The MRC War on Ketanji Brown Jackson, Part 1: Building the Narrative
The Media Research Center was manufacturing a right-wing talking point by smearing every potential Supreme Court nominee as a left-wing radical well before Jackson was actually nominated.
By Terry Krepel
Ketanji Brown Jackson
First up was denial that Breyer was any sort of moderate. A Jan. 26 post by Scott Whitlock claimed that Breyer was "far-left" -- of course, the MRC thinks anyone who's not as right-wing as them is "far-left" -- and complained that MSNBC was "pretending that he was a “conservative or moderate” or “pragmatic” at times." Kevin Tober asserted that it was a "liberal narrative" that Breyer was pragmatic -- ironic since Tober is trying to help manufacture a right-wing narrative claiming the opposite, though he offered no evidence to support it.
Similarly, Alex Christy complained the next day that ABC correspondent Terry Moran "reacted to the news by hailing Breyer's "moderate tone" and downplaying his liberal ideology and portraying him as a "pragmatic liberal," adding: "Maybe he was more of a liberal ideologue than ABC and the rest of the media are portraying." Whitlock whined further in a Jan. 28 post, arguing that anyone who didn't reflexively side with conservative arguments could not have been a centrist or pragmatist:
Where did this pragmatism manifest itself? Certainly not on abortion. Breyer was a reliable vote against any pro-life legislation. On guns, he was in the minority on the historic 2008 Heller vs. D.C. decision establishing the Second Amendment as an individual right. On economic issues, the Justice allowed eminent domain to go wild as the key fifth vote in 2005's Kelo v. City of New London.
From there, the MRC's job was to denigrate anyone President Biden would nominate to take Breyer's place as irredeemably liberal and radical -- based solely upon Biden's promise to nominate a black woman to fill his first Supreme Court vacancy. That narrative was so important to bet out there, MRC chief Brent Bozell did it himself in an appearance on Fox Business:
Appearing on Fox Business Network’s Varney & Co. Monday morning, Media Research Center President Brent Bozell slammed President Biden’s Supreme Court nominating process being dictated by “the power of the radical, militant, and in some cases Marxist left.” On another topic, he warned that “the woke, radical left wants to make you rethink your belief system.”
Bozell went on to argue that any nominee would be just like Kamala Harris, whom he smeared as "a disaster by any measurement. She’s a laughingstock." Never mind, of course, that Biden was still a month away from actually naming his nominee. Bozell also won't remind you that President Trump caved to anti-abortion extremists by vowing to appoint only justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, which established a right to abortion.
Tober grumbled that ABC "failed to cover their own poll showing an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of President Joe Biden limiting his search for a new Supreme Court Justice to just black women." He then whined that ABC "then decided to go back over forty years and bring up Ronald Reagan's commitment to nominating the first woman Supreme Court Justice as a way to make Republicans seem hypocritical."
That last part is a bit of a sore point for the MRC, not to mention inconvenient to its narrative. Christy tried to argue it away in a Feb. 2 post:
[CNN correspondent Abby Philip] then tried to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy in a desperate attempt to defend Biden: "I also want to just note, what Susan Collins said about Ronald Reagan is just not the case...it's the exact same thing. He’s promised, in a campaign, he would put a woman on the Supreme Court and he did that, and that's exactly what Joe Biden is doing here when it comes to black women."
Christy went on to huff that "it was Biden who made the race-based promise in order to win votes." As if Trump wasn't trying to win votes when he vowed to appoint only justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Christy whined about this talking point again in a Feb. 24 post:
In an attempt to help himself get elected, President Biden engaged in identity politics by promising to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. Despite that fact, for CNN senior political correspondent Abby Phillip and New Day host Brianna Keilar on Wednesday, it was actually Republicans engaging in identity politics for pointing it out.
Christy also huffed that "Philip claimed that Biden’s pledge is no different than Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump pledging to nominate a woman," though he didn't engage in his percentage comparison this time around.
Graham's "Hussein"-esque otherization campaign
After Jackson was finally announced as the nominee, MRC executive Tim Graham used a Feb. 26 post to try and reinforce the right-wing narrative of her as a wild radical:
Naturally, the PBS NewsHour was delighted with President Biden's nomination of radical Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Friday night. David Brooks touted how Jackson brings “a new lived set of experiences. It can't help but have a humanizing aspect.” He put her in the mainstream….of the Democrats. That might be correct, but the Democrats are far to the left!
The headline of Graham's post simply referred to Jackson as "Ketanji," as if went by one name (she doesn't) and -- more importantly -- as if conservatives were trying to emphasize her out-of-the-mainstream first name as a way of "othering" her the way it tried do to Barack Obama. Oddly, Graham appeared to be a little sensitive to being accused of that. He defensively wrote in a Twitter post the next day:
For the record, I'm calling her Judge Ketanji because her first name is quite unique. If you think it's rude, and would prefer "Judge Jackson cause you're nasty," that's fine. But we're trying to get some attention here.
The MRC may be a bit sensitive about this sort of thing because it was very much fixated on Obama's middle name when it suited its right-wing agenda to do so -- but not so much when Obama himself used his middle name. Let's take a look back, shall we?
In 2008, the MRC rushed to the defense of right-wing radio host Bill Cunningham, who made a point of emphasizing "Hussein" in campaign appearances for then-GOP presidential candidate John McCain. Matthew Sheffield gave Cunningham space to laughably deny he was being Islamophobic by screeching "Hussein" at every opportunity: "I have nothing but respect for my Muslim brothers and sisters."And Brent Baker whined:
With cover from John McCain, NBC and ABC on Tuesday night condemned the “caustic” and “mocking” remarks of Cincinnati radio talk show host Bill Cunningham who, on stage before an Ohio campaign appearance by McCain, dared to utter Barack Obama's middle name and call him “a hack” Chicago politician.
Brent Bozell mocked in a 2008 column how some people "flail with outrage when a conservative uses his full name, Barack Hussein Obama. It’s not a lie. It’s not a distortion. It’s his name." He grumbled in another 2008 column: "If you want an angry media mob, you need merely spit out "Barack Hussein Obama" at a McCain rally and watch the Guardians of Social Taste bring out the torches and pitchforks."
"Good Morning America's" Chris Cuomo reported live from Egypt on Wednesday and informed viewers that students at a university in Cairo are "given hope, just by the fact that a brown-skinned president named Barack Hussein Obama exists. " The news anchor, who was in the region to cover the President's speech on Thursday, provided a decidedly different tone than that of many journalists who avoided using Obama's middle name during the 2008 campaign.
Mike Bates obsessed a lot in 2009 over a clip of schoolchildren singing about Obama, writing in one post, "Last month it was school children merrily singing the praises of Barack Hussein Obama. Mmm. Mmm. Mm!" Bates huffed in a another post: "It appears that at CBS News, as in much of the mainstream media, a conservative is anyone to the right of Barack Hussein Obama. Mmm. Mmm. Mm!"
In 2010, Brad Wilmouth complained about a TV panel that debated whether "electing a President whose middle name was 'Hussein' had 'opened a door to better relations with the Arab and Islamic world. Or has it opened a door to more xenophobic American negativity?'"
Dan Gainor wrote in a 2011 post: "When Barack Hussein Obama was born, the United States budget was a bit more than $94 billion and ran only a $3 billion deficit that year. Ah the good ol' days." In another 2011 post, Noel Sheppard noted "what Senator Barack Hussein Obama said five years ago."
Graham played whataboutism over right-wingers who insisted on using Obama's full name in a 2012 post: "what about liberals who make fun of the name 'Willard Mitt Romney'?"
Yes, Graham may be trying to "get some attention" by emphasizing Jackson's name, but is it the kind of attention he really wants, given that it's the same playbook he and his fellow right-wingers used against Obama a decade ago? Apparently so, because he used "Ketanji" as a stand-alone name in more posts over the next few weeks:
Certainly, nobody can accuse Graham of having empathy for anyone he hates (is paid to hate, at least) for not being a right-winger like he is.
Pushing the 'extremist' narrative
Meanwhile, Graham's MRC underlings were laboring to tar Jackson as extreme despite not knowing much about her. On the day of her announcement on Feb. 25, Curtis Houck attacked Jackson for committing the sin of having gone to the same college as Joy Reid, the MSNBC host whom Houck hates with an obsessive passion. He also weirdly bashed commentator Irin Carmon, twisting her statement that it would be great to have a black woman's perspective on the court regarding issues like abortion since black women are "disproportionately affected by" abortion restrictions into an assertion that she "gave away the game on the abortion industry’s dependence on taking advantage of Black women."
A post by Whitlock declared in the headline that Jackson was "deeply liberal" -- then unironically stated that "The disingenuous ideological spin has already begun."Whitlock called Jackson "deeply liberal" one more time in the body of his piece. In another item, Whitlock again called her "deeply liberal" and mocked descriptions of her as a pragmatist and consensus-builder.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Fondacaro huffed: "The liberal media were all hands on deck Friday to defend President Biden’s new Super Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson from any criticism whatsoever" -- as if he and the MRC would be offering anything except criticism. Tober upped the rhetorical labeling, claiming without evidence (beyond parroting right-wing Sen. Lindsey Graham) that Jackson is a "radical."
Alex Christy got mad when it was accurately pointed out that conservatives would be adding nothing to the conversation beyond repeatedly declaring that Jackson was liberal:
On Friday’s CNN Newsroom, White House correspondent John Harwood said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) opposition to President Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on the grounds she is going to be a reliable liberal is not a substantive criticism.
Christy huffed that one commentator portrayed Jackson as, in his words, "almost a goddess-type figure who has descended from Mount Olympus and that she only hopes she will be afforded due process before the Senate," then returned to complain that "liberal black women activists" are "excited" about Jackson's nomination. Mark Finkelstein then pointed the direction for how Republicans will be expected by right-wing activists to handle Jackson's nomination, as revenge for previous Republican Supreme Court nominees who didn't get a free pass from Democrats:
If you want to say that Biden SCOTUS nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson has a solid resume, go ahead. But to make that case by belittling the credentials of Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett is shall we say, Pants On Fire.
Whitlock devoted a Feb. 28 post to complaining that conservative Supreme Court nominees were accurately identified by TV network news as conservative. We don't recall seeing a similar MRC study on how many times Fox News identified a liberal-leaning nominee as liberal (or "radical").
Kyle Drennen served up the revenge talking point in a post the same day about a CBS report:
They conveniently didn’t mention how nasty, personal attacks on conservative court nominees like Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh by partisan Democrats (like Joe Biden) poisoned the process.
Drennen conveniently didn't mention why Barrett's nomination might have not been considered legitimate: it was hypocritically rammed through by Republicans a month before a presidential election, many of whom blocked Merrick Garland's nomination in 2016 out of a professed concern that the newly elected president deserved to fill the seat.
Defending nasty attacks
Tober rushed to defend Fox News host Tucker Carlson for "daring to ask for Biden Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s LSAT scores," ignoring that it was pointed out by MSNBC's Joy Reid that Carlson had never demanded the LSAT scores of any other SCOTUS nominee. Tober tried to laughably pretend Carlson's request wasn't rooted in racism:
The fact of the matter is, that is not Carlson's argument. His problem with Biden nominating her is not because she's black, but because Biden nominated her because she was a black woman. That's not to say she isn't qualified, but Carlson wants to see Biden tout her credentials and not her skin color.
The MRC then did its usual whining that non-right-wing media wouldn't trash Jackson like a common Fox News:
The MRC also got mad that Republicans were being called out for already dismissing Jackson out of hand, even though they voted to confirm her for lower courts. Alex Christy tried to blame Democrats for this: "After decades of Democrats politicizing Court nominations going all the way back to Robert Bork, CNN waited until a Democratic appointee to lament that the general partisan nature of the process." A few days later, Christy complained that a "confused" Judy Woodruff tried to nail down Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell -- who had weirdly suggested that Jackson's refusal to take a position on "court packing" was a reason to disqualify her -- was not rushing to endorse her; he toured how McConnell claimed that "Republicans will treat Jackson respectfully, unlike how Democrats treated Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh."
That did not happen, of course. Indeed, the very same day of Christy's post on McConnell, the MRC received a new marching order to build a new anti-Jackson narrative as forwarded by, yes, one of McConnell's fellow Senate Republicans, as Tober detailed:
On Wednesday, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) posted a lengthy Twitter thread with damming evidence of Biden Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record of being soft on child porn offenders. All three evening news broadcasts (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News & NBC Nightly News) ignored Hawley’s allegations. This comes in stark contrast to the way the networks treated the baseless allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation process in the fall of 2018.
Nicholas Fondacaro similarly whined under a headline that referenced Jackson's purported "leniency with pedos" that "The View" hosts "avoiding the apparent evidence of Jackson going easy on sex offenders and child porn peddlers. Instead, they came to her defense by arguing that she’ll 'very literally' 'outshine each and every one' of the conservative justices nominated by former President Trump."
Christy returned to complain that Republicans' gutter strategy was being called out:
For his Friday show on MSNBC, MTP Daily host Chuck Todd tried his hand at comedy as he confidently proclaimed that Republicans will blame Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for inflation because that is all they have. Giving the “Republican” perspective for the panel discussion was former party chair Michael Steele who agreed and claimed Jackson’s confirmation hearings will provide Republicans good opportunities to raise money.
Christy then touted one guest as "accurately explaining the Republican view" by pointing out that "Republicans would attack Jackson as soft on crime and for representing Gitmo detainees." He didn't explain why it was a bad thing for someone who worked as a public defender, as Jackson had, to defend criminals in her job.
Tober lashed out at one commentator who claimed Hawley's attack on Jackson could get her killed, insisting that Hawley was just "attempting to hold a Supreme Court nominee accountable for her record on the bench." He didn't mention that Hawley's accusations had already been discredited -- narratives are more important than facts, after all.
Finkelstein then felt the need to circle back to defending Carlson's demand for Jackson's LSAT score, despite conceding that no other SCOTUS nominee's LSAT score had ever been provided, let alone demanded:
So . . . just exactly what is wrong with asking for her LSAT score? If we were choosing among doctors, would it be "repugnant" to ask for their MCAT scores? [Jomathan] Capehart must see this as a suggestion that Jackson is black, therefore she's unqualified. Before Jackson was named, Capehart suggested because she was black, she'd be more qualified and brilliant than anyone who came before her.
Unsurprisingly, Finkelstein did not demand or even advocate that, say, Brett Kavanaugh's LSAT score be released.
And the confirmation hearings hadn't even started yet. That's when the MRC got even more nasty.