Sotomayor Falls in Journalism's Blind Spot

What her nomination clearly shows us is that what this nation needs is more incisive journalism, not less

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: June 2, 2009

Sotomayor Falls in Journalism's Blind Spot

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 -ÔÇô or that she is an "affirmative action" pick (Buchanan) -ÔÇô
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?

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