NYT’s SCOTUS Hypocrisy: Barrett’s ‘Playbook of Deflection,’ But ‘Kagan Sticks to Script’

October 16th, 2020 1:05 PM

As Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court moves briskly forward, the New York Times which has already demonstrated stark labeling bias when discussing Barrett’s supporters and her opponents (note the conservatives-to-liberal labeling disparity in its previous stories) led off its Wednesday issue with petulance.

The Times' two lead stories on the hearings were gathered under the headline, “Barrett Declines to Say She’ll Sit Out if Election Is Thrown to the Court.” The subhead of one story, from Supreme Court beat reporter Adam Liptak, characterized Barrett’s cautious approach as “Sticking to Playbook of Deflection.” 

Liptak led with a quote from Elena Kagan from her law professor days, before she became a Supreme Court Justice during the Obama administration, in order to mock Barrett’s silence strategy.

In 1995, Justice Elena Kagan, then a young law professor, wrote a law review article calling Supreme Court confirmation hearings “a vapid and hollow charade.”

“The safest and surest route to the prize,” she wrote, “lay in alternating platitudinous statement and judicious silence.”

Judge Amy Coney Barrett expertly followed that playbook at her confirmation hearings on Tuesday, in her first day of answering questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Speaking without notes, she gave sure-footed accounts of Supreme Court precedents and then, almost without exception, declined to say whether the decisions were correct.

Oddly enough, while Liptak snottily wrote that Chief Justice John Roberts may have “retired the trophy” for evasiveness during his 2005 hearings, he hardly mentions Kagan’s own confirmation hearings, and ignores Kagan’s own evasions during them. In fact, his paper actually applauded Kagan at the time for sticking to the script against hostile Republican senators.

Before Kagan's 2010 nomination, Liptak’s curtain-raiser for Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 was notably gentle on the liberal nominee, under the headline: “Path to Court: Speak Capably But Say Little.”

During Kagan’s own hearings, reporters Charlie Savage and Sheryl Gay Stolberg were happy with Kagan’s evasions: “In 2nd Day of Quizzing, Kagan Sticks to Script": “But try as they might, Republicans could not knock Solicitor General Elena Kagan off her stride.” 

And in 2018, Liptak’s front-page analysis of the opening of the Senate hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh (before all the ridiculous charges of sexual assault) appeared under the harsh headline “A Simple Script: Saying Nothing, Over and Over.”