Baker and Zeleny never directly acknowledged Sotomayor's liberal outlook, although there is enough in her judicial record (and her own words) to indicate her ideology.
President Obama announced Tuesday that he would nominate Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appeals judge in New York, to the Supreme Court, choosing a daughter of Puerto Rican parents who was raised in a Bronx public housing project to become the nation's first Hispanic justice.
In making his first pick for the court, Mr. Obama emphasized Judge Sotomayor's "extraordinary journey" from modest beginnings to the Ivy League and now the pinnacle of the judicial system. Casting her as the embodiment of the American dream, he touched off a confirmation battle that he hopes to wage over biography more than ideology.
Judge Sotomayor's past comments about how her sex and ethnicity shaped her decisions, and the role of appeals courts in making policy, generated instant conservative complaints that she is a judicial activist. Senate Republicans vowed to scrutinize her record. But with Democrats in reach of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, the White House appeared eager to dare Republicans to stand against a history-making nomination at a time when both parties are courting the growing Hispanic vote.
Again, the Times hinted at but didn't directly label Sotomayor with the still-damaging label of "liberal," never using the term to describe her.
NBC's Matt Lauer, on Wednesday's "Today" show greeted viewers with the following teaser: "Good morning, Supreme showdown. Republicans gear up for a fight over President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the nation's highest court," and then asked the racially loaded question: "But will taking on the first Hispanic nominee cost them down the road?" Lauer and other "Today" correspondents repeatedly questioned if Republican opposition to Sotomayor would cost them Hispanic votes in upcoming elections. However no one on "Today" mentioned it was Democrats, back in 2003, as the MRC's Tim Graham pointed out, who opposed the nomination, by Republican President George W. Bush of Miguel Estrada at the circuit court level.
On Wednesday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez was unusually tough on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as she asked the judge’s former clerk, Julia Tarver Mason, about some of Sotomayor's past controversial comments: "...she, herself, has rejected the notion that a judge should decide cases based solely on facts and the law...referring to one case – she hopes that ‘a wise Latina woman would reach a better conclusion than a white male.’What do you say to critics who say if a white conservative male had said that, he would have been booted out of the judiciary?"
Mason defended her former boss: "Well, I think that comment has been grossly misconstrued, frankly, it was a comment she made in a speech a decade ago, talking about the importance diversity on the court... when she decides a case, she decides it based on the law, as that's appropriate." Earlier Mason had argued that Sotomayor was "legal purist" and "...not someone who is going to try to reach a particular result in a particular case. She calls them straight down the middle, just like she sees them."
Rodriguez later followed up with a question about one of Sotomayor’s most controversial decisions: "Some of her critics are also bringing up a case where she sided against some white firefighters who claimed reverse discrimination in hiring practices...Rush Limbaugh has called her a ‘reverse racist.’ Could that be true?" Mason denounced Limbaugh: "That's an absurd notion. If – Judge Sotomayor is one of the most egalitarian people I’ve ever met...the fact that people from the right are throwing these outrageous allegations right now is just an indication that they don't know much about her record...it was not in any way a radical decision by her. And it was supported by the city of New Haven itself. So if you call her racist, you have to call the entire city of New Haven racist."
ABC’s “Good Morning America” program on Wednesday led their 7 am Eastern hour with three positive reports about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, highlighting her judicial background and personal story.
Anchor Diane Sawyer began the program with a promo of this coverage: “The battle begins: How will President Obama’s Latina powerhouse handle the opposition?...And we also go home to bring you personal details about the girl from the housing projects, nominated for the Supreme Court.”
Correspondent Claire Shipman went so far as to play up trivial details from the nominee’s personal life: “She’s also an avid Yankees fan, a mean guacamole maker, and a fierce biker.” None of the coverage explained how making a killer chip dip adds to her qualifications for the Supreme Court.
After Sawyer’s initial promo, fellow anchor Chris Cuomo immediately chimed in and highlighted the presence of Sotomayor’s mother at the president’s press conference: “Now, I know that the selection of a nominee to the Court is supposed to be about the law and philosophy, but what a human moment to see Sonia Sotomayor talking about her mother. It was really a great human moment yesterday. There’s her mom, literally brought to tears by such a special occasion.”
Amazingly, after showing no reluctance in 2005 to describe John Roberts and Sam Alito as “conservative” or worse, the Tuesday network evening newscasts, particularly ABC and NBC, applied more “conservative” tags to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's critics than “liberal” labels to her, as the coverage suggested calling her a liberal was a hasty judgment from accusatory partisans. In total, ABC's World News and the NBC Nightly News combined for a piddling two uses of the “liberal” term while issuing a “conservative” tag eight times. (CBS viewers heard “liberal” four times and “conservative” just once.)
Setting up a look at Sotomayer's record, ABC anchor Charles Gibson fretted about how conservatives had “already” assessed her: “Even before the President announced his decision, conservatives were reviewing Judge Sotomayor's judicial record and were already saying she would be an activist on the court.” Jan Crawford Greenburg then framed any notion of Sotomayer as liberal as based on accusations from conservatives: “...which conservatives have called code for,” “...conservatives today seized on this comment” and “already, conservatives have jumped on the decision.”
Over on NBC, Pete Williams presumed a conflict between her rise from poverty and being liberal: “Despite her remarkable personal odyssey, Judge Sotomayor is already being called a liberal activist by some conservative groups.” (That sentence included NBC's only liberal label utterance during four segments.)
CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin on Tuesday twice labeled President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a “moderate liberal.” On American Morning, minutes after the Latina judge’s name emerged near the bottom half of the 8 am Eastern hour, Toobin predicted that she would “probably have very little trouble getting confirmed, and who will be a voice like David Souter for moderate liberalism.” Hours later, during The Situation Room program, he predicted that Sotomayor, if confirmed, would rule as a “moderate liberal, like Ginsburg and Breyer.”
American Morning anchor T. J. Holmes brought on the legal analyst to discuss the Obama nominee. Toobin first outlined that Sotomayor was “a very eminent judge....She brings a certain bipartisan aura, because she was originally appointed to the federal district court by the first President Bush....[T]his looks like a very solid pick, someone who will probably have very little trouble getting confirmed, and who will be a voice like David Souter for moderate liberalism.” Minutes before on the CNN program, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz referred to the nominee as “moderate and to the left.” Holmes followed up on this note, and asked, “Is that about right?”
ABC News didn’t use any labels such as liberal or progressive to describe Judge Sonia Sotomayor during its Tuesday morning coverage of her nomination to the Supreme Court. On the other hand, when President Bush nominated Justice Samuel Alito to the high court in 2005, the network’s correspondents repeatedly used the conservative label to describe the nominee.
During the first segment of the 7 am hour of Good Morning America, before Sotomayor’s name emerged, This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos summarized who was on President Obama’s short list for the court nomination, including Sotomayor, describing the former or current occupations they have, but no ideological descriptions. When anchor Diane Sawyer asked about “what kind of fight is the White House anticipating” from Republicans in the Senate and “how do they plan to deal with it,” Stephanopoulos further explained that “Republicans and conservatives have already prepared dossiers on all three of the top candidates....I’ve talked to several Republicans in the Senate about this -- that the chances they’re going to defeat President Obama’s nominee are very, very low. The bar they’re trying to set -- they’re trying to have a debate over the future of the court, over the ideological direction of the court.” But he never mentioned Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy or political leaning.
Chris Matthews, on Tuesday's "Hardball," couldn't contain his excitement over Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as he brought on David Axelrod to praise, to the White House advisor's face, the rollout of the Supreme Court nominee as he cheered, "It was a brilliant piece of work....it couldn’t have been done any better," and then later gushed that Barack Obama, "Wowed us!" with the pick. Matthews also claimed the only opposition to Sotomayor was made up of the "crazies," and "whack jobs," like Rush Limbaugh as Matthews told Axelrod "The only critics of this nomination with any kind of violence are that R.N.C crowd: Rush, Newt and...Cheney."
The following exchanges were aired on the May 26 edition of "Hardball":
CHRIS MATTHEWS TO AXELROD: You know since you fellows came to the White House I've been looking at the patterns, the, the team of rivals aspect of bringing Senator Clinton aboard as Secretary of State. The, sort of, the Reagan model of getting things done as quickly as you can because you only have so much mandate. And then I've looked at the Chicago model, which is to act as if there's only one governing party and then basically do warfare with the crazies out there,
Norah O'Donnell and Rachel Maddow can't seem to make up their minds. In the same segment, Maddow argues - and O'Donnell fails to question - that Judge Sonia Sotomayor was not picked as an affirmative-action nominee, and follows with the mystifying non-sequitur that opposing "the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice" would be politically damaging for the Republican party.
O’Donnell was interviewing Rachel Maddow (normally exiled to the prime-time wing-nut section of MSNBC programming, Maddow instead made an appearance just after three PM on Tuesday), and immediately served up a steaming dish of Rush Limbaugh controversy. In keeping with the liberal myth of Republican racism, Maddow immediately pounced:
While NBC's Matt Lauer, Pete Williams and Chuck Todd all appropriately applied the liberal label to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, on Tuesday's "Today" show, Lauer did try to sell the concept, advanced by the Washington Post, that Sotomayor wouldn't be "reflexively liberal."
MATT LAUER: Right, however in the Washington Post, back in May Pete, when writing about her judicial philosophy they said this, quote, "Sotomayor would probably be a reliably liberal vote on the Court, split into conservative and liberal blocks, on many issues, but her friends and colleagues and former clerks say, she would not be reflexively liberal or results oriented but would adhere to the law and the Constitution." We talking about a fine line there?
The following is a full transcript of the segment as it occurred on the May 26 edition of the "Today" show:
MATT LAUER: NBC News has learned that President Obama has tapped federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll get more on this right now from NBC's chief justice correspondent Pete Williams. Pete, good morning, what can you tell me.
On Tuesday morning, President Obama announced his nominee to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court -- U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York State, who would be the first Hispanic to serve on the nation's highest court.
New York Times chief political reporter Adam Nagourney played the ethnicity card in a Tuesday afternoon post on the paper's "Caucus" blog, suggesting Republican opposition would be risky considering the party's low status among Hispanics.
President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has put the Republican Party in a bind, as it weighs the cost of aggressively opposing Mr. Obama's attempt to put the first Hispanic on the high court at a time when the party has struggled with sharp setbacks in its effort to appeal to Hispanic voters.
The Republican Party has been embroiled in a public argument over whether to tend to the ideological interests of its conservative base or to expand its appeal to a wider variety of voters in order to regain its strength following the defeats of 2008. Many conservatives came out fiercely against Ms. Sotomayor as soon her name was announced, denouncing her as liberal and promising Mr. Obama a tough nomination fight.
Network anchors and reporters didn't hesitate to apply strong ideological labels (not just quoting others) to President Bush's two Supreme Court nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Will they be as willing to tag President Obama's nominee, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, as “staunch,” and “hardline” and “ultra” liberal, or at least as “very liberal”?
In July of 2005, on the night Bush announced Roberts, ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Ted Koppel both described him as not just conservative, but as “very conservative.” NBC's Brian Williams called Roberts “a kind of 'bedrock conservative,' not what is called a 'movement conservative.'”
The next night, CBS Evening News anchor John Roberts (now with CNN) wanted to know of his namesake: “Has President Bush attempted to move the court further to the right with this pick?” On NBC, Chip Reid (now at CBS) highlighted how one liberal activist “says he worries that Roberts might be a stealth candidate, moderate on the outside but as conservative as Justices Scalia and Thomas on the inside.”
Moments after President Obama announced his pick of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, CBS’s Bob Schieffer and Katie Couric enthused over what Couric called Sotomayor’s “very, very compelling life story,” with Schieffer cheering that she was “the political advisor’s dream candidate.”
“This woman has a life story that you couldn’t make up!” Schieffer exulted: “She’s born in the public projects, in the shadow of Yankee stadium, a single parent household, she goes to a Catholic school, she gets scholarships to the best schools in the country, Princeton and Yale, she overcomes all that while dealing with diabetes all her life, and she is Hispanic. This will be a historic pick.”
Couric immediately followed-up with her own salute: “Add to that, Bob, the fact that her father was a factory worker who died when she was nine years old, raised by a single mother who raised her brother to be a doctor and, obviously, her daughter to be an extremely accomplished lawyer and now judge. So it is a very, as you say, very, very compelling life story.”