You almost have to admire the talent for backhanding happiness shared by producers and editors at CNN. When an event celebrated by conservatives pops into the news cycle, Jeff Zucker’s employees inevitably respond with variations on themes first sounded by the Obamas, whose eight-year Reign of Error was every bit as transformational as they had hoped it would be. CNN staffers allied with Michelle Obama’s point of view respond to events with stories along the lines of “It burns!” Those staffers who identify more closely with Barack Obama approach events with different ways to say, “You didn’t build that.” When both camps work together, CNN can flood the zone with comically biased “analysis” that is equal parts resentment (Michelle) and condescension (Barack).
Spin is what CNN does. Had I been quicker with screenshot software, I’d have memorialized that network’s take on Kayleigh McEnany’s late August speech for the RNC about undergoing a double mastectomy, because the hot take for that at CNN was basically “Press Secretary surprised that Trump cared about her boobs.”
CNN headline writers can sneer like nobody’s business. Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court gave that network and its progressive allies another opportunity kindle the fires of resentment and condescension while pretending to neutrality. Somebody asked for an opinion roundup, so the “Baracksters” put the ball in play by damning with faint praise: “Amy Coney Barrett a perfect choice for half of America” set the tone they were striving for. “Michelletians” would have made the same point less underhandedly, claiming something like “Barrett’s nomination represents a failure of inclusivity.”
Insinuation has a more exalted place in the CNN style guide than logic does, because (as the New York Times has been demonstrating even longer than CNN) insinuation can advance preferred narratives. CNN would rather you didn’t ask if the late Justice Ginsburg was perfect for (only) half of America, why her go-to move on the Court was writing dissenting opinions, or why Supreme Court nominations became so contentious in the first place (best to call Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, “settled law” and not look too closely at them).
In the opinion roundup about Judge Barrett, CNN staffers solicited contributions from 10 different people. The article’s introduction includes a disclaimer that “the views expressed in this commentary belong to the authors,” but given the pool that was tapped, it’s not much of a stretch to conclude that CNN thinks Amy Coney Barrett is so obviously and endearingly competent that she must be a danger to the republic.
Naming the contributors to the opinion roundup in my sights might sway reaction to their opinions one way or another, because some of them are well known within legal, media, and academic circles. Let’s instead put thinking caps on and hold representative parts of their opinions up to the light.
Right off the bat, a lawyer bemoans the fact that “this marks the first time in decades (since the nomination of Thurgood Marshall in 1967) that the court has been without a justice who fought for civil rights during his or her career.” You can only make an assertion like that if you have a constipated notion of what civil rights work is, and are also willing to declare that no sitting justice values civil rights. This would be news to just about everybody on the Supreme Court.
An upbeat assessment of Barrett’s potential influence follows the gloomy one, and that contributor notes that “if Barrett is confirmed, John Roberts’ short stint as the median justice will end, and we can expect a Supreme Court jurisprudence that, like it or not, will be more principled.” Did you catch the “like it or not”? What’s not to like about principled jurisprudence? Any other kind of legal decision-making is whimsical at best, but this is CNN, so it’s clever to acknowledge that more than a few progressives view principles as impediments to power.
In another sop to progressives, one contributor urged readers to see Amy Coney Barrett as a worthy consolation prize, because her nomination to the Supreme Court is “truly a triumph of Ginsburg’s equality project.” That’s a sunny interpretation I might actually concur with, but for the important note that Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor could also be described as having “equality projects.”
Nuance like that would likely be lost on the commentator who is sure that Barrett’s nomination sprang from a judicial selection process that “set Lady Justice’s blindfold on fire.” That writer concedes that “Democratic presidents have been as invested in the ideological composition of the court as Republican presidents,” but she’s more willing to glare at the current president and Senate majority leader than to point out that it was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) who made dishonestly contested nominations a thing by railroading Judge Robert Bork back in the day.
Following that, the article ended with a cheer for Barrett’s nomination, and some boilerplate hair-on-fire argument about how Barrett represents “a death knell for reproductive rights” and proof that Donald Trump wants to “make America white again.” Sometimes the comedy writes itself. The final score in the opinion roundtable for anyone playing along at home was 7 aghast at or fearful of Barrett’s nomination, and 3 in favor of it. None of the contributing writers were U.S. senators. But this is CNN.