CNN wheels out Bork, unchallenged, to discuss "Borking"

››› ››› DAVID BROCK

"Borking" is a conservative term popularized in the late 1980s by the right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page in defense of defeated Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Since then, conservatives have pushed the term into the lexicon whenever a conservative nominee comes under unwelcome scrutiny (for example: "Brown Gets Borked," Journal editorial, 10/30/03).

As conservatives mean it, "to Bork" is "to attack a person's reputation and views unfairly," as Bork himself stated in a July 1 interview on CNN. The obvious implication of Bork having been "Borked" is that he was wrongly denied a seat on the high court.

An alternate view is that the questioning of Bork's views and the characterizations of his record were appropriate and accurate, and that the Senate was correct to reject Bork as a nominee in 1987. In other words, the notion of "Borking" is right-wing mythology.

Yet on the day Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court, the term "Borking" was already creeping into media accounts, repeated uncritically by reporters as if it was a neutral description of what happened to Bork, with no explanation of the phrase's origins on the right and seemingly no regard for how its unqualified use betrays a heavy conservative bias.

On the July 1 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, anchor Heidi Collins and contributing correspondent Frank Sesno repeatedly referred to "Borking," "getting Borked" and "to Bork" in a segment in which Bork discussed his confirmation battle, with no one representing the anti-Bork position.

Collins previewed the segment this way: "Former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork on getting Borked and what's wrong with the court." In the interview with Bork, Sesno asked him, "To Bork means what?" A follow-up question was, "And is it inevitable that future Supreme Court nominees are going to get Borked?"

Though Bork complained in the interview that he had been "Borked," he offered no evidence to substantiate the claim of unfair treatment. In fact, in the one example he mentioned, his views on the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, Bork conceded that his critics were correct in making the charge that he would have overturned the abortion rights decision. "Well, I knew what was happening. The core of the issue was, they were afraid I would vote to overrule Roe against Wade. And they were quite right," Bork said.

From the July 1 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now:

COLLINS: Coming up now: culture wars, the battle for the court, and a man who knows exactly what's coming. His name says it all.

[begin video clip]

BORK: My name became a verb. And I regard that as one form of immortality.

SESNO: To Bork means what?

BORK: I think to attack with -- to attack a person's reputation and views unfairly.

[end video clip]

COLLINS: Former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork on getting Borked and what's wrong with the court. Stay with us for that.

[...]

SESNO (voice-over): The culture wars rage on -- abortion, gay rights, the role of God in schools and public places -- which is why the political battles over federal judges in the Senate confirmation process were so impassioned and just the warm-up for the real prize, the Supreme Court. Just ask this man.

BORK: I do, Mr. Chairman.

SESNO: Judge Robert Bork. A judicial conservative and outspoken critic of activist judges, his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987 broke nasty new ground in America's culture wars.

I visited with him in his suburban Virginia home to get his take 18 years later on the court, culture and his own confirmation hearings. (on camera): How did that feel, personally, to be the first one out of the cannon?

BORK: Well, I knew what was happening. The core of the issue was, they were afraid I would vote to overrule Roe against Wade. And they were quite right.

SESNO: And your name became a verb.

BORK: My name became a verb. And I regard that as one form of immortality.

SESNO: To Bork means what?

BORK: I think to attack with -- to attack a person's reputation and views unfairly.

[...]

SESNO: Sentiments which explain the passion and the frustration, especially among those conservatives who feel their political gains over the past two decades, from the White House to Congress to vast swathes of the country, have not been matched in the courts, a branch of government, they argue, out of sync with America.

So, White House officials have indicated they'll be looking for genuine judicial conservatives in the future, which is why Robert Bork believes his name will again become a verb in the national debate over the courts and culture and why interest groups and key senators have already mobilized along the same battle lines drawn nearly 20 years ago, when Planned Parenthood took out ads proclaiming Robert Bork's position on reproductive rights, "You don't have any," and some 180 civil rights and civil liberties groups joined forces to stop Bork.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 42. The nays are 58. The nomination is not confirmed.

SESNO: And they succeeded.

BORK: Nobody had ever seen radio ads, television ads, newspaper ads, and so forth by -- particularly by these activist left-wing groups. I think that started it and I think caused a lot of bad feeling between the parties.

SESNO (on camera): What's the likely scenario for future Supreme Court nominees?

BORK: Agony.

SESNO: You know something about that.

[laughter]

SESNO: And is it inevitable that future Supreme Court nominees are going to get Borked?

BORK: Oh, yes.

SESNO: Part of the culture wars?

BORK: Yes.

SESNO: Wars that really are about America's future. Think of it this way. If the next justice serves as long as William Rehnquist ...

WILLIAM REHNQUIST (Supreme Court chief justice): Will you raise your right hand, Mr. President?

SESNO: ... he or she will still be writing opinions in 2038.

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments, The Judiciary
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