NYT’s Frank Rich Throws Latino Firefighter Under the Bus to Protect 'Wise Latina' Judge

July 20th, 2009 1:39 AM

The serially dishonest Frank Rich, a New York Times columnist, wouldn't know an example of racism if it sat on his head.

In his latest column he haughtily bloviates in an attempt to turn the tables on Republican senators by accusing those who grilled Judge Sonia Sotomayor during her Supreme Court confirmation proceeding last week of being the real racists.

He writes

Yet the Sotomayor show was still rich in historical significance. Someday we may regard it as we do those final, frozen tableaus of Pompeii. It offered a vivid snapshot of what Washington looked like when clueless ancien-régime conservatives were feebly clinging to their last levers of power, blissfully oblivious to the new America that was crashing down on their heads and reducing their antics to a sideshow as ridiculous as it was obsolescent. [...]

Much of the audience was surely driven away by the sheer boredom of watching white guys incessantly parse the nominee's "wise Latina" remark. This badgering was their last-ditch effort to prove that Gingrich was right when he called Sotomayor a racist at the start of the nomination process. She confronted that overheated controversy directly. "I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment," Sotomayor testified.

Of course Sotomayor made the offensive "wise Latina" comment that seemed consistent with her infamous now-overturned ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano repeatedly before and only backed away from it during her confirmation hearings. But her perfunctory explanation was more than enough to absolve her in Rich's eyes.

Rich continues

It's the American way that we judge people as individuals, not as groups. And by that standard we can say unequivocally that this particular wise Latina, with the richness of her experiences, would far more often than not reach a better conclusion than the individual white males she faced in that Senate hearing room. Even those viewers who watched the Sotomayor show for only a few minutes could see that her America is our future and theirs is the rapidly receding past.

Rich is correct in saying that "It's the American way that we judge people as individuals, not as groups." This is probably why Rich avoids discussing Sotomayor's actual ruling in the Ricci v. DeStefano case, which centered around an incident in which New Haven, Connecticut discriminated against a group of firefighters precisely because they belonged to the wrong race.

One of the plaintiffs discriminated against, firefighter Ben Vargas, who like Sotomayor claims Latino heritage, testified at the hearings. Vargas said

I am Hispanic and proud of the heritage and background that Judge Sotomayor and I share. And I congratulate Judge Sotomayor on her nomination.

But the focus should not have been on me being Hispanic. The focus should have been on what I did to our new promotion to captain and how my own government and some courts responded to that. In short, they didn't care. I think it important for you to know what I did, that I played by the rules and then endured a long process of asking the courts to enforce those rules. [...]

I was shocked when I was not rewarded for this hard work and sacrifice, but I actually was penalized for it. I became not Ben Vargas, the fire lieutenant who proved themselves qualified to be captain, but a racist statistic. I had to make decisions whether to join those who wanted promotions to be based on race and ethnicity or join those who would insist on being judged solely on their qualifications and the content of their character. [...]

So Rich ignored the fact that the hearings weren't only about aggrieved white men. At least one Latino man was victimized by Sotomayor but Rich couldn't care less because he considers it his mission to defend Sotomayor at all costs.

Imagine the cognitive dissonance that must cloud Rich's mind for him to be able to throw a member of the "Latino" victim class under the bus in order to protect "a wise Latina." 

And only a truly ambitious propagandist can attempt to portray a hearing at which the nominee's blatant, in-your-face racism was challenged (for the most part feebly) by members of the opposition party as an event that showcased the opposition party's racism.

Rich seemed to be following the lead of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. During the hearings Leahy misrepresented Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment deliberately editing it to remove the context that made it offensive (the "better conclusion than a white male part"), as Ed Whelan pointed out on NRO. At the outset of the hearings Leahy also implied that mere criticism of Sotomayor's statement that she 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," was in itself racist. This loathsome smear, which is par for the course for Rich, was an attempt to intimidate members of the opposition party, yet no one in the mainstream media seems to have noticed.

Then on CNN on Sunday, Leahy had the temerity to lecture his committee's ranking member, Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), for allegedly race-baiting. "Stop the racial politics," Leahy said. This is too rich (pun intended). (Here is a link to the CNN video.)

Returning to Rich's column, elsewhere in the piece Rich insults black Americans and Republicans by describing RNC chairman Michael Steele as "the G.O.P.'s token black."

Rich, by the way, is the same fellow who tried to incite hatred against conservatives in a recent column on the now-discredited Department of Homeland Security report on "rightwing extremism."

You may also recall that it was Rich who in 2004 couldn't help attacking President Reagan while he lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda. "Although mourners paying their respects to Reagan were often touted as representative of the entire nation, you could nod off counting the white visitors before a black person appeared." Rich argued that the massive outpouring of grief regarding Reagan was phony and that media coverage of the death strongly resembled the saturation coverage of O.J. Simpson's murder trial.

The fact that the Old Gray Lady keeps Rich on staff is just more proof that the newspaper left the news business long ago.