More from Bill Moyers’ Journal

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on June 12th, 2009

Earlier this week I posted virtually the entire transcript from a Bill Moyers’ Journal program on the role of the media in American society. Let me reprise one exchange that demonstrates the way the media should handle unsubstantiated claims in this case concerning Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Bill Boyer first quotes Bob Schieffer interviewing Senator Kyl on Face the Nation.

BOB SCHIEFFER I want to get right to the quote that has caused all of the controversy that Washington has been talking about all week. What Justice, or Judge Sotomayor said in the speech eight years ago. And here it is. She said, “I would hope that a Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male, who hasn’t lived that life.” Senator Kyl, is that enough to keep her from being confirmed as a Justice on the Supreme Court?

BILL MOYERS: So, instead of deconstructing the quote, Bob plays the beltway card: is this going to cause her not to be confirmed?

JAY ROSEN: Well, first of all, Bob Schieffer forgot to ask himself whether the controversy that had gripped Washington was a legitimate controversy. And surely that’s one thing we need him for.

BILL MOYERS: Who’s to decide that? Legitimacy-

JAY ROSEN: Well-

BILL MOYERS: -or illegitimacy?

JAY ROSEN: Well, Tom Goldstein, an author of the SCOTUSblog, which is a very carefully put together blog about the Supreme Court, and a law professor – looked at the record of Sotomayor’s decisions. In 96 cases, where there were discrimination claims before the court, she decided against the claim of discrimination 78 times. And there were only about ten where she sided at all with a plaintiff charging discrimination.

Now, if you know that, if you know that record, then the whole controversy looks kind of fake from the beginning. And so, what Bob Schieffer did was take what Washington is buzzing about, refused to fact check it, take it as a given, and ask a kind of insider political question. “Is this going to sink her nomination?” Which is premature and which abandons his role as a journalist in determining what is a legitimate controversy. What should we be arguing about? Which views have standing as facts, as fact-based?

This is a good example of distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate controversies. Indeed, this record might give progressives pause, but in no way can it be used support the contention that Judge Sotomayor believes in race-based justice. Bob Schieffer, a distinguished journalist, failed in his responsibility to the public by pursuing a baseless, sensationalist question rather than attending to the actual record which strongly suggests there’s no possibility of inferring from Judge Sotomayor’s judicial record the sort of radical the Republicans are so intent on portraying her as.


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