Today Show Frets: Could Alito be "Conservative Zealot"?

January 9th, 2006 8:07 AM

What do you think the odds are that in the very first minute of its segment on Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the morning her confirmation hearings were set to begin, the Today show twice described Ginsburg - former chief counsel of the ACLU - as a "liberal" and spoke of her confirmation "moving the court to the left"?

Yet Andrea Mitchell managed the precise mirror image in the first 60 seconds of her story on Samuel Alito this morning, twice referring to him as a "conservative" and adding that his confirmation would "move the court to the right."

And when it came to outside advocates, Today chose two anti-Alito voices [former Clinton aide Joe Lockhart and a fellow from People for the American Way], versus a sole Alito supporter - former Solicitor General Ted Olson. Today did play a fleeting clip of former GOP Rep. Vin Weber, but only for purposes of describing lobbying efforts, not to endorse Alito.

When NBC legal correspondent Pete Williams was brought in, he subtly undermined one of Alito's strongest suits. Williams said that supporters and opponents alike:

"agree he's among the nation's smartest judges, just given the ABA's highest rating."

That might lead viewers to conclude that the ABA's rating is simply a measure of a candidate's smarts. In fact, in reviewing judicial nominees the ABA makes an assessment of their overall qualifications, specifically including, as per this ABA document, their "integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament."

Then it was on to Katie Couric's interview of Tim Russert, who clearly had Alito's possible zealotry on the noggin. Twice he raised the potential problem. He first observed:

"If he comes across as a conservative politcal zealot he's in trouble,"

Russert later used Alito's potential zealotry to undercut a favorite Republican argument - the Ginsburg analogy. Said Russert:

"Republicans say Bill Clinton put liberals on the bench, why can't George Bush put conservatives on the ench. The question is, is this a conservative judge or a conservative zealot?"

Query whether when Ginsburg was up for confirmation Russert ever raised the specter of her possible liberal zealotry?

A sidenote: was Today subtly seeking to curry favor with Sen. Arlen Specter, who will be chairing the hearings? Today twice played clips of a much younger and more hirsute Specter.

A careful deconstruction might have permitted one to understand that the clips were from Clarence Thomas' 1987 hearings, but Today never made that clear. To the contrary, when they showed Specter the Young saying "this is much bigger than anything we've seen," most viewers would surely have thought this was a current clip of Specter speaking of the about-to-begin Alito hearings.