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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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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.

Ruth Marcus? Check. And 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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