Last week's press coverage of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court was gruesome in so many ways, as reporters routinely fell down and failed to reflect even the most basic tenets of journalism.
One of the most disturbing examples of how fundamentals were ignored involved Sotomayor's now-infamous quote from eight years ago about a "Latina woman" judge reaching a "better conclusion" on the bench than her white male counterparts. Sotomayor made the comment as part of a speech she gave at University of California, Berkeley, in 2001 in which she explored what it would mean to have more women and minorities on the bench.
To see just how dreadful the coverage of that story became, let's look at the efforts by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, which published nearly identical news articles about the unfolding political battle surrounding Sotomayor and the "Latina woman" quote, which conservatives have latched onto. The quote became the basis for the incendiary claim made by Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck, among others, that Sotomayor is, in fact, a racist because she thinks Hispanic judges render better decisions than whites.
Here was how the Journal reported out the story on May 28 (emphasis added):
Conservatives are focusing on a speech Ms. Sotomayor delivered at the University of California at Berkeley law school, where she said, "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."
"Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.' Wouldn't they have to withdraw?" asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on his Web site. "New racism is no better than old racism."
White House aides said the comment was being taken out of context, and predicted it wouldn't put the nomination off course.
And here's how The Washington Post treated the same story, on the same day, in a news article:
Leading conservatives outside the Senate, however, did not hold back, targeting a pair of speeches in which Sotomayor said appellate courts are where "policy is made" and another in which she said a Latina would often "reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
Critics also targeted her support for affirmative action, with Rush Limbaugh calling her a "reverse racist" in his syndicated radio program, citing a case in which she ruled against a group of white firefighters who claimed discrimination in hiring practices. White House officials argued that the comments in the speeches were taken out of context, and they said that the firefighters case was an example of Sotomayor accepting established precedent, something they said conservatives should applaud.
For good measure, the Journal returned to the topic on May 30, again referencing the "Latina woman" quote:
Earlier this week, administration officials said the nominee's comments at the University of California, Berkeley, were being taken out of context.
Both the Post and the Journal reported on the conservative attack on Sotomayor driven by her "Latina woman" quote. Both the Post and Journal reported that the White House had complained the quote had been taken out of context. And incredibly, both newspapers failed to explain what the actual context was.
What was the context? When Sotomayor asserted, "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," she was specifically discussing the importance of judicial diversity in determining race and sex discrimination cases.
Placed in the proper framework, Sotomayor's comments become far less controversial. (She was not making a sweeping claim about the superiority of Latina women.) And placed in the proper context, the right-wing allegation that she's a racist utterly collapses and instead reveals itself to be the ugly, hateful charge that it is.
But Post and Journal readers were never given the context, which meant they were unable to conclude if the White House claim about the quote being unfairly lifted was accurate. Readers didn't know if the attack against Sotomayor -- that she was a "racist" because she thought minority judges were better than white men -- was fair and legitimate. Readers were left in the dark because all the Post and Journal thought to do was record the attack and get the White House response. It never occurred to reporters and editors at the Post and the Journal to spell out for news consumers what the context of the "Latina woman" quote was.
And trust me, those two corporate news outlets were hardly alone.
CBS' Bob Schieffer stripped out all context of the Sotomayor quote and then asked a Republican senator appearing on Face the Nation if it was enough to "keep her from being confirmed as a justice on the Supreme Court." Keep in mind, virtually no senators currently oppose Sotomayor, not even Republicans. But Schieffer was eager to know if her nomination was doomed. The only thing more amazing than that was the fact it took a Republican senator to remind Schieffer that there was missing context to the "Latina woman" quote.
After many hours of Googling and searching Nexis and combing through television transcripts, I can say with complete confidence that not only did most news organizations fail to include context for the "Latina woman" quote, but it was the absolute iron-clad rule. Providing even passing context for the quote was basically banned. The Village Did. Not. Allow. It.
So did Time, The Economist, Congressional Quarterly, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post's Vincent Carroll, USA Today, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Pretty much every news outlet in the country followed the rule.
They all reported on the "Latina woman" quote. They all reported it was controversial. And they all failed to explain that Sotomayor was specifically discussing discrimination cases when she made the remark.
And that doesn't even take into account the dozens (hundreds?) of "Latina woman" mentions on TV last week that failed to provide any framework whatsoever. Instead, the quote was simply used as a springboard for conservatives to launch malicious attacks against the esteemed judge. (Select journalists who actually did include context last week included Hanna Rosin at the Double X blog XX factor, Mike Barnicle on MSNBC, and Westchester, New York, newspaper columnist Noreen O'Donnell.)
Given the near ubiquity of the press failing, it's hard for me to believe that it wasn't been done intentionally. I'm not into newsroom conspiracies, but it's just difficult to believe that among these elite, college-educated journalists, that virtually every one of them covering the Sotomayor story mysteriously forgot to provide even the slightest context for the "Latina woman" quote -- a single sentence from a speech given eight years ago. Having looked at this story from every angle, I can only conclude that the lack of context has been a conscious, deliberate decision by journalists to, in a sense, purposefully un-inform news consumers, which, of course, is the opposite of what journalism aspires to accomplish.
I don't see how reporters and editors working for some of the largest news media outlets in the country could, almost without exception, fail to include crucial context about the Sotomayor quote and have it be some sort of cross-country cosmic event. It just doesn't make sense. I think it's premeditated.
Why? Simple: The press has already penciled in weeks' worth, if not months' worth, of Supreme Court nomination coverage for this summer. Married to the idea that Senate hearings hold the promise of dissolving into the wild pie fights, like the raucous affairs that unfolded during the dramatic Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork showdowns, the Beltway press relentlessly hypes these stories even though, as more recent nominations have shown, the hearings themselves turn out to be wildly anticlimactic.
Worse for the press was the fact that early indications from key Republican senators last week were that Sotomayor faced a relatively easy confirmation "battle" and that excluding some type of unforeseen personal scandal, she was good as confirmed.
Where's the drama in that? How are reporters and pundits supposed to gobble up endless hours of TV talk time by simply marveling at how Obama picked an eminently qualified judge who garnered bipartisan Senate support?
That's not the storyline the press wanted to embrace. So, in order to prop up any semblance of Sotomayor drama, the press turned away from Republican senators and turned its time and attention to highlighting outlandish claims made by GOP Noise Machine leaders, like Limbaugh and Gingrich, who were in heated agreement that Sotomayor was a racist. (Fact: The press treated that hateful claim with a stunning nonchalance, as if that kind of character assassination were commonplace for Supreme Court nominees.)
That was a story the press could get excited about. But to chase the "racist" story, the press had to both embrace and amplify conservative talking points about Sotomayor and play dumb on an epic scale in order to pretend that the "Latina woman" quote was perhaps just as damning as Gingrich and company claimed it was, to pretend maybe Sotomayor did think she was better than everyone else.
And, boy, did everyone play dumb. And I thought staffers at The Washington Post played dumb especially well. The entire newsroom got into the act while "covering" the Sotomayor "Latina woman" angle. Don't believe me? See for yourself.
The Washington Post editorial page? Check.
Howard Kurtz? Check.
George Will? Check.
Dana Milbank? Check.
David Broder? Check.
None of the high-profile Post writers ever bothered to explain the context of the "Latina woman" quote. Incredibly, Milbank wrote an entire column about it without putting it in context.
Bottom line: It was virtually impossible for Post readers to understand what Sotomayor was referring to with the 8-year-old "Latina woman" quote. But it was possible, given the purposefully sketchy reporting, to see how Sotomayor might be prejudiced.
Sadly, I have a hunch that was the whole point of the misguided newsroom exercise.
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The Bush regime always urged that we should listen to the generals. Well, they should listen themselves to General Sanchez who is now saying that he supports the formation of a truth commission. He seems prepared to allow the chips to fall where they may.
He also states that "soldiers must never be abandoned on the battlefield again, as mine were."
Sanchez' soldiers famously included Lynndie England and Charles Graner who were prosecuted, they say for following orders.
When the General in charge of the entire Iraq operation calls for an investigation into what took place, it really must be becoming impossible for an investigation to be avoided.
Tags: general sanchez, investigation, rumsfeld, bush, cheney, war criminal, crime, torture, waterboard, gitmo
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The Atlantic Ocean rises to consciousness this week after silently swallowing 228 people on an airliner from Brazil just after the death in England of a 97-year-old woman, the last survivor of the Titanic.
Almost a century apart, the disasters recall the fragility of human life in the face of all the technological advances of 21st century life.
Sitting in the vast darkness over an ocean has become so safe and familiar that Flight 447's sudden disappearance sends only a ripple of anxiety around the world. Few may board a plane to cross an ocean in coming days with a twinge of worry until all the facts are known, until its freakishness is explained, catalogued and consigned to a category of events as unlikely as being struck by lightning.
In 1912, Millvina Dean was a two-month-old baby when her parents boarded the Titanic for its maiden voyage. She died this weekend, a survivor celebrity whose nursing home bills in recent years were paid in part by Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio and James Cameron, the stars and director of the 1997 movie about the disaster.
Between now and then, sudden mass death has become so familiar that, unless they have the political significance of 9/11, events like the fall of Flight 447 will persist in the public mind for only days or weeks until they are somehow explained and pushed out of awareness, uncommemorated by movies and memories that last a hundred years.
Unlike the Titanic, the airliner from Brazil will sink without trace.
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Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy For God, blew the whistle on the murderous domestic terrorist network that is ripping our country apart. The video below is extremely powerful-- and very revealing. Yesterday Schaeffer wrote a post for HuffPo, How I (And Other "Pro-Life" Leaders) Contributed To Dr. Tiller's Murder.
My late father and I share the blame (with many others) for the murder of Dr. George Tiller the abortion doctor gunned down on Sunday. Until I got out of the religious right (in the mid-1980s) and repented of my former hate-filled rhetoric I was both a leader of the so-called pro-life movement and a part of a Republican Party hate machine masquerading as the moral conscience of America.
...When evangelicals on the right call President Obama a socialist, a racist, anti-American, an abortionist, not a real American, and, echoing the former Vice President, someone who is weakening America's defenses and making us less safe, the logical conclusion is violence. If you take these words literally you might pull the trigger to "make America safe" and/or free us from communism or to even protect us from-- what some "Christian" leaders claim-- Obama as the Antichrist.
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I watched earlier as the Liz and Dick show came to it's inevitable conclusion, with a joint appearance on Fox.
My favourite moment is when Cheney states, talking about the Obama administration, that "the new administration have fallen a little short" on the subject of transparency.
Liz pipes in. "Hypocrisy is something the American people can smell."
I'm sure they can, Liz. Indeed, I'm sure they realise the irony in the most secretive Vice President in history calling out Obama on the subject of transparency.
In this video Rachel Maddow looks at another recent Cheney speech in which he has suddenly admitted that there was no link between Iran and al Qaeda. He also attempts to shove Tenet under the bus by blaming him for the information on which the Iraq war was based. Cheney, naturally, wishes us to ignore his many visits to the CIA and the fact that he was personally applying pressure for the CIA to find evidence which would justify a war which Cheney and others were determined to wage.
Tenet did not make the decision to go to war, that was made by Bush with Cheney's encouragement.
It's pathetic to watch Cheney attempt to place the blame on Tenet's shoulders.
Tags: senator bob graham, bush, cheney, war criminal, crime, torture, waterboard, gitmo
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Escalating dispatches from the health-care front -- that would be Capitol Hill, may God help us -- reveal nothing conclusive but a fog of war, a tenuous situation that shuffles from temporary truces to guns blazing, from diplomatic communiqués to renewed hostilities.
No one, especially the press, seems to know just where things stand, although fresh and often contradictory reports issue almost hourly. The most hopeful sign for the forces of national virtue is that Ted Kennedy, chairman of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is, despite ill health, now "reasserting his voice," "circulating" a "policy overview" -- essentially a public plan guaranteeing universal coverage -- and, insert angelic chorus here, "laying down a marker to the left of Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus."
Max, as you know, is virtue's likely bottleneck, a kind of victorious Gen. Custer who brazenly confronts sound reasoning and massive yearnings for overdue change and sends them all straight to hell. Kennedy's "committee paper outlines broad concepts that generally align with the ideas Baucus is considering," said one recent press report, which followed two paragraphs later with the unfortunate but inevitable unraveling: "The details are where Kennedy may diverge from Baucus."
I should say, since Baucus' committee is Compromise Central. Its ranking Republican, Iowa's Chuck Grassley, is scornful of Kennedy's plan, and for reasons of misplaced bipartisan striving (meaning, in this case, that all the outside monied interests are being properly pampered), Max says he actually gives a damn what Chuck and his enormously repudiated party think, hence the understated "divergence" between the committees.
By last Saturday afternoon, these dueling committees had issued a joint statement of amicability, "despite," said the statement, "some media reports to the contrary" -- a not-so veiled reference to the NY Times' Saturday morning piece which declared that "a significant split has developed between the two Democratic senators leading efforts to remake the nation?s health care system. They disagree over the contours of a public health insurance plan, the most explosive issue in the debate."
The committees' statement found its journalistic target, in part, because by Monday morning the Politico was cheerfully, if not confoundingly, reporting that "If Congress were to take a vote on a health reform bill today, Democrats and Republicans would find a surprising level of agreement -- so much so that the broad outlines of a consensus plan already are taking shape. Sick or healthy, rich or poor, all Americans would be guaranteed access to health insurance."
Then came the confounding part: "The task is exceedingly complex and faces the legislative equivalent of an Ironman triathlon.... So there?s no guarantee every piece is going to fall into place ... or even that a final compromise will be forged." In short, all Americans will soon be covered, except they probably won't.
I understand the wretched politics behind this thing, yet that phrase -- "the task is exceedingly complex" -- also understandably causes the ordinarily composed to soar into fits of rage. Because by itself, neither the task nor the issue is exceedingly complex, not even mildly complex. It's just that we -- "we" being this rather unrepresentative democracy called America -- can't seem to fathom what the civilized world fathomed long ago.
This essential point was brought home to me over the weekend when, in response to a health-care piece I wrote last Friday, came an email from an immensely trusted and well-traveled friend, Prof. C.F.E. Stuart, who marveled at what America can't seem to do, but Europe has been doing for decades -- for Americans. I quote at some length:
I have been in two European hospitals in my trips to Europe over the years and am greatly favorable to them. The first was in London where I was suffering from what I referred to as 'King George III's revenge' and felt like I was having a baby every time I went to bathroom, which was often. A Londoner had pity on my innocent soul and took me to the London Free Hospital where I was diagnosed with a viral infection. I was given two medicines and sent on my way ... FREE ... (I now hear that it is no longer AS free to foreigners as before, because of advantage-taking) and when I went to get a renewal of prescriptions both cost less than one Pound which was about 2$ at the time. Oh, the evils of socialized medicine.
The Second was in Switzerland. I had hurt my back badly and finally went to the hospital in Lugano. They X-rayed me and found two breaks in my spinal column and operated within 30 minutes and then bound me and sent me on my way to come back in a few days. They X-rayed again and found all was OK and asked me to come in every other day for about a week or so. I did ... all was OK. As I was not a citizen of Switzerland, I had to pay for all of this and got the bill which was embarrassing to them as to a Swiss this would have been covered. My bill came to 35 Swiss Francs, which was about 22 dollars US.
So as you can see, all my experiences with socialized medicine have been pretty damn good. As a matter of fact, when I got back to the US, I had my back X-rayed for the hell of it. All was OK, but the bill here for the one X-ray was $125.00.
So what my good friend encountered overseas was, in fact, exceedingly simple.
We'll get there someday, too, but until then we'll complicate the unholy bejesus out of health-care simplicity. The perpetrators of this insufferable delay will call it principled compromise; the adjective being fraudulent, the noun being unnecessary.
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The story just gives me chills. Not only because I tend to fly Air France across the Atlantic, but more generally the whole idea of going down in a plane just strikes me as one of the worst ways to go. The Post has a small update, and an online chat, going on now, for another ten minutes, I believe. Included was this:
Philadelphia, Pa.: Why did it take so long to locate a missing plane? I realize that radar doesn't work below a certain altitude and that it is hard to spot something in the ocean. But, still, in this age of global position tracking, isn't there some faster way to better find missing planes? If not, what is needed to create a faster tracking system?
Doug Feaver: I think the big story to come out of this is exactly on your point. Why are we still following airplanes across the ocean with World War II radio technology? as somebody said on NPR this morning. One would think with satellite technology that airline navigation would use it. We're still using ground-based radar for the U.S. airspace system instead of the GPS that can tell me how to get to my driveway.
Just a lone crazy with no connections to the pro-life movement.[...]
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Perhaps The Right Should Take A HardLook At Its SelfWhen It Comes To Promoting Hate, Fear And Violence Tuesday's Headlines: A match made in the old ways The great Tiananmen taboo The Big Question: Do Pakistan's gains in the Swat valley mean[...]
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