Hewitt accused CNN of ignoring criticism of Dems in Alito coverage -- but CNN guest lineup and coverage say otherwise

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

On CNN's On the Story, conservative blogger and radio host Hugh Hewitt accused CNN of ignoring conservative criticism of Democratic senators' performance during the nomination hearing for Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. In fact, CNN featured six solo appearances by non-senators who criticized Senate Democrats over their questioning of Alito, and no solo appearances by non-elected progressive critics of Alito. Moreover, CNN offered no opposing viewpoint to counter Hewitt's baseless accusation.

Appearing on the January 14 edition of CNN's On the Story, conservative blogger and nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt baselessly accused CNN of ignoring conservative criticism of the performance of Democratic senators in its coverage of the nomination hearings for Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. Hewitt pointed to appearances on CNN by HBO host Bill Maher and CNN anchor Jack Cafferty as purported evidence for his assertion, leading CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry to respond by claiming that CNN left it to viewers to "s[ee] with their own eyes [that] the Democrats were not getting anywhere" in questioning Alito. In fact, CNN did not leave it to viewers to assess the Democrats' performance; it provided ample time for conservatives who criticized Democrats during the hearings. While CNN featured one more interview with Democratic senators than with Republican senators during live coverage of the hearings on The Situation Room, the cable network featured six solo appearances by non-senators who condemned Senate Democrats over their questioning of Alito -- including a total of four appearances by either the former or current Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman. By contrast, CNN's live coverage did not feature a single solo appearance by a non-elected liberal or progressive who opposes Alito.

Moreover, CNN did not include any guest from the left to counter Hewitt's claims, although Media Matters for America has identified several instances of misinformation in CNN's coverage of the hearings (see here, here, and here).

Pointing to the January 13 edition of CNN's Larry King Live and repeated appearances by Cafferty as purported evidence of imbalanced programming, Hewitt claimed that those who watched the hearings on outlets such as CNN "have no idea of the undressing that the Senate Democrats were handed" by conservative bloggers because conservative critiques of the Democrats "did not make it much onto television":

HEWITT: If you were only a television viewer, you have no idea of the undressing that the Senate Democrats were handed, not just by Judge Alito but by a whole army of competent bloggers, whether it was over at The Corner at NationalReview.com or [National Review Online's] Bench Memos, the folks over at Power Line blog, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

There are a number of us who are law professors or are very competent and long-serving lawyers who were watching and listening as Democratic senator after Democratic senator first, asked dumb questions; B) got answers they could not understand; or C) simply embarrassed themselves. That was on the blogosphere. It did not make it much onto television.

[...]

HEWITT: [I]f you turn, for example, to CNN and one of my favorite people to watch, though never to agree with, Jack Cafferty, who I don't think has been right since The Situation Room started, Jack never has to prove anything he says. He just sort of spouts off. And that's fine. It's good television. It's not very reliable, and I think the audience is figuring that out, and that's why my traffic skyrocketed this week.

[...]

HEWITT: Look, on Friday night after the hearings concluded, Larry King took the night off. That's fine. Who'd you put into his chair? Bill Maher. Who'd you bring on with him? [former Senate Majority Leader] George Mitchell [D-ME]. Yes, [Rep.] Dave Dreier [R-CA] showed up, but I mean, Bill Maher? That man hasn't been right about anything. He's less right than Cafferty. The reason that networks are losing audience and blogosphere is gaining audience is that we have free and open access to people who want facts backed up by opinion. And we have expertise.

Henry responded by agreeing that the Democrats "were not getting anywhere" in their questioning of Alito, while also claiming that CNN's coverage allowed viewers to determine "with their own eyes" that the Democrats had been infeffective:

HENRY: The fact that CNN was giving the hearings to people unfiltered, for the most part -- there were commercial breaks here and there, there was analysis. But you could see [Sen.] Jo[seph R.] Biden [Jr.] (D-DE) give a 20-minute speech before he got to ask a question of the nominee. Viewers are smart enough, in my opinion, to be able to figure out whether or not he's getting anywhere or not.

Why is that not good for you [Hewitt]? I mean, the fact is people saw with their own eyes the Democrats were not getting anywhere. That's not a political opinion. That's the fact that Alito -- Judge Alito was able to turn them back.

But both Hewitt's specific claims about Larry King Live and Cafferty and his broader claim that CNN's coverage ignored conservative criticism of Democrats fall apart under closer scrutiny.

Hewitt criticized CNN for repeatedly featuring commentary from Cafferty, who Hewitt claimed has not "been right since The Situation Room started," and therefore is an example of why CNN is purportedly incapable of pointing out "the undressing that the Senate Democrats were handed" during the Alito hearings. But Hewitt's suggestion that Cafferty is insufficiently "right" to make the arguments that Hewitt thinks should have been aired on CNN ignores Cafferty's numerous instances of misinformation that advance a conservative agenda, including misinformation by Cafferty after The Situation Room started in August 2005. As Media Matters has documented, Cafferty falsely suggested that President Bush's proposed Social Security cuts would not impact lower-middle and middle-class workers, lent support to Fox News' campaign advancing the claim of a "War on Christmas," and cited a flawed study purporting to demonstrate that America's news content has "a strong liberal bias."

Further, while accurately noting that Maher guest-hosted the January 13 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, Hewitt falsely suggested that Maher discussed the hearings only with Dreier and Mitchell. In fact, the three-person panel also featured former presidential adviser David Gergen, who criticized Senate Democrats for their "failure" to "dramatiz[e] how big a change this is for the court," and added that "conservatives this week have achieved one of the most important victories of their past 40 years."

Most importantly, a summary of the guests who were granted solo interviews is the most direct evidence that CNN did not ignore conservative criticism of Democrats in its live coverage of the Alito hearings. First is Hewitt himself, whose suggestion that CNN's coverage of Alito lacked balance was aired on CNN with no one offering a counter-argument before, during, or after his segment.

The point is even more clearly illustrated through an examination of CNN's coverage of the hearings themselves. Contrary to Henry's claim that CNN let viewers watch the hearings "unfiltered," between the first day of live coverage of the hearings on January 9 and the final day on January 12, CNN featured six solo appearances by non-elected conservatives who support Alito's confirmation and criticized the Democrats who oppose him, but not a single non-elected progressive who opposes Alito. Included in those six conservative appearances were three by former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, who defended Alito's reluctance to describe Roe v. Wade as "settled law" in one appearance by falsely claiming that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. refused to characterize Roe as "settled law" in his Supreme Court hearing, and one by current RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who alleged that "in the opening statements" Democrats made "18 misstatements, six of them by Senator Ted Kennedy."

The Democratic or progressive pundits who did appear during CNN's coverage -- Democratic strategists Donna Brazile and Paul Begala and radio host and syndicated columnist Bill Press -- were each accompanied by a conservative: American Cause President Bay Buchanan, former Bush administration official Victoria Clarke, Human Events Online editor Terence P. Jeffrey, and Republican strategist Rich Galen. CNN also featured four interviews with Democratic senators and three interviews with Republican senators.

Solo interviews with non-senators

Progressive

Conservative

Gillespie (1/9)

Mehlman (1/9)

Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand (1/10)

Gillespie (1/11)

Gillespie (1/12)

Former Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork (1/12)

Appearances by Democratic or progressive pundits paired with conservatives

Date

Progressive

Conservative

1/9

Brazile

Buchanan

1/10

Press

Clarke

1/11

Begala

Jeffrey

1/12

Begala

Galen

Solo interviews with senators

Democrat

Republican

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) (1/9)

Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) (1/9)

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) (1/10)

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (1/11)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (1/11)

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC) (1/12)

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE) (1/11)

Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Hugh Hewitt
Show/Publication
On the Story
Stories/Interests
Supreme Court Nominations, Alito Nomination
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