The shallow and promotional TV coverage of Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings illustrated once again how shamelessly ABC, CBS and NBC shape the political Play-Doh they offer to the American people as "news."
First, there was the amount of coverage. Let's put it this way: "Coverage" is the wrong word. Entire days of hearings, filled with tough exchanges with Republicans on issues like the military, "gay marriage" and abortion were swept under the rug. Instead, the one talking point every viewer was supposed to remember was this: Kagan is funny! She is really, really funny!
At one point in the hearings, they discussed the Obama administration's very unfunny failure to stop the Christmas Day bomber from almost blowing up a plane as it landed in Detroit. That somehow turned into a joke about Kagan's Jewishness. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has seemed desperate to ingratiate himself with Obama's nominees, set Kagan up to joke that she probably spent Christmas at a Chinese restaurant.
If Kagan were trying out for the TV show "Last Comic Standing," that would seem like a very stale old joke. But the networks were looking for anything in these hearings that (a) wouldn't bore their dumbest viewer and (b) made Kagan look good. So The Joke was the top story.
The fawning was out of control. The networks audaciously boasted that Kagan was so funny that "Saturday Night Live" could not do her justice. On ABC's "Good Morning America" on June 30, news anchor Juju Chang hailed Kagan's "lively sense of humor" and then asked co-hosts George Stephanopoulos and Elizabeth Vargas, "Who is going to play her in the 'SNL' skit?" Vargas replied: "I don't think they could be as funny as Elena Kagan was!"
On July 2, CBS's "The Early Show" was still touting the comedy gold. Co-host Harry Smith noted, "She was downright funny." Ana Marie Cox, a former Air America radio host and writer for GQ magazine, called it "a 'Saturday Night Live' skit made live," whatever that means. She thought it was made more perfect that former "SNL" writer and Sen. Al Franken is on the Judiciary Committee. Liberal radio host Jane Pratt completed the support circle: "Her joke was good, the Chinese food joke was good."
But they had no interest in substance that might underline just how radical Kagan's positions might be. The networks almost completely ignored Kagan's key role in the Clinton White House efforts to promote the monstrous act of partial-birth abortion. CNSNews.com reported that in 1996, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sent the Clinton White House a proposed draft statement on partial-birth abortion that declared a panel they convened "could identify no circumstances" under which this skull-puncturing and skull-vacuuming procedure would be "the only option" to save a woman's life or preserve her health.
On Dec. 13, 1996, Kagan wrote this language would be a "disaster" if released publicly, since it clearly contradicted what President Clinton had claimed. Kagan wrote to ACOG's associate director of government relations with suggested prose the medical group could use. Partial-birth abortion, she claimed "may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman." Weeks later, ACOG's public statement carried those exact words from the White House.
Three years later, Justice Stephen Breyer repeated those same words in declaring Nebraska's partial-birth abortion ban unconstitutional.
Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee said that armed with these documents, "it appears that Kagan was perhaps the key strategist in blocking enactment of the partial-birth abortion ban act." He believes that Kagan had "her hands on this from the beginning to the end."
A scandal? A controversy? A (SET ITAL) story (END ITAL) ? Only CBS legal reporter Jan Crawford came anywhere close on the "CBS Evening News." She played a snippet of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, pressing Kagan to admit the notes to ACOG were in her handwriting, but the CBS viewer saw just seconds of this exchange with zero context what these two people were discussing -- other than the generic topic of abortion. The grisly specifics were omitted.
This example only underlines how anyone who wants to follow weighty issues of public policy, including Supreme Court jurisprudence, should never rely on network television. These networks gave much more time and loving care to England's Prince Harry falling off a horse on a visit to New York. That is the intellectual depth the public should expect from the air-headed TV "news" elite -- at least when Democrats are the ones changing the Supreme Court for the next two or three decades.
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