Brent Baker remembered NPR reporter Nina Totenberg found Judge John Roberts carried conservatism to wretched excess. On NPR's All Things Considered back in 2005, she prefaced “conservative” with three verys, describing him as “a very, very, very conservative man.” But in a taped soundbite on the next day's Good Morning America on ABC, she cut back to merely “a very, very conservative man.”
But Totenberg matched other media liberals in finding no measurable ideology in Elena Kagan when her nomination was announced. Within minutes (for the West Coast stations still in Morning Edition time), Totenberg could only exclaim Kagan was "was a star student at Princeton, at Oxford, at Harvard Law School -- then clerked for the man she calls her mentor, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who used to refer to her as Shorty."
Later, she became dean of Harvard Law School, and "In that job, she was just hugely popular with students and won widespread praise for ending the long running ideological faculty wars, for changing the curriculum, for raising a humongous amount of money. She was a huge success."On Monday night's All Things Considered, Totenberg touted Kagan's "meteoric" rise to the top, and suggested Kagan's beliefs were a mystery:
TOTENBERG: Probably the best thing Kagan has going for her, politically, is support from many conservative scholars. As dean at Harvard, she ended the long-running ideological faculty wars over new hires, adding 22 new tenured professors, including a number of prominent conservatives. Among her fans is Harvard professor and Reagan administration Solicitor General Charles Fried.
CHARLES FRIED: I think she's terrific.
TOTENBERG: And Jack Goldsmith, who authored some key opinions for the Bush Justice Department in the war on terror before joining the Harvard faculty.
JACK GOLDSMITH: I have a very strong feeling that she will be a great justice. She will be a very consequential justice.
At least Totenberg allowed one conservative critic:
TOTENBERG: Conservatives' scholarly support does not immunize Kagan, though, from conservative criticism. Here's Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Mr. ED WHELAN (President, Ethics and Public Policy Center): I think what we see is that in Elena Kagan, apparently ever since high school, has harbored the ambition of being a Supreme Court justice and has very deftly maneuvered her way along that path. And she's been very guarded in expressing her views at the same time, you know, cultivating some very helpful ties to powerful folks on the left.
TOTENBERG: Indeed, so elusive are Kagan's views that the constant refrain one hears from her pals on the right and left is, what does Elena believe?
On Tuesday's Morning Edition, Totenberg was still avoiding the L-word, unless it was to note liberals were upset with her. She mentioned Kagan signed to a letter with other deans in 2005 suggesting Guantanamo detentions were inhumane and authoritarian:
The letter all but assures that Kagan will get a grilling on national security questions involving presidential power. That is particularly ironic, since liberal and human rights activists have been critical of Kagan for defending what they view as the Bush-lite positions taken by the Obama administration in war-on-terror issues.