This Is How It’s Done
It is remarkably frustrating to blog the Alito hearings, feel the righteous indignation of people in the comments sections all over the blogosphere that the supreme court is in danger of making a major lurch to the extreme right with the potential appointment of a bigoted, sexist, entitled, slavering chickenhawk like Alito, and see it reflected nowhere in the traditional media.
Every time it feels like some momentum is being gained, CNN blows it all away with the sweep of a facile headline. Pick up a paper or turn on cable news and on cue they are parroting all the GOP’s talking points — Alito’s a moderate, he’ll keep an "open mind" on abortion, and oh the poor frumpy sobbing wife.
How does the GOP keep them all in such abject subservience? An article from the Knight-Ridder news service shows the extremely organized pressure they bring to bear on anyone who deviates from their party message:
On Dec. 1, Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau sent a story analyzing the record of Judge Samuel Alito to our 32 daily newspapers and to the more than 300 papers that subscribe to the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. Written by Stephen Henderson, Knight Ridder’s Supreme Court correspondent, and Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News, the story began:
"During his 15 years on the federal bench, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has worked quietly but resolutely to weave a conservative legal agenda into the fabric of the nation’s laws."
Assisted by Washington bureau researcher Tish Wells, Henderson and Mintz spent nearly a month reading all of Alito’s 311 published opinions, which are available in a commercial database or in the archives of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, where Alito has sat for 15 years.
Henderson and Mintz cataloged the cases by category – employment discrimination, criminal justice, immigration and so on – and analyzed each one with help from attorneys who participated on both sides of the cases and experts in those fields of law. They interviewed legal scholars and other judges, many of them admirers of Alito.
They concluded that, "although Alito’s opinions are rarely written with obvious ideology, he’s seldom sided with a criminal defendant, a foreign national facing deportation, an employee alleging discrimination or consumers suing big business."
You might find this neither surprising nor controversial. Alito, after all, was nominated by a president who said that his ideal Supreme Court justices were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the high court’s most reliably conservative members.
You’d be wrong.
Within days, the Senate Republican Conference circulated a lengthy memo headlined, "Knight Ridder Misrepresents Judge Alito’s 15-year record."
Their talking points in place, they sent out the foot soldiers:
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a leader in the Alito confirmation process, sent a letter to the editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, a Knight Ridder paper, denouncing the story as "neither objective nor accurate." The Inquirer published it on Dec. 7.
Trot out some "expert" and demand equal time:
The White House offered an opinion piece by Jeffrey N. Wasserstein, a former Alito law clerk who identified himself as a Democrat and said his former boss "is capable of setting aside any personal biases he may have when he judges." Knight Ridder/Tribune distributed it to all of our papers and its subscribers on Dec. 11.
Get the hacks into the act:
A conservative columnist, whose glowing tribute to Alito is now featured in television advertisements supporting the nominee, declared the Knight Ridder story "illiterate."
Then when anyone brings it up, cite all your previous bullshit as proof irrefutable that the story has no merit:
The controversy erupted again this week at Alito’s confirmation hearings. After Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., referred to the Knight Ridder story, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., introduced a critique of the story by the Republican staff of the Judiciary Committee into the record of the hearings. Kyl said the story, "has, to my understanding, been rather completely discredited." The first paragraph of the Republican critique, however, said the story was based on "dozens" of Alito’s opinions, creating the false impression that Henderson and Mintz didn’t examine the judge’s entire body of published work.
Don’t forget the ad hominum attacks on the author as a cautionary tale (a la Joe Wilson) to anyone else who might think to step out of line:
The Republican National Committee circulated a blistering personal attack on Henderson to some reporters, taking quotes out of context in an attempt to portray him as biased.
Bugger the truth:
The RNC said Henderson "admitted he was previously an editorial writer," as though that very public part of a distinguished reporter’s career was a secret that he’d been trying to hide. The RNC statement then linked Henderson to editorials he didn’t write.
And let’s just remember the fact they were trying to dispute — that Alito is a conservative:
This hysteria over a carefully researched article that documents the obvious – that Samuel Alito is a judicial conservative – is the latest example of a disturbing trend of attacking the messenger instead of debating difficult issues.
Fact-based reporting is the lifeblood of a democracy. It gives people shared information on which to make political choices. But as people in new democracies risk their lives to gather such information, in this country fact-based reporting is under more relentless assault than at any time in my more than 40 years in Washington.
Peter Daou has an important post up entitled "Bloggers in the Wilderness" about which he says:
This, then, is the reality: progressive bloggers and online activists – positioned on the front lines of a cold civil war – face a thankless and daunting task: battle the Bush administration and its legions of online and offline apologists, battle the so-called "liberal" media and its tireless weaving of pro-GOP narratives, battle the ineffectual Democratic leadership, and battle the demoralization and frustration that comes with a long, steep uphill struggle.
Peter’s absolutely right. And this is what we’re up against.