Politics of Pig's Feet: CNN's O'Brien Bizarrely Uses Food to Support Sotomayor

Soledad O'Brien, CNN Special Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgCNN’s Soledad O’Brien went so far to use the role of food in “ethnic identity” to support Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor during Thursday’s “Newsroom” program. When she was asked about Sotomayor’s now-infamous “wise Latina” remark from 2001, O’Brien bizarrely cited a more culinary part of the nominee’s speech where she talked about “pig’s feet and the other special dishes particular, not just to Puerto Ricans, but many Latino families.”

Anchor Heidi Collins first read Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” remark in 2001 to set up O’Brien’s sympathetic and unusual take on the nominee: “Soledad, some people would say the context is not complete with that comment, and because of that, as usual, when you don’t have context, something might be lost?” The CNN special correspondent wholeheartedly agreed and replied that people should read the entire 2001 speech. She continued with her first emphasis on Sotomayor’s ethnic identity: “Puerto Ricans are Americans. She is not an immigrant to this country. What formed her identity, she says, are the shared traditions. And here’s a little bit of what she says about the food. She says, ‘For me, a very special part of being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir- rice, beans and pork- that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events.’ This is during her speech- she says in the speech back in 2001. She goes on to talk about the pig’s feet and the other special dishes particular, not just to Puerto Ricans, but many Latino families.”

Soledad O'Brien, CNN Correspondent; & Unidentified Man in New York City | NewsBusters.orgO’Brien then introduced a man-on-the-street report, where she asked three men and one woman in New York City about the food of the ethnicity they identified with. After it concluded, the correspondent again returned to her emphasis on how the Supreme Court nominee is “not an outsider- she’s an insider, and she represents frankly, the fastest growing demographic in this country right now- Latinos.”

Collins inquired skeptically about the O’Brien’s point: “But I- but I think what the question was for some people who were concerned and are concerned as we move forward to the confirmation process is not about the food and what her background is. It’s about how she is going to judge on that potential bench.” The CNN special correspondent returned to her food point:
O’BRIEN: Well, I think the question is really identity, and what she’s saying is the food connects to her personal identity. But more than that, her identity on the bench- she’s saying as a judge, look at my record and decide. But as who you are in your personal identity doesn’t necessarily mean how you’re going to judge....She’s Latina and she’s American. Her culture is American culture. To present her as an outsider- she’s not. She- she is the face of what America’s looking like and is going to look like, and when you connect it to the food- guess what: the mainstream culture has embraced- through food often, through music- pizza, has embraced tacos- McDonald’s at one point- you know, Chipotle- the story of- for me, at least- America is immigration and not necessarily assimilation.

This is not the first time in recent months that O’Brien has strained to use a unrelated topic to praise President Obama or someone associated with him. Three days before the inauguration, anchor Wolf Blitzer recounted how the correspondent compared President Obama to hero pilot Sully Sullenberger: “Soledad and I were talking about this earlier and she was saying metaphorically in some ways, the pilot of that airplane is very much like Barack Obama- that he got the plane down safely, but everybody else had to join together to get out of the plane and pull together to get through that adversity. I thought that was an interesting metaphor.”

The full transcript of the segment with Collins and O’Brien, which began 16 minutes into the 10 am Eastern hour of the “Newsroom” program:

HEIDI COLLINS: By now, most people have heard Sonia Sotomayor’s quote from a 2001 speech at the University of California-Berkeley’s Law School- said this: ‘I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.’

CNN’s special correspondent Soledad O’Brien is here now. Soledad, some people would say the context is not complete with that comment, and because of that, as usual, when you don’t have context, something might be lost?

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Oh, absolutely, and once again, I would encourage anybody who has interest in the story to quick [sic] go to CNN.com/politics. You can read her entire speech. She’s very clear about what she means. She talks, Heidi, about how her identity was formed, and she literally asked the question, who am I, in the speech. The speech is called ‘A Latina Judge’s Voice,’ and she talks about what formed her identity. First and foremost, she’s a New York-Rican, which means her parents came from Puerto Rico- Puerto Rico, but she was born in New York- she’s from the South Bronx. And guess what, Puerto Ricans are Americans. She is not an immigrant to this country. What formed her identity, she says, are the shared traditions. And here’s a little bit of what she says about the food. She says, ‘For me, a very special part of being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir- rice, beans and pork- that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events.’ This is during her speech- she says in the speech back in 2001. She goes on to talk about the pig’s feet and the other special dishes particular, not just to Puerto Ricans, but many Latino families.

We went to Central Park to take kind of an unofficial survey, and what you find is that people connect very closely to food and their cultural and ethnic identity. Take a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: We like rice and beans, sweet plantains, rice and peas, pork, guados, pasteles.

O’BRIEN (on-camera): Tell me about the food of your childhood. What’s your ethnicity?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Puerto Rican.

O’BRIEN: Really? Okay. So list for me the Puerto Rican food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Quickly, I’ve got to go.

O’BRIEN: I can’t walk any faster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Rice, beans, pork chops, chicken.

O’BRIEN: Okay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: That’s about it.

O’BRIEN: All good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Tostones- you got to have tostones.

O'BRIEN: You’ve got to have the tostones.

O’BRIEN: So, where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: I was born in New York, but my family’s from Colombia.

O'BRIEN: And what’s the food you grew up eating?
                                       
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of white rice and, like, pinto beans.

O’BRIEN: Tell me about the food of Austria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: The food of Austria- wienerschnitzel, schweinebraten, and (unintelligible).

O’BRIEN: If you are Austrian-American, you need to e-mail me and tell me what (unintelligible) is because I have no idea. At the end of the day, Heidi, what’s critical, I think, to take away, is that this is American culture. There are dozens of places in New York City where an American can whip up wienerschnitzel for you. She’s not an outsider- she’s an insider, and she represents frankly, the fastest growing demographic in this country right now- Latinos.

COLLINS: Right. But I- but I think what the question was for some people who were concerned and are concerned as we move forward to the confirmation process is not about the food and what her background is. It’s about how she is going to judge on that potential bench.

O’BRIEN: Well, I think the question is really identity, and what she’s saying is the food connects to her personal identity. But more than that, her identity on the bench- she’s saying as a judge, look at my record and decide. But as who you are in your personal identity doesn’t necessarily mean how you’re going to judge. For example, you look at the population under the age of five- that’s- that’s Latin- that’s half the population under the age of five is Latino. The census data points to the fact that somewhere around 2032, minorities, as a whole in this country, are going to be the majority. So Judge Sotomayor, frankly, is the face of what America’s going to look like. She’s Latina and she’s American. Her culture is American culture. To present her as an outsider- she’s not. She- she is the face of what America’s looking like and is going to look like, and when you connect it to the food- guess what: the mainstream culture has embraced- through food often, through music- pizza, has embraced tacos- McDonald’s at one point- you know, Chipotle- the story of- for me, at least- America is immigration and not necessarily assimilation.

But the fact that immigrants keep the good things or people who- who- who- are trying to figure out where their culture fits into America, keep all the good things about their culture but also embrace America wholeheartedly. So she’s not really an immigrant story, she’s an American story, and I think it’s a story that’s resonating very clearly with African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans- anybody. How she judges- look at her record- who she is as a human being. There’s a wide variety in how Latinos think politically, et cetera. But what they connect to ethnically is often the food, the music, what forms their experiences.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center