MEDIA

Media Beating Race-Based Critique Of Sotomayor To Death

07/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The people at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting have run down, from soup to nuts, the way in which the Sotomayor-is-a-racist talking points issued forth from critics have taken root as the dominant media narrative. A lot of attention has been paid, for instance, to Sotomayor's "wise Latina judge" comment. To my mind, it was -- at worst -- merely flippant, and yet it cannot be denied that many have used this thin gruel to mount the case that the judge is a dyed in the wool racist. I think anyone with even a passing familiarity with the material and corporal harm done by actual racists to actual victims of racism would find the comparison churlish. The White House, of course, has now "walked it back," because that's all part of this dance, but as FAIR points out, it was hardly necessary:

But anyone who reads Sotomayor's 2001 speech can see that the prevailing media discussion is totally misleading. Her point was that people's backgrounds affect how they see the world. This would seem to be a rather uncontroversial fact of life; justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Samuel Alito made similar statements about their own backgrounds to no great controversy.

Anyway, FAIR's contention is that "the right's critique is driving the journalism -- no matter what the facts say." I'm not sure that's entirely true. As weaselly as The New Republic tends to be, I don't hold to the idea that, say, Jeffrey Rosen is some emissary of right-wing ideology, and you'd be hard pressed to demonstrate that Rosen's criticisms haven't figured prominently in the debate over Sotomayor as well.

FAIR's main point is this: "At this point, the confirmation battle over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will hinge in part on whether the media want to fact-check her critics." I respect their opinion, but I'm skeptical. It seems to me that the "confirmation battle" is going to take place at a time and a place that's going to seem very far removed from today's media cycle. The whole race angle is certainly SHINY SHINY today, but in a few weeks' time, the controversy over this "wise Latina judge" quote is going to lose its luster. Should it come up at the hearings, it's likely to seem like very old news that will activate more fatigue than outrage. I have a feeling that the administration, and Obama -- who got controversies like "Bittergate" and "God Damn America" over and done with long before crunch time came along -- can appreciate the way Sotomayor's fiercest critics are falling all over each other to burn their criticism out.

Naturally, when the confirmation hearings begin, one should allow for the possibility that a new controversy might flare up. Hopefully, Sotomayor has not been using TurboTax! For the time being, yes, it's the typical outrageous example of the press allowing nonsense to flourish for the sake of a controversy, but practically speaking, one can't help but feel that by enabling the criticism, the media has also ensured that this criticism will go the way of Susan Boyle.

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