Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Fair and Balanced? -- The NewsHour Drops the Ball on Miers

Lately, there has been much talk regarding the new leadership at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and the supposed endeavor to make it more fair by allowing a higher proportion of Republicans to spout bulls*&t without the scrutinizing eye of a fact-checker or a pointed critic.

Personally, I look back further, to the unceremonious dumping of Bob Edwards from NPR's Morning Edition just month's shy of his twenty-fifth anniversary, as the principal harbinger of the demise of the integrity of public broadcasting.

Yesterday, of course, the President appointed the Most Qualified Woman in American (MQWA) to replace Madame Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as the newest Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I left work promptly at 5, and rode home with the intention of arriving in time to catch the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the only television news I watch with an eye toward more than the pictures. Thing is, I don't watch it much at all; yesterday, probably the first time I'd turned it on with the intention of paying attention in six months, I figured I could count on some meaningful discussion of MQWA as well as interesting commentary regarding Mister Chief Justice Roberts' first day in the center chair.

So my question is, has the NewsHour changed or have I?

The story on Roberts, I suppose, was adequate (I have enough of a crush on Jan Crawford Greenburg that I can enjoy virtually anything she says (I'm such a sucker for the hint of a southern accent common to hypereducated deep southerners that it's like kryptonite-level ridiculous)).

The piece on Miers, however, was as wasteful of my twelve minutes as plucking arm hairs (which is pretty much what I was doing by the end of the segment, which I watched with an ever-increasing degree of slack-jawed horror). Anybody still reading this post is someone who probably read a lot yesterday, here or elsewhere, about Miers. Needless to say, the tone was nearly unanimously negative from both the right and left. Indeed, I daresay that for the first time in five years El Presidente actually managed to unite Americans on a divisive topic: no one aside from Bush , it seems, really wants to see Harriet Miers take the bench, albeit for different reasons.

The guests, veteran Dallas Morning News reporter David Jackson and Associate Dean of George Washington University Law School Susan Karamanian, as interviewed (if you can call it that) by the always-more-vapid-than-last-time Gwen Ifill, managed to say astoundingly little in response to Ifill's puff-piece questions. Here's my summary of each commentator's [sic] take on Miers:

JACKSON: I've been watching Miers' career for over twenty years and I don't know a damned thing about her, except that she's, you know, a corporate lawyer, and managed to get some things done as such -- and oh yeah, she also may have first encountered George Bush in the eighties during negotiations pertaining to the Texas Rangers MLB franchise. But that's all. [Sshrugs]

GWEN: Um, okay.

KARAMANIAN: Omigod, like, Harriet Miers is like sooooo smart, and is such a good lawyer, which by the way, lawyers, just like justices of the Supreme Court, have to like sift through facts, and apply the law to them, and that's exactly what Miers did, so like, she's going to be so awesome, 'cause she's soooo much smarter than I am. Like, when I worked for her, she used to tell me I didn't think fast enough, so she's obviously really smart. Harriet, I loooooove you . . .

(GWEN: Very interesting. [Struggles to formulate a grammatical follow-up question; fails.])

But that wasn't all. Next Margaret Warner, who at least is more articulate than Ifill, interviewed Senators Cornyn (Mephistophelian--TX) and Schumer (Supercilious--NY). Needless to say, since war hasn't yet been declared (it's coming; we all know it's coming) on the Senate floor regarding Miers, these two were just tapdancing around the issue of Miers' qualifications. Cornyn, to his credit, showed remarkable restraint when Schumer jumped in at one point and tried subtly to pick a fight and monopolizing the segment, something Warner was all too willing to let him do (so maybe there still is a little bias, but then who wants to listen to Cornyn). My point being, I can forgive the fatuity of the second half of the story, since the senators obviously were not prepared to do more than spout platitudes along party lines pertaining generally to the confirmation process. Each did just fine.

So here's my enumeration of things undiscussed:

1. Any evidence that Miers has written so much as a law school paper on a matter of federal constitutional law.

2. Any discussion of the relevance of Miers' service as the point-person handling the counter-opposition investigation of questions surrounding Bush's apparent AWOL status during his tenure with the National Guard.

3. Any acknowledgment that the the two people in the studio might well be the only two non-administration-affiliated commentators in the entire country with evidently positive views of Miers' qualifications to fill Justice O'Connor's shoes.

Really, couldn't they find one dissenting commentator with enough cachet to warrant a seat at the table? One would think they had to try much harder to find positive voices. No one seriously questions Miers' integrity or her professional reputation. She's quite the politician, it would seem; and we can grant for argument's sake that she also was an excellent corporate lawyer. None of this meaningfully speaks to her qualifications to serve as a Supreme Court justice, and to reject her for want of intellectual credentials is not of necessity to subscribe to the view that only those with prior judicial and / or academic experience need apply.

I'm fine with pure lawyers taking a seat on the Supreme Court, which is such a singular institution that nothing really can prepare one for it anyway (except, arguably, the sort of non-judicial credentials C.J. Roberts has, including extensive experience in the well of the Supreme Court and a career of non-stop constitutional analysis and advocacy), but I'm not fine with run-of-the-mill big-firm lawyers doing so. Big firm lawyers are pretty bright, by and large, and many of them are good lawyers, too -- though neither is required for big-firm success -- but corporate law is wrapped up in statutory law, regulation, and negotiation; there just isn't much constitutional work to go around in the corporate law sector, and the demands of constitutional analysis are very different than those that go into a corporate practice.

One would have thought the NewsHour might have found one person, somewhere, with the relevant experience and job security to express the view so obviously prevalent yesterday among commentators of all political and professional stripes: That Miers may be competent and smart, but she just doesn't appear to be Supreme Court material. That they might have found someone, somewhere, of the view that about 500 more qualified people were blatantly passed up in favor of Bush's old friend, a woman who has done some of the administration's dirtiest work in addressing the National Guard issue, someone who doesn't think George Bush is "the most brilliant man she ha[s] ever met."

One would have been wrong.


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