[Note: This piece is a sidebar to Misjudging Sotomayor Coverage]
Following President Barack Obama’s announcement of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee for the Supreme Court, Extra! compared the New York Times National Desk’s coverage of the two weeks following Sotomayor’s nomination (5/27/09-6/10/09) to the first two weeks of coverage of Ronald Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork (7/1-14/87).
Both nominations were reported as controversial—Bork’s nomination was ultimately rejected by the Senate—and the Times devoted 36 stories to Sotomayor and 25 stories to Bork in the two weeks after each pick was announced. (The paper’s coverage of Sotomayor was more front-loaded, with 24 stories in the first week and 12 in the second, versus 12 and 13 respectively for Bork).
The Times’ Bork coverage quoted Republican officials far more often than Democrats; among partisan sources, 64 percent were Republicans and 36 percent Democrats. Bork was nominated by a Republican president and faced confirmation by a Democratic Senate. Though Sotomayor was nominated by a Democratic president for approval by a Democratic Senate, the Times’ coverage still tilted toward Republicans: 55 percent of partisan sources were Republicans, while 45 percent were Democrats.
Only 13 percent of the sources quoted in the Times’ Bork coverage whose gender could be identified were female, a number that rose to 30 percent in the Sotomayor coverage. (The nominee herself accounts for slightly over one-third of those sources.) Sotomayor’s ethnicity also increased the number of Latino sources in the Times’ coverage; in stories on her nomination, 28 percent of sources whose ethnicity could be identified were Latino, while no sources identifiable as Latino were quoted on the Bork nomination. In fact, non-Latino whites made up 96 percent of the Times’ sources whose race could be identified in its Bork coverage; the sole non-white source was then-NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks, quoted in two stories. Non-Latino whites were 60 percent of sources quoted on Sotomayor.
Representatives of public interest groups made up 24 percent of sources in Bork stories—the most-often mentioned being the National Abortion Rights Action League—while 5 percent of sources came from the general public. In Sotomayor coverage, only 5 percent of sources represented public interest groups—the most frequently cited being the Republican-organized Judicial Confirmation Network—and another 13 percent were part of the general public.
Government officials made up the largest group of sources in both cases, accounting for 67 percent of total sources quoted on Bork, including 1 percent judicial officials; in Sotomayor coverage, government officials were 50 percent of total sources, including 36 percent judicial officials.