Very, Very Biased: NPR’s Nina Totenberg Still Calls Chief Justice Roberts 'Very, Very Conservative'
NPR’s Legal Affairs / Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg loves to cast conservatives as fringy. In 2005, President George W. Bush nominated then-Circuit Court Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court. At the time, Totenberg seemed to be suffering from a fixation on the word “very,” calling Roberts “very, very conservative” and “very, very, very conservative.”
Even though Roberts voted for Obamacare last year, Totenberg insisted last week on the news magazine "Here and Now" (a new joint venture of NPR and Boston NPR station WBUR) that he was still “very, very conservative.” Maybe with more Roberts rulings that she likes, she'll whittle it down to “very conservative.” For now, "This is a very, very conservative justice who also believes in a certain level of , as he puts it, modesty, meaning don’t do it all at once if you can do it one step at a time."
When NPR host Robin Young asked about the victories for gay marriage, Totenberg wasn’t bending: "He does pull the court to the right. After all, in the DOMA case, he was in the minority. He wasn’t in the majority. It was Justice Ginsburg, the senior justice, who assigned the opinion to Kennedy."
In stark contrast, former ACLU General Counsel Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not "very, very liberal," since she and Totenberg are ideological cohorts. When Ginsburg was put forth in 1993 by President Clinton as a Supreme Court nominee, Totenberg called her “middle-of-the-road.”
At the time she made that ostensibly impartial assessment of Ginsburg, Totenberg didn’t disclose that she had been friends with Ginsburg for about 20 years. They were apparently such good friends that Totenberg didn’t think it odd to ask then-Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg to officiate her wedding to David Reines in 2000.
Neither Totenberg nor NPR has ever disclosed Totenberg’s friendship with a person she directly covers in her beat, just as they have never disclosed their White House correspondent Ari Shapiro’s relationship to Michael Gottlieb, an attorney in the White House.
Unsurprisingly, she reserves the strongest language for the conservative she seems to despise the most, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, calling him “extreme.” Personally outraged in 1991 that liberal interest groups weren’t able to convince the liberal Democrats running the Senate Judiciary Committee that rumors of sexual misconduct were not going to be aired publicly, Totenberg took it upon herself to conduct a frenzied campaign of trying to get Anita Hill to go public.
Though successful in getting Hill to come forward, Totenberg failed in her effort to keep Thomas of the High Court. But she was a sore loser and 22 years later, she still takes any available opportunity to trash Justice Thomas.
Though Totenberg often refers to individuals and groups as “very,” “very, very,” or “very, very, very” conservative, she doesn’t refer to individuals/groups as “very liberal,” nor she call them “hard left” or “far left”, as she does with “hard right” and “far right.”
When Young asked Totenberg to assess how Obama's newest appointment Elena Kagan was doing, Totenberg proclaimed her “The significant tactician of the future. I think she and John Roberts are going to be duking it out for the next quarter century.” But Kagan's apparently not even "liberal" without a "very." But Roberts, she insists, still runs a "very pro-business court."