Are the Media Trying to Incite a Battle Over Miers?

Recent press accounts suggest earlier calls for a unifying nominee were a red herring.

The past few months have been a target-rich environment for America’s press. Between the president’s declining poll numbers, increased hostilities in Iraq, two devastating hurricanes, exploding energy prices, some high-profile political scandals, and a couple of Supreme Court vacancies, the media certainly have had a lot of juicy issues on their plates. 

Yet, it seems that the president’s unexpected nomination of Harriet Miers defused the highly anticipated battle over retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement, and the press are so disappointed by the subsequent lack of bloodletting that they are trying to stoke the curiously absent fires of discontent themselves.

As has been well reported the past few days, much of the media reaction to the Miers nomination has come in two forms.  First, the press suggested that the president is in such a weakened political state due to Iraq, Katrina, and energy prices that he can ill afford a battle with Democrats over this vacancy. 

In fact, some press representatives have gone so far as stating that the president is intentionally dodging a fight:

  • The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote Tuesday: “The nomination appeared designed primarily to avoid a major fight in the Senate and, said skeptics on the left and right, was made out of a position of political weakness, not strength. 
  • The New York Times’ Robert Stevenson wrote Tuesday: “There is still much to learn about Harriet E. Miers, but in naming her to the Supreme Court, President Bush revealed something about himself: that he has no appetite, at a time when he and his party are besieged by problems, for an all-out ideological fight.”

On the other hand, after high-profile Democrats such as Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Harry Reid (D-Nev) spoke approvingly of the president’s nominee, the media almost en masse decided to quote angry conservatives in an attempt to incite ire from the right that didn’t materialize from the left:

  • As reported by Mark Finkelstein at NewsBusters, NBC’s “Today Show” host Katie Couric referenced statements made by conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh and conservative columnist Bill Kristol in her questioning of White House spokesman Dan Bartlett on Tuesday 
  • As I reported at NewsBusters, Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday’s “NBC Nightly News” aired a video of Rush Limbaugh’s expressed concerns about the Miers nomination  
  • David Kirkpatrick wrote in Thursday’s New York Times: “A growing chorus of conservatives from Republican senators to the columnist George F. Will cast skepticism on Wednesday on President Bush's selection of Harriet E. Miers for the Supreme Court, expressing worry not only about unanswered questions on her legal philosophy but also about her legal credentials.” 
  • Peter Baker and Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote Thursday: “The conservative uprising against President Bush escalated yesterday as Republican activists angry over his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court confronted the president's envoys during a pair of tense closed-door meetings.”

Finally, on Wednesday, CNN reported the results of a new poll concerning the president’s choice to replace Justice O’Connor, and focused most of its attention on what the conservatives who were questioned thought about Miers: “Americans, particularly conservatives, are less supportive of President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court than they initially were for his nomination of John Roberts, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday night.”

This all raises a very obvious question: When did the mainstream media become so interested in what conservatives think?

The answer: When there was no outcry from the left concerning the Miers nomination, and it appeared that the long-awaited battle over this confirmation might not occur. 

As a result, the press are now employing a peculiar brand of hypocrisy with their recent tactics. For several years, the media have regularly complained about the contentious political environment that exists in our nation.  Of course, it is normally conservatives that are blamed for this malady.

As such, after Katrina hit, there was an outcry from much of the mainstream media with the following theme: Given the supposed poor response by the Bush administration to the disaster in New Orleans, it was incumbent upon the president to replace Justice O’Connor with a more moderate nominee than newly sworn in Chief Justice John Roberts that would act to unite our nation rather than further divide it.

Yet, now that it appears from Democratic reaction to Miers that the president has done exactly that, the press are chastising Bush for running away from this battle, and highlighting conservative disgust in an effort to ignite hostilities that they just four weeks ago wanted the president to avoid.

What does this tell us?  First, it is the media that have been itching for this ideological battle and not necessarily our elected officials.  Second, the press have no interest in unity or peace between the nation’s two major parties, and in the unlikely event that either condition actually surfaces, they will do whatever possible to subvert it regardless of their frequent statements of disgust with America’s contentious political environment.

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Noel Sheppard's picture