In contrast, all three networks made a major deal out of the last person nominated by a Republican President for a slot on the Court, Justice Samuel Alito. Out of the first 21 stories on the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows after Justice Alito’s selection, correspondents conveyed ten explicit “conservative” labels during the first 36 hours of coverage. In contrast, Graham documented just one “liberal” label in 14 Kagan stories during the equivalent time period after her selection.
In Alito’s case, the networks began trumpeting ideology from the moment he was picked. Anchor Charles Gibson opened ABC’s Special Report announcing Alito’s nomination: “He is very conservative. This is a liberal appellate court, but he is the most conservative member on it....The President has picked someone very conservative, but a very accomplished jurist as well.”
Over on CBS, correspondent Thalia Assuras began: “Well, this nominee is a conservative that should make conservative Republicans very happy....” After the announcement, correspondent Gloria Borger tweaked: “He may be called ‘Scalito’ because he’s quite conservative, but the conservatives say he is not bombastic like Justice Scalia can sometimes be.”
Nearly all of the early coverage made Alito’s ideology the centerpiece: “This is the candidate conservatives wanted and Democrats feared,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos opined on the October 31, 2005 World News Tonight, a few hours after Alito was selected. “Conservatives love him, but some Democrats are already lining up to fight his nomination,” NBC’s Matt Lauer announced the next morning on Today.
But reporters did more than just note which ideological camps liked and disliked Alito — they saw no problem with affixing the “conservative” label on him themselves:
# ABC World News Tonight, October 31: Anchor Elizabeth Vargas: “He is said to be brilliant and A STAUNCH CONSERVATIVE.”
Reporter Terry Moran: “He quickly established a reputation on the bench as brilliant and deeply CONSERVATIVE.”
# CBS Evening News, October 31: Anchor Bob Schieffer: “Conservatives wanted a CONSERVATIVE on the Supreme Court, and said the President ought to risk a fight in the Senate to get one. Their wishes have been fulfilled.”
Correspondent John Roberts: “If confirmed, Alito would wipe out the swing seat now occupied by Sandra Day O'Connor, tilting the Supreme Court in a SOLIDLY CONSERVATIVE direction for years to come.”
# NBC Nightly News, October 31: Correspondent Pete Williams: “Alito is considered dependably CONSERVATIVE, though with an independent streak.”
Williams, later in the same story: “Perhaps because he and Justice Scalia are both Italian American, Catholic and CONSERVATIVE, he’s been nicknamed ‘Scalito.’”
# CBS’s The Early Show, November 1: Co-host Harry Smith: “A bitter partisan confirmation battle is brewing over President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito. We’ll speak with members of the Judiciary Committee and take a closer look at the CONSERVATIVE judge.”
Reporter Thalia Assuras: “Alito’s CONSERVATIVE stance would eliminate the swing vote of outgoing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor....”
# NBC’s Today, November 1: Co-host Katie Couric: “President Bush’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, is known for his solid CONSERVATIVE record and a well-developed sense of humor....”