The Media's Appalling Coverage of Sonia Sotomayor
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.