ABC's Nightline Celebrates Sotomayor's 'Jackie Robinson Moment'

ABC’s "Nightline" on Thursday celebrated Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation to the Supreme Court as a "Jackie Robinson moment" and also highlighted cheering crowds at an event put on by the left-wing Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund (PRLDF). Correspondent John Donvan failed to identify the liberal bent of the organization, which has vociferously lobbied for abortion rights, though he did note that Sotomayor served on the group’s board.

In addition to comparing Sotomayor’s confirmation to Jackie Robinson’s entry into baseball, Donvan actually brought on Democratic operative-turned-ABC journalist George Stephanopoulos to reference what it was like for Greek Americans when Michael Dukakis ran for President in 1988. Stephanopoulos enthused, "There was something that trumped the politics, the partisanship. I knew a lot of Republican Greeks who were supporting a Democrat for first time just because he was one of them."

Donvan described the Greek American Stephanopoulos as "somebody who should know" what it felt like. But he failed to specifically mention that the ABC host also worked for the Dukakis campaign at the time. Earlier in the piece, Donvan raved, "And while this is definitely a Latino thing, it is also, we should say, an American thing....Call it a Jackie Robinson moment, to borrow a lesson from sports."

The Nightline reporter dismissed complaints about Sotomayor during confirmation hearings, including her "Wise Latina" remark, as " mostly predictable questions." At a PRLDF gathering to celebrate the Senate vote, ABC featured footage of the assembled crowd wearing shirts reading "Wise Latina." New York Supreme Court judge Laura Visitacion-Lewis extolled the now-famous 2001 comment, in which Sotomayor suggested that a "wise Latina woman" would come to a better conclusion than a white man.

Ms. Visitacion-Lewis breezily explained the T-shirts: "We feel that this is the way of showing that that remark was not one that should be relegated to something that has to be disowned or has to mean something negative. Our experiences can be richer simply because they're different."

A transcript of the August 6 segment, which aired at 11:56pm, follows:

MARTIN BASHIR: After months of debate over her qualifications and judgments, Judge Sonia Sotomayor ended today with her Senate confirmation. Making history as the first Hispanic justice to sit on the nation's highest court. President Obama said he was deeply gratified by the barrier-breaking milestone. It is, after all, one he knows very well. As John Donvan now reports.

SENATOR AL FRANKEN (D-MN): The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor of New York to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is confirmed.

DONVAN: Talk about anti-climactic. As they counted the Senators' votes today, it had been ten weeks already since the President had named his nominee.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

DONVAN: And the hearings, they had been an endurance test in mostly predictable questions.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): You said that a wise Latino woman would reach a better conclusion than a male counterpart.

DONVAN: The outcome? Confirmation was so foreseeable that it just never could quite be a fireworks moment. Except here in the Bronx. They were Latino-Americans here, marking this moment when one of their own reached the highest offices in the land. And while the partiers played inside, it's true that a glance through the window told you that most everybody else outside really had no idea what was going on upstairs, that this was a Latino thing. This was a gathering of Latino lawyers and judges at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund in Manhattan where Sotomayor used to sit on the board.

LAURA VISITACION-LEWIS [Wearing a T-shirt that says "Wise Latina"]: We feel that this is the way of showing that that remark was not one that should be relegated to something that has to be disowned or has to mean something negative. Our experiences can be richer simply because they're different.

DONVAN: Laura Visitacion-Lewis is the only Latino woman on the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

VISITACION-LEWIS: She's a terrific role model and she has broken a stereotype that many Latina judges have lived with for a long time.

DONVAN: And while this is definitely a Latino thing, it is also, we should say, an American thing and here is why. Back to that view out the window, and it's a fair bet, that, at some point, most of America's non-Latino passerby also had a moment like today’s. Call it a Jackie Robinson moment, to borrow a lesson from sports. And from the man whose break through into the majors was good for all of us, but the warm feeling inside, the one that gets you right there, really belonged to those who could say he is one of our own.

PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

DONVAN: And so it has been in politics. This was the Jackie Robinson moment for America’s Catholics.

KENNEDY: So help me God.

DONVAN: JFK’s picture hung in millions of Irish-Catholic homes. He was one of them. At other times, it's been Jewish Americans. That a lawyer named Louis Brandeis was named to the Supreme Court a nearly a century ago when most Jews couldn't break into most law firms, that was a Jackie Robinson moment. Then there was Mike Dukakis who ran for President in 1988 as the Democrat. Did anybody but Greek Americans know how much that meant to Greek Americans? Today, we asked somebody who should know.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent): There was something that trumps the politics, the partisanship. I knew a lot of Republican Greeks who were supporting a Democrat for first time just because he was one of them.

DONVAN: Then of course the biggest Jackie Robinson moment of them all, election night 2008. Some African-American students watching the returns and then it happened. And though it came 62 years after that break into the major leagues, this moment also says something about America.

JOHN ROBERTS: So help you God?

BARACK OBAMA: So help me God.

DONVAN: Because he could not have made it without millions of white Americans voting for him. Just as Kennedy couldn't without the votes of millions of non-Catholics. And just as Sotomayor, today, wouldn't have been confirmed but for the decision of the Senate chamber filled with mostly older, Caucasian men. It was a Latino moment, yes, but an American one too. I'm John Donvan for Nightline in Washington.

BASHIR: Congratulations to her.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org