A Subtle Slant

A Subtle Slant<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
<?xml:namespace prefix = v ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" /><?xml:namespace prefix = w ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word" />By Stephen M. Crampton<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />November 14, 2005
It is no secret that the mainstream media lean left. Their coverage of everything from natural disasters to political campaigns to war is increasingly influenced by the bias of the reporters and news organizations themselves. This slant is sometimes easily discernible, as in the television networks' coverage of the Bush/Gore presidential election. At other times, the slant is more subtle.
In a recent Associated Press article ("Alito Could Shift Court on Major Issues," LA Times, Nov. 3, 2005), Gina Holland wrote on the effect Judge Samuel Alito will have on the Supreme Court if he is confirmed. This article is a classic example of the subtle slant and its tendency to subconsciously influence the thinking of our citizenry.
Ms. Holland sounds her theme in the first sentence of the article, asserting that the Supreme Court's "middle ground" is disappearing. Ms. Holland describes retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as "pragmatic," and the decisions staked out around her "moderate." Judge Alito, she wrote, will shift the Court to the right.
Now I do not contest that Judge Alito appears to be more conservative than Justice O'Connor. That is not the point. The point is that the article is slanted to suggest that Judge Alito's replacement of Justice O'Connor presages a dangerous development for the Court away from the "moderate" middle and into an "extreme" conservative fringe.
But Justice O'Connor's opinions in favor of abortion, homosexual rights, and suicide are emphatically not, in the minds of most Americans, either "moderate" or "pragmatic." Yet that is the overwhelming opinion of most of the mainstream media.
Throwing such loaded descriptors into a news report colors the story in a manner calculated to create a subconscious impression in the readers that Judge Alito's jurisprudence is bad for America. After all, moderation is good, and extremism is bad, isn't it? (Or is that just the refrain of the mainstream media?)
It may be that Ms. Holland did not intend to suggest these conclusions. Certainly her perspective is less offensive than, say, Senator Harry Reid's ranting that Judge Alito is nothing but a sop to "right wing extremists." Compared to Senator Reid's diatribe, Ms. Holland's piece appears downright, well, moderate.
But that is precisely the point: the left-leaning bias is so deeply ingrained it manifests itself even when a reporter tries to be objective. And for that very reason, the danger is all the greater. It affects our opinions without our even knowing it is there.
Ms. Holland referred to a prisoner rights case in which Judge Alito found against the prisoner below, while Justice O'Connor ruled in favor of the prisoner on appeal. Ms. Holland opined that Judge Alito has thus been "less sympathetic" to inmate appeals. Once again, we are subtly led to conclude that the loss of Justice O'Connor will be profound, and Judge Alito will not adequately fill her shoes.
But is sympathy a virtue for a sitting judge? I want a sympathetic ear from a friend hearing my woes as much as anyone, but when the law is clear I do not want a judge swayed by sympathy in favor of my opponent and against the plain language of the law. It is the role of a judge to apply the law without favoritism or partiality. Sympathy, then, is not a judicial virtue, but a vice. In the context of the courtroom, sympathy clouds the mind and confuses the analysis. Justice demands objectivity, not sympathy.
Mainstream vs. ExtremeJust as we must be careful not to allow the biases of reporters to subconsciously influence our opinions, so we must also guard against the use of loose terminology. Liberals have frequently leveled the charge that Judge Alito should not be confirmed because he is "outside the mainstream." But what exactly is the mainstream in judicial philosophy? Who defines it?
For many inside-the-beltway bigots, "mainstream" means nothing more than "my-stream," and anyone who does not agree with their views is by definition "outside the mainstream." And by parity of reason, anyone outside the "mainstream" is ipso facto "extreme."
Although the slant in use of the terms "mainstream" and "extreme" is by no means subtle, it is nonetheless important not to allow these charges to go unchallenged.
Judge Alito stands for everything President Bush promised during his re-election campaign: a principled constitutionalist who painstakingly abides by the rule of law. If confirmed, Judge Alito will help restore the proper balance between the Supreme Court and the other branches of our federal government. He is the polar opposite of a judicial activist.
The attempt to smear Judge Alito as an extremist shows the desperation of the left to pack the Court with social engineers and activist judges bent on unlawfully rewriting the Constitution rather than lawfully amending it.
It was just such lawlessness that impelled a sizable majority of Americans to re-elect President Bush in 2004. That sounds pretty mainstream to me.

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