Sotomayor Falls in Journalism's Blind Spot

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez Posted: Jun 02, 2009

The president’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court has come during a most awkward time in the history of U.S. journalism, which many analysts claim is in serious decline, if not on life support.

What her nomination clearly shows us is that what this nation needs is more incisive journalism, not less. Yet, to be sure, the rise of right-wing media, which include FOX News and virtually all the known right-wing radio talk show hosts, is the antithesis of journalism.

Their coverage of the Sotomayor nomination points to the need for honest debate, not simply on the issues of race, but on the right wing’s aversion to truth. It also points to the right wing's pompous beliefs, on every topic, including affirmative action, that their positions are “American.”

Extremist politicos Newt Gingrich and Tom Tancredo, both of whom have zero credibility but are stars of right-wing media, have led the charge that Sotomayor is a racist. They have been joined by the usual wingnuts: Rush Limbaugh, Gordon Liddy, Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, to name a few. Even Juan Williams of NPR, has parroted the claim that Sotomayor’s (out-of-context) statements are racist. The fact that the nation’s discussion centers on whether she is a racist or not -– or that she is an "affirmative action" pick (Buchanan) -– points to both the power of the wingnuts and also to the virtual impotence, or complicity, of mainstream media.

Historically, mainstream journalists have been taught that critical analysis constitutes injecting subjectivity into their reporting.

All this brouhaha is based on the Sotomayor statement that the experiences of a Latina might allow her to make better judgment in court than a white male. Her detractors say that if a white male had made similar statements he would have been automatically disqualified. They conveniently ignore the fact that the Supreme Court has been virtually all-white for most of the nation’s history. It also ignores the fact that throughout U.S. history, white males have generally not been subjected to apartheid discrimination and segregation, let alone extermination, slavery, forced removals, extra-legal brutality and false imprisonment.

The charges against Sotomayor have a familiar ring. Staunch segregationists used to charge that Martin Luther King, Jr. was both un-American and a racist. President Ronald Reagan institutionalized that kind of thinking in defense of South Africa’s apartheid regime. For him, Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, while the outlaw South African regime constituted a “democratic ally.”

Such thinking was also “normalized” during the affirmative action debate; those who attempted to dismantle the vestiges of racial discrimination were deemed “racists” or “reverse racists,” or communists by those working to maintain it. A reverse racist is precisely what Limbaugh labeled both Sotomayor and President Obama.

Those doing this labeling have well understood the nation’s changing political climate; they could no longer campaign as the defenders of white racial supremacy. Instead, they generally cloaked their views under the conservative-Republican mantle and wrapped themselves in the American flag.

They also knew that to win a debate required further subverting the nation’s political language. These same “patriots” began to reinterpret MLK Jr.'s quote about the dream of a color-blind society. In public, they gladly accepted the “dream” without accepting the societal responsibility of dismantling and remedying centuries of institutional racism and discrimination in this country.

While the majority of Americans can see through the false arguments and the “clever” subversion of the political language by these so-called patriots, this does not hold true for the mainstream media. As we are seeing with Sotomayor, all it takes is a handful of “extremists” to control and shape the media debate.

Perhaps the only upside is that Americans can now clearly see that the politics of Gingrich and Tancredo are the same as that of Limbaugh, Liddy, Beck, Buchanan and Dobbs. These pundits who daily rant against “illegal aliens,” and who daily clamor on the need to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border, are quoted as credible sources by the mainstream press. They are generally the same ones who promote the politics of fear and hate, who believe in the use of torture, and who also believe that the United States is endowed with the God-given right to conduct permanent war against the rest of the world.

Truthfully, who can discern a difference between these right-wing fanatics and the positions of mainline conservatives within the Republican Party?

Rodriguez, who writes for New America Media, including Arizona Watch, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com


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Mark Travis on Jun 11, 2009 at 14:36:06 said:

Roberto Rodriguez attacks conservatives because of their seemingly knee-jerk reaction to the nomination of Judge Sotomayor, a proud Latina who's celebrated Puerto Rican heritage inspired cries of racism by Right wing critics.

But conservatives are fearful for deeper, more profound reasons. Her intellectual honesty about the nature of legal reasoning--and the varied experiences that can influence it--legitimately inspires anxiety because Sotomayor challenges long-standing taboos in the American legal profession.

Sotomayor argues that a purely objective interpretation of the law--which conservatives advocate under the doctrine of strict constructionism--may not be possible, or necessarily even desirable. This is the "larger practical question that we as women and minority judges in society in general must address." To conservatives, Sotomayor is challenging the bedrock assumptions of American jurisprudence, and they worry that she will elevate her own values above the "reason of law."

Logic, Sotomayor claims, is only one persuasive influence on a jurist. There are other factors that help form jurists’ opinions, regardless of whether they choose to recognize these extra-legal voices. Sotomayor implies that she has the courage to acknowledge a broader range of mental and experiencial factors that play a role in her cogitations. (We're left to speculate whether white male jurists fail to recognize the role--and possible legitimacy--of their own personal experiences, physiological and cultural differences, etc., in their deliberations.)

Conservatives rightly question Sotomayor’s legal philosophy because they perceive this tension between reason and emotion in her approach to the law. How will she reconcile these competing forces?

Sotomayor believes that legal reasoning alone doesn't account for the diversity of legal opinions and thought. This opens to door to recognizing other differences that play contributing roles to a jurist's legal analysis. Conservatives would argue that legal tradition compels judges to extinguish these extra-legal influences from their thought process, and base their reasoning on the law alone.

If Sotomayor is correct, then perhaps she's entitled to say that her cultural background is superior to that of a white male. And white men may feel equally entitled to disagree. Do we wish to have Supreme Court justices engaging in this sort of debate?


Eliezer J. Risco on Jun 09, 2009 at 14:34:50 said:

Briefly, the basis ( not an argument ) in favor of Judge Sotomajor is her curriculum vita, which compares favorably with those of the last five nominees. Even if she was not hispanic, or female, she wo0uld merit a
careful and balanced evaluation for the nomination.


Reber on Jun 05, 2009 at 16:32:02 said:

I'm a 72-year-old white Amercan, raised in the South. I, too, am tickled pink by Judge Sotomayor's nomination. I recognize white people's, especially white men's, pleas for "color blindness" and "content of their character" as pitiful frightened appeals to keep white men on top.

I haven't seen any of this kind of criticism of the conservative Justice who said his family's Italian immigrant experience would inform his decisions.

Federal Court of Appeals Judge John Minor Wisdom ruled 30 or 40 years ago "The Constitution is both color blind and color conscious. . . . to prevent discrimination being perpetrated and to undo the effects of past discrimination." Judge Wisdom was a Republican. The present Republican-dominated Supreme Court has rejected his call to forthrghtly undo the effects of past discrimination. Instead it has given a lukewarm endorsement to a compromise called "diversity," which Judge Sotomayor's opponents are also opposing when they object to her remarks on her background.

Among lawyers who handle appeals, there are very few who haven't on occasion felt that the appellate judge just didn't have the real world experience to have understood what was going on in the case. To get right to the heart of it, do we want judges who will blindly rule "separate is equal" or do we want judges whose life experiences tell them that's impossible?


Reber on Jun 05, 2009 at 16:30:34 said:

I'm a 72-year-old white Amercan, raised in the South. I, too, am tickled pink by Judge Sotomayor's nomination. I recognize white people's, especially white men's, pleas for "color blindness" and "content of their character" as pitiful frightened appeals to keep white men on top.

I haven't seen any of this kind of criticism of the conservative Justice who said his family's Italian immigrant experience would inform his decisions.

Federal Court of Appeals Judge John Minor Wisdom ruled 30 or 40 years ago "The Constitution is both color blind and color conscious. . . . to prevent discrimination being perpetrated and to undo the effects of past discrimination." Judge Wisdom was a Republican. The present Republican-dominated Supreme Court has rejected his call to forthrghtly undo the effects of past discrimination. Instead it has given a lukewarm endorsement to a compromise called "diversity," which Judge Sotomayor's opponents are also opposing when they object to her remarks on her background.

Among lawyers who handle appeals, there are very few who haven't on occasion felt that the appellate judge just didn't have the real world experience to have understood what was going on in the case. To get right to the heart of it, do we want judges who will blindly rule "separate is equal" or do we want judges whose life experiences tell them that's impossible?


MaryJ on Jun 03, 2009 at 11:03:58 said:

Racial cheerleading such as that displayed by "Mexifornian" is the reason why Sotomayer will be a disaster for this country. Supreme Court judges should be chosen for their knowledge of the law and the "content of their character," not for their ethnic group. Identity politics such as that supported enthusiastically by "Mexifornian" will simply turn this country into a Third World hellhole -- the same Third World hellhole that people like "Mexifornian" fled from in the first place.


Mexifornian on Jun 02, 2009 at 16:47:57 said:

I am a 63 year old Mexican American who is tickled pink with the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a Latino I have been hoping this day would come for years. I can also tell you that I have been receiving calls from family in Colorado and New Mexico just to talk about how proud and good they feel about Judge Sonia Sotomayor. She will bring a brilliant perspective to the U.S. Supreme Court. I have always been proud to be an American, but today, today I have a special kind of pride as an American.

Thank you Rosario Dawson, George Lopez, LULAC, NCLR, NiLP and all the others that instilled in Latinos the importance of El Voto Latino!

Gracias President Obama for nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Can you imagine the sense of pride that young Latino students from Texas, New York, Florida, California and New Mexico, etc will feel when Judge Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed to the Supreme Court. Talk about an impact on education, this is it!

LA columnist Gregory Rodriguez has evidently sided with the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity crowd. Gregory Rodriguez is tooting his horn at our expense. Get lost Gregory Rodriguez.

11,000,000 votes. Now that\'s power!


Aspero on Jun 02, 2009 at 08:40:21 said:

'Historically, mainstream journalists have been taught that critical analysis constitutes injecting subjectivity into their reporting.' That is just gibberish. Have you been to journalism college? Have you been to ALL the journalism colleges? As a statement, this doesn't even make logical sense. Critical analysis is the province of pundits, reporting the facts as they are known straightforwardly is the province of journalists. Why would journalists employ critical analysis? They would then be pundits, and we already have vastly more than enough of those. Altering the facts that you report, hiding facts that you don't feel will support your ideology and promoting the facts that support your ideology is subjectivity, and it is wrong, bad, destructive. Got that?


JSmith on Jun 02, 2009 at 06:18:24 said:

Interesting that while you berate those with whom you disagree (which I assume includes me as well), you don't advance any arguments yourself. Your diatribe is merely character assassination and personal attacks.

Where is YOUR argument that Ms Sotomayor is qualified?

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