NBC, CNN & Wash Post Yet to Correct Kennedy’s Smear of Alito Based on Satire

FNC’s Brit Hume on Monday night picked up on how, in trying to smear Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as a bigot, Senator Ted Kennedy, in a quote showcased by many media outlets, read from what was really a satire. Hume noted how at the hearings last week Kennedy read this from a magazine published by Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP): “People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic.” Hume informed his viewers: “But the magazine's editor at the time says the article was pure satire, a send-up of what liberals think conservatives think. He added quote, 'I think left-wing groups have been feeding Senator Kennedy snippets and he has been mindlessly reciting them,' unquote." As Tim Graham noted in a Friday NewsBusters item, in his ABCNews.com blog that day, Jake Tapper first reported how Dinesh D’Souza, the editor to whom Hume referred, had let him know that the 1983 piece in Prospect magazine was satire.

Last week, NBC, CNN and the Washington Post -- amongst many other outlets -- highlighted Kennedy’s reading of the quote, which he displayed on a board behind him, yet none, as far as I’ve observed, have offered any clarification. NBC’s Pete Williams featured the Kennedy soundbite on Wednesday’s NBC Nightly News and Thursday’s Today; CNN’s Bob Franken recited it himself on Thursday’s American Morning; and two Thursday Washington Post stories quoted Kennedy’s citation of the quote. (Rundown follows.)

Hume led his “Grapevine” segment on the January 16 Special Report with Brit Hume:
"In suggesting that Samuel Alito had belonged to a racist conservative group, Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy relied heavily on an essay published by the organization that sounded like a bigoted rant. The essay, titled 'In Defense of Elitism,' reads in part quote, 'People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic.' But the magazine's editor at the time says the article was pure satire, a send-up of what liberals think conservatives think. He added quote, 'I think left-wing groups have been feeding Senator Kennedy snippets and he has been mindlessly reciting them,' unquote."

On Friday, January 13, in his “Down and Dirty” blog on the ABCNews.com Web site, ABC News reporter Jake Tapper recounted:
Probing the debate over Alito's having said he was a member of the conservative Concerned Alumni of Princeton on a 1985 job application with the Reagan Justice Department, I spoke to conservative intellectual Dinesh D'Souza of the Hoover Institution yesterday.

D'Souza worked for CAP from 1983 to 1985, editing CAP's controversial Prospect magazine. He said a number of the Democratic attacks on Samuel Alito were based on falsehoods.

First off, D'Souza says, one of the two stories from Prospect that Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-MA, read this week at the confirmation hearings was intended as a satire.

The 1983 essay "In Defense of Elitism" by Harry Crocker III included this line, read dramatically by Kennedy: "People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns blacks and hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and hispanic..."

The essay may not have been funny, D'Souza acknowledges, but Kennedy read from it as if it had been serious instead of an attempt at humor.

"I think left-wing groups have been feeding Senator Kennedy snippets and he has been mindlessly reciting them," D'Souza said. "It was a satire."

END of Excerpt from Tapper’s blog

At no time last week, from what I’ve been able to determine, did ABC or CBS run a soundbite of Kennedy reading the quote from the magazine.

Some examples of journalists who have featured Kennedy’s blast, without any recognition it was really satire:

# NBC Nightly News, Wednesday, January 11. Pete Williams began:
"Democrats on the committee challenged Alito to explain something he wrote in 1985, applying for a promotion as a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department. Listing his credentials, he said he was a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University, describing it as a conservative alumni group. Judge Alito now says he doesn't remember joining it, but says he probably supported its fight to keep an ROTC program on Princeton's campus. Today, Senator Edward Kennedy asked if Alito agreed with other positions taken by the alumni group, reading from a magazine it published.”

Senator Ted Kennedy, at hearing: “Quote: 'People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic.’"

# NBC’s Today, Thursday, January 12, as caught by the MRC’s Geoff Dickens. Pete Williams, picking up as he explained what led to Mrs. Alito crying:
"It all began when Democrats questioned Alito about something he wrote in 1985 applying for a promotion as a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department. Listing his credentials he said he was a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University, describing it as a conservative alumni group. Alito says he remembers little about it but probably supported its fight to keep ROTC at Princeton. But Senator Ted Kennedy quoted from a magazine published by the alumni group back then."

Sen. Ted Kennedy: "'People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic.’"

Alito: "Had I thought that, that's what this organization stood for I would never associate myself with it in any way."

Williams: "And asked whether he's like other conservatives on the Supreme Court like
Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas Alito said no..."

# CNN’s American Morning, Thursday, January 12. From Capitol Hill, with matching text on screen, Bob Franken asserted:
“Kennedy had cited a 1983 essay in the group's magazine which included this quote, 'People nowadays just don't seem to know their place.' It went on to sharply criticize, 'blacks and Hispanics, the physically handicapped, homosexuals.'"

Alito: "They're not my views now. They never were my views. They represent things that I deplore."

Franken: "Republicans are saying that their opponents are engaging in desperation, but the Democrats say what this is really about is a right-wing agenda, they charge, that Samuel Alito wants to bring to the Supreme Court."

# Two January 12 Washington Post stories featured Kennedy’s use of the quote to impugn Alito.

A story by Dale Russakoff
, headlined “Alito Disavows Controversial Group: Nominee Touted His Membership in 1985,” included this passage:
Throughout its existence, the now-defunct group was widely reported in major newspapers and magazines to be against increased admission of minorities and women -- positions advanced in its magazine, fliers and letters to alumni. Republicans released a 1985 newspaper article that said the group also was defending the Army ROTC unit then.

Democrats declared themselves "incredulous" that Alito was unaware of the group's attitudes toward women and minority students, and that his explanations for why he joined the group and mentioned it on an application did not add up. Kennedy read aloud a number of passages from the group's magazine, Prospect, that attacked women, minorities and gays.

One 1983 article, titled "In Defense of Elitism," began: "People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic. The physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports. And homosexuals are demanding the government vouchsafe them the right to bear children."

Alito said he had never seen the article and called the views in it "antithetical" to his beliefs. Republicans released disclaimers from Prospect saying that all articles reflected the opinions of the authors and were not official positions of Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

END of Excerpt from first of two Washington Post articles

In “Alito Leaves Door Open to Reversing 'Roe': Membership In Controversial Group Surfaces As an Issue,” Amy Goldstein and Charles Babington reported:
Alito told the committee he does not remember joining the now-defunct group -- founded in 1972, the year he graduated from Princeton University -- and does not know anything about it. Democrats challenged him sharply, wondering aloud if he used the club to impress Reagan conservatives but now wants to distance himself from its outspoken opposition to efforts that brought more women and minorities to Princeton.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), said Alito's forgetfulness seemed too convenient. "If he didn't know what they stood for, he had to be about the only person in America who didn't know what they stood for," Leahy said.

At midday, Kennedy employed large blue charts showing quotes from articles published in the group's magazine, Prospect. "People nowadays just don't seem to know their place," a November 1983 article said. "Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic....Homosexuals are demanding the government vouchsafe them the right to bear children....And now come women."

Alito said he had read none of the articles, adding, "I would not have anything to do with statements of that nature."

END of Excerpt from second Washington Post story
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center