The “tone” of the Roberts confirmation hearings thus far has been, as Howard Kurtz observes today, “more legal seminar than confrontation.” And for a press that thrives on conflict, this must be hugely disappointing.
So what do you do when it’s your job to report on proceedings that drone more than crackle, on a nominee whose responses, as the New York Times’s Todd S. Purdum writes today, have sometimes been “so bland as to tremble on the precipice of platitude”? (Play with alliteration, for one).
If you’re Fox News (and carrying much of the proceedings live), you promote the hearings as though they were a duel at high noon: “The showdown for the top spot on the Supreme Court continues as senators from both sides line up and the political battles heat up,” blares an urgent-sounding voice-over during a video promo on Foxnews.com teased with the headline “Battle for the Bench.”
The Washington Times gins up some conflict he-said/she-said style, reporting today that “Republicans and conservatives said [Roberts] acquitted himself perfectly” thus far while “Democrats and liberal activists said he ducked questions and probably lost support…” but then hides this startling finding under the bland headline, “Nominee’s Answers Get Mixed Reviews.”
You can make Roberts sound like the winner of the U.S. Open, as the New York Post’s Ian Bishop does in his piece headlined “Roberts Can’t Be Ruffled” which opens as follows: “Supreme Court chief justice pick John Roberts yesterday beat back an onslaught of Democratic attempts to pin down his opinions on abortion…”
Or, faced with Roberts’ consistently unrevealing responses, you can do as the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank does and find something — anything — that actually was revealed about the nominee yesterday: “Sitting at a folding table dressed up with red felt, Roberts, his bald spot exposed under the studio lights…”
— L.C.B.Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.