Judge Gorsuch, The New York Times, And “The Forgotten Men And Women Of Our Country”
Donald Trump alternately criticizes the “failing @nytimes” (supposedly “FAKE NEWS”) and professes his “great respect for The New York Times.” It’s part of his love/hate relationship with the “elite”: as a campaigner, the Park Avenue billionaire took his populist show on the road to the Rust Belt to proclaim solidarity with the common man, and then got back on his private jet to go home to a palatial Manhattan abode. His love/hate relationship (with the “elite”) is not unique to the Times: one moment he is decrying the influence of the “international banks”; another moment he is stocking his administration with personnel from Goldman Sachs.
Last night, Trump — who at times campaigned using a third-grader’s vocabulary — praised Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch for his education and intellect. And the (“failing”) New York Times lapped it up. In one piece, the Times reported: “President Trump rightly extolled the judge’s ‘brilliance,’ academic credentials and qualifications.” (Emphasis added here.) The Times also published an Opinion piece (by a former Obama administration attorney, no less) entitled: “Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch.” (Spoiler alert: the piece endorsed confirmation of Judge Gorsuch.) The Times also published an Opinion piece entitled, “Why Democrats Should Oppose Neil Gorsuch”; but this piece merely argued for opposition as tit-for-tat retaliation for the Republicans’ obstruction of President Obama’s Merrick Garland nomination — while at the same time the piece had nary a negative word to say about Judge Gorsuch, whom the piece expressly conceded to be “qualified.” In another article, the Times described Judge Gorsuch as “a respected, plainly qualified and deeply conservative jurist.”
From the “failing” New York Times, it was clear that Judge Gorsuch is a pristine, walks-on-water, above-the-fray, universally-respected, qualified, brilliant jurist, whose only potential vulnerabilities are (1) being ideologically conservative and (2) getting his opportunity only by way of the Republicans’ obstruction of Judge Garland’s nomination.
Although the Times’ “Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch” piece offered some facts and argument, the other three Times pieces (quoted above) did not provide any facts, sources, standards, or discussion to support the repeated assessment of Judge Gorsuch as being qualified. Rather, the Times simply repeated (over and over again) its superficial assessment, in a manner that was — ironically — Trumpian.
Compare the Times’ assessment with that of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (which she posted online last night, very soon after the nomination announcement):
President Trump had the chance to select a consensus nominee to the Supreme Court. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, he failed that test.
Instead, he carried out his public promise to select a nominee from a list drawn up by far right activist groups that were financed by big business interests.
Judge Neil Gorsuch has been on this list for four months. His public record, which I have reviewed in detail, paints a clear picture.
Before even joining the bench, he advocated to make it easier for public companies to defraud investors. As a judge, he has twisted himself into a pretzel to make sure the rules favor giant companies over workers and individual Americans. He has sided with employers who deny wages, improperly fire workers, or retaliate against whistleblowers for misconduct. He has ruled against workers in all manner of discrimination cases. And he has demonstrated hostility toward women’s access to basic health care.
For years, powerful interests have executed a full-scale assault on the integrity of our federal judiciary, trying to turn the Supreme Court into one more rigged game that works only for the rich and the powerful. They spent millions to keep this seat open, and Judge Gorsuch is their reward.
Every day, our new President finds more ways to demonstrate his hostility for our independent judiciary, our civil society, and the rule of law. Now more than ever, America needs Supreme Court justices with a proven record of standing up for the rights of all Americans – civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and all other protections guaranteed by our laws. We don’t need another justice who spends his time looking out for those with money and influence.
Based on the long and well-established record of Judge Gorsuch, I will oppose his nomination.
And then there was Senator Bernie Sanders, who had this to say on Twitter:
Judge Gorsuch must explain his hostility to women’s rights, support of corporations over workers and opposition to campaign finance reform.
It seems that Senators Warren and Sanders do not share the (“failing”) New York Times’ idea of what it takes for a judge to be qualified for the nation’s highest court. Yet you would never have known it from the Times’ repetitive praise of Judge Gorsuch’s qualifications. The Times’ omissions were notable. Not only was Sanders the runner-up in the Democratic primaries; but also Trump frequently tried to woo his supporters. So his voice is certainly newsworthy — as is that of Senator Warren, who is very prominent in her own right (and, among other things, spoke at last summer’s Democratic National Convention). Their views were promptly posted online: Senators Warren and Sanders posted their statements last night (i.e., on the same evening as the Gorsuch announcement) — very soon after the prime-time TV announcement was made.
Did other articles in the “failing” New York Times report on the viewpoints of Senators Warren and Sanders (or other like-minded viewpoints)? If not, then will the Times do so hereafter? The answers are unknown and largely irrelevant. In this era of mobile devices and limited attention spans, first impressions are often the only important impressions. The above-quoted Times endorsements of Judge Gorsuch’s qualifications appeared in articles that were among first results in Google searches for “Gorsuch,” immediately after his nomination. In each of those pieces, the Times’ endorsements (of his qualifications) were unequivocal. Any one of those pieces would have been impactful taken alone — and, taken together, they painted an even stronger consensus.
The Times clearly framed the debate as one pitting Judge Gorsuch’s unassailable objective qualifications versus political considerations. However, Senators Warren and Sanders apparently saw Judge Gorsuch’s qualifications as related to his willingness to represent everyone, including the weak and underprivileged. They weren’t the only ones to have that viewpoint. As reported in the Times’ own transcript of his remarks upon being nominated:
Judge Gorsuch himself referred to “the promises of our Constitution and living out daily their judicial oaths to administer justice equally to rich and poor alike.”
Going by the statements of Senators Warren and Sanders, it is fair to question whether Judge Gorsuch has truly lived up to his own standard of equal administration of justice for all. This question may deserve more scrutiny and evaluation, before reaching a conclusion. But the Times’ immediate coverage (of the nomination) did not even leave room for such questioning — as the Times had already drawn its conclusion that Judge Gorsuch is qualified and that the only remaining issues are political in nature.
In Trump’s world, the elite are out-of-touch with the mainstream. His inauguration speech made a promise to represent the downtrodden: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Less than two weeks later, two political heavyweight Senators stated serious and immediate concerns indicating that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee does not truly represent “the forgotten men and women” — but, rather, is largely another corporate crony. In other words, based on the statements of Senators Sanders and Warren, the nomination of Judge Gorsuch does not serve the interests of “the forgotten men and women.” And what was the Times reporting? Aside from the (above-mentioned) express endorsement of Judge Gorsuch and unexplained assertions that Judge Gorsuch is qualified, here is a sample of what the Times had to say regarding Judge Gorsuch:
“He looks the part, from his height to his square chin, with a conservatively trimmed but very healthy shock of gray hair that gives him a reassuring gravitas that his youth (he’s 49) might otherwise belie. (His hair also looks a lot like that of Mr. Pence.) The federal appeals court judge, now based in Denver, telegraphs seriousness of purpose and manliness in the classical mode. In the biopic of the Trump administration that will no doubt come one day, he would be played by a Paul Newman type.”
And there, of course, is the conundrum. The Times’ handling of the Gorsuch nomination only confirms Trump’s critique of the Times as being out-of-touch with the interests of “the forgotten men and women” — and yet, in this instance, the Times’ genuine failings only serve to help Trump, by creating the false impression of Judge Gorsuch’s universally-recognized qualifications.
To effectively oppose Trump, his opponents must learn to play his game — by communicating through sources outside of the mainstream media. Otherwise, history may well show that, in significant ways, “the forgotten men and women” have already — once again — been forgotten.