On Wednesday night, in the first segment on MSNBC‘s Countdown, Keith Olbermann exposed the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the Republican attack machine’s smears of Sonia Sotomayor. He showed how the attacks were based on a) misrepresenting and twisting around out-of-context quotes which have a very different meaning when viewed in context, b) ignoring the fact that conservative Supreme Court judges had made statements very similar to the ones Sotomayor is now being viciously attacked for. (The transcript is still not up, although MSNBC claims to put up transcripts in 24 hours; I’ll add a link as soon as I see a transcript.)
For days now, television news media have been airing the Republican attack machine’s misrepresentations without feeling the slightest need to place Sotomayor’s statements in context, without being inspired to bring up the previous statements of conservative Supreme Court judges.
And then suddenly yesterday, both CNN and MSNBC‘s daytime anchors found religion, and spontaneously embraced a new-found sense of journalistic integrity and responsibility.
Apparently, they looked at themselves in the mirror, pondered how they have conducted themselves for years now, and vowed that they would nevermore, either by omission or commission, allow sound-bites to be used out of context to misrepresent and smear. (Either that, or this is just a one-time occurrence, before everyone goes back to business-as-usual.)
Early Thursday afternoon, first CNN‘s Don Lemon and then MSNBC‘s Andrea Mitchell (that’s the sequence in which I watched the two segments; given the endless loop format of 24-hour news channels, MSNBC may well have aired their segment first, but I don’t think so), both in the space of 20 minutes, provided viewers with the full context of sound-bites that the Republican attack machine had wrenched out of context to attack Sonia Sotomayor. And both of them impeached the Republican attacks by highlighting very similar and uncontroversial statements previously made by conservative Supreme Court judges. (Uncanny how this approach parallels Olbermann’s segment the previous night.)
Both networks/anchors (CNN more than MSNBC) offered properly pious speeches about the evils of out-of-context sound-biting, and explained with an air of smug self-congratulation how journalistic ethics place a solemn responsibility on news organizations to play in full the relevant sections of the speeches from which Sotomayor’s comments were drawn, so that viewers could judge for themselves whether the in-context meaning matches the spin that the Republican attack machine has put on her remarks.
CNN‘s Don Lemon focused on the “wise Latina woman” quote that Olbermann had taken as his text the previous night. Since no recording exists of the 2001 lecture at the University of California, Berkeley from which that quote is taken, CNN had someone read out an extended segment from that speech (full text of the speech can be found here). And CNN wasn’t shy about:
a) offering the judgement that, despite the well-publicized remarks of such spear-bearers, water-carriers, intellectual weightlifters and unelected leaders of the Republican party as Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, in context there was nothing racist about Sotomayor’s remarks;
b) pointing out that Samuel Alito had made a similar statement during his confirmation hearings about his ethnic background informing his judicial decisions, without drawing any criticism whatsoever (the exact same statement that Olbermann had quoted Wednesday night).
That was quite a turnaround from CNN‘s previous uncritical parroting of the Republican attack machine’s lies and garbage.
MSNBC, perhaps reacting to the same Olbermann diatribe and deciding that charity begins at home, then had Andrea Mitchell playing a video clip of Sotomayor’s 2005 Duke University remarks from which the quote about the Court of Appeals being “where policy is made” is drawn.
Once again, previous daytime MSNBC coverage of this quote had consisted of uncritically airing the Republican attack machine’s misrepresentations. The new-found journalistic integrity that led them to play the extended video clip, also led to Andrea Mitchell making it clear that there was no merit whatsoever to the Republican attack machine’s spin:
a) She stressed that there is no reason whatsoever for Sotomayor’s statement to be controversial, since legal experts regard it as factually correct that law or policy is made by Appeals courts;
b) She played similar statements made by Antonin Scalia without inviting criticism or controversy (Jason Linkins had highlighted the exact same Scalia statements at The Huffington Post yesterday morning, well before Mitchell’s segment; news anchors, of course, do not deign to acknowledge “borrowing” material from mere bloggers).
Funny how both those things had managed to entirely slip MSNBC‘s corporate mind before.