Supreme Court Fights: Left-Wing Media Bias Is Seldom More Imaginary

Politico‘s Mike Allen writes (5/27/09)

The media’s left-of-center bias is rarely more apparent than during court fights. The coverage running up to the pick was slanted heavily toward the notion of how “pragmatic” Obama’s legal views are and how unlikely he was to pick a liberal.

So coverage of Supreme Court fights is one of the best illustrations of corporate media’s supposed lean to the left? Only three of the current justices had what could be described as a “fight” over their confirmation: Clarence Thomas (confirmed by a vote of 52-48), John Roberts (78-22) and Samuel Alito (58-42); all the others were confirmed with less than 10 percent of the Senate voting against them.

Despite the allegations of sexual harassment that were leveled against Thomas during his confirmation hearings, media coverage at the time depicted him as highly credible in his denials (Extra!, Special Issue 1992), and generally treated the question of whom to believe as impossible to answer.

Roberts got intensely favorable coverage from corporate media, to the point where Newsweek was denouncing as “conspiracy theories” accurate characterizations of Roberts’ record (FAIR Action Alert, 8/2/05). When the pro-choice group NARAL pointed out that Roberts had filed a brief in support of an abortion clinic blockader who had previously been convicted of bombing, this was widely denounced in the media as out of bounds (Extra!, 11-12/05); can anyone seriously imagine establishment pundits chiding right-wing activists for bringing up legal work Sonia Sotomayor had done on behalf of bombmakers?

With Alito as well, corporate media tended to treat his unflappable demeanor as more important than his legal views, giving him generally high marks for his confirmation performance (CounterSpin, 1/20/06).

The only Supreme Court nominee to be voted down by the Senate in modern times was Robert Bork. That was in 1987, when FAIR was just getting started, so we don’t have any contemporaneous analysis of the coverage of that fight–but corporate media have subsequently created an entirely inaccurate mythology about Bork’s unfair treatment (FAIR Media Advisory, 7/21/05; Extra! Update, 4/99).

Allen says that it’s during such episodes that corporate media’s left-leaning bias is most apparent. What’s actually apparent is that charges of left-wing media bias never need to be accompanied by actual evidence.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.