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The Media's Appalling Coverage of Sonia Sotomayor

Coverage of Sotomayor's nomination has been gruesome in so many ways, as reporters fail to reflect even the most basic tenets of journalism.

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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.

Politico, for instance, failed to provide context for the quote here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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.

Theyall 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.

 
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