which reported on the new Illinois senator's trip to the continent. The Obama image then resurfaced during the 2008 campaign season in the February 4 issue of the supermarket tabloid National Examiner, which used the photo as part of a scurrilous story headlined "Obama's Shocking Al Qaeda Link." The story contained no reference to the Clinton campaign.
The National Examiner does not publish its stories online, but the photo itself got uploaded to the Internet on February 23, to the rabid, Democrat-hating site, FreeRepublic.com, whose "Freeper" members first gained notoriety by spinning all sorts of wild Clinton conspiracies during the 1990s.
Freepers were obsessed with the Obama-in-Africa photo and desperately wanted it to reach a wider audience. Wrote one eager Freeper after seeing the photo, "It needs to get to Drudge."
Less than 24 hours later, it did.
*Added to provide clarity.
From the July 14 edition of FoxNation.com:
The storyline has now taken a new, absurd turn with Republican operatives in the press claiming that Sen. Patrick Leahy, during today's Judge Sonia Sotomayor hearings, "lied" when referencing the quote today. Will the press let conservatives get away with the spin? Even money says, and how!
Leahy's Wise Latina Lie [Robert Alt]
After accusing Republicans of twisting Sotomayor's quote, Leahy then misquotes her, saying that she said that she "hopes a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would reach wise decisions." Of course, that's not what she said. What she actually said was: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Leahy conveniently distorted "better," a word that Sotomayor is obviously trying to distance herself from.
The irony here is pretty much inescapable. Conservatives, with plenty of help from the press, have been purposefully mangling the meaning of Sotomayor's "Latina woman" quote for months now, claiming the judge made a "racist" statement about how a minority on the bench would make better decision than a white male on every case brought before them. That's not what she said.
Yet now conservatives are crying foul because Leahy accurately summed up the meaning of the Sotomayor quote, although used slightly different wording to so. Sadly, I'm guessing the press, which has already gone all in on the "Latina woman" misinformation, will simply echo the GOP claims about Leahy.
Here's Washington Post reporter Paul Kane:
Biden and Kennedy have had their share of mishaps over the last 30 years, drawing plenty of criticism from conservatives.
During the 2006 hearings for Justice Samuel Alito, Kennedy forced the proceedings to stop in a long-shot effort to turn up evidence that the nominee was part of a secretive alumni club at Princeton University that was engaged in insensitive behavior, a charge that was never borne out.
Uh ... what?
The evidence that Alito was part of Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) is pretty strong. After all, Alito bragged about his membership in CAP when he was applying for a job in the Reagan administration.
And the evidence that CAP "engaged in insensitive behavior" is pretty strong, too. CAP did, after all, try to limit the number of women and minorities allowed at Princeton.
There is no doubt that Alito belonged to CAP. None. Alito himself said he did. There is no doubt that CAP engaged in insensitive behavior. None. What on earth is Paul Kane talking about?
From the front-page of The Fox Nation:
Chris Matthews, on the wise Latina/empathy/background "issue":
Suppose a white guy had said 'I bring to this court application, when I submit to you my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, I bring to you street smarts and common sense, earned after years of dealing with the law.' Would that pass muster?
Why would we suppose that? Why wouldn't we instead suppose a white guy had said "When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account"?
That's pretty directly analogous to Sotomayor's comments. And it has benefit of not being a supposition, but rather white guy Sam Alito's actual statement during his confirmation hearings. And it passed muster, as the very people who are now criticizing Sotomayor enthusiastically supported Alito.