What’s a Cable News Talking Head to do when he has spent all afternoon on air next to a blow-up headshot of Judge Edith Brown Clement and an on-screen bullet-pointed biography of Clement — and suddenly he gets wind that Clement might not be the president’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court?
Let’s take a look at how some reporters yesterday tried to disassociate themselves from their hours-long Clement-fests (what Kelly O’Donnell on MSNBC called “this runaway train with the Clement name”):
Step 1: Blame someone else for all the Clement chatter. In this case, it was clearly the fault of that villain, “Speculation.”
“Speculation in recent days focused on Judge Edith Brown Clement,” Fox News’ Carl Cameron reported just after 7 p.m. last night. “Speculation is running wild in Washington,” Fox’s Rick Folbaum announced several minutes later.
If you’re Fox’s Brit Hume, you blame the day’s old, increasingly irrelevant “Speculation,” and then call for its replacement with fresh, more accurate “Speculation”: “With Clement speculation fading at this hour, where [does] the smart money now seem to be going?” Hume asked colleague Major Garrett shortly after 6 p.m. (In an uncharacteristic turn to candor, Garrett confessed, “Well, I’ll say this Brit, there isn’t any smart money or particularly well-informed money. … I wish I could fill in a name, but I can’t.”)
And, if you’re going to concede the unspoken — that members of the press were the speculators doing the “Speculation” — talk about it as if you’re not part of the press, as Kelly O’Donnell did on MSNBC: “If air time, news print, and media speculation were sufficient, you’d think Judge Clement would be donning the robe of the U.S. Supreme Court tonight because her name has been prominent in the last few hours.”
(O’Donnell should have shared her technique with her colleagues. MSNBC reporter Bob Kerr almost blew his cover when he reported that, “We rush out here to the lawn with lists that have been speculated about in the press for months …” And anchor Monica Crowley was even less guarded: “Until [the announcement], the president’s pick is anybody’s guess, but that’s not stopping the speculation, certainly on this show.” [Emphasis added.])
Step 2: While continuing to anthropomorphize “Speculation,” slowly back away from earlier assertions that Clement will be the nominee. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer did it this way: “Earlier today, there was a lot of speculation about Edith Clement but that speculation now seems to be going away …” Almost as if Blitzer were watching poor “Speculation” grow more distant as it trudged, shamefaced, away, until finally it was a mere dot on the horizon.
Also doing the “backaway” was MSNBC’s Bob Kerr who reported at 5:30 pm that “[Clement’s nomination] is looking a little bit more iffy at this hour.” Kerr went on to let viewers in on a little secret: “I’ll tell you, my experience covering this president is that on many such occasions you really don’t know who [the nominee] is until [the president] walks into the room and announces it.”
Step 3: Once the nominee is officially announced, feign surprise — even though the nominee was on many media “shortlists” prior to the misbegotten mob rush to Clement. In your defense, tell viewers (again) that Laura Bush had all but insisted that her husband select a woman. (And, as CNN’s Bill Schneider observed prior to the nominee’s announcement, “The first lady is not often defied.”) And don’t forget to take a few more dismissive shots at “Speculation.”
On Fox, Bill O’Reilly and Carl Cameron shared this post-nomination exchange: “There was this whole Edith Clement speculation that caught Washington by storm for a while today,” O’Reilly observed, adding later that “in the end, we get another white guy, sort of like the rest of us here. What about that?” Cameron replied: “It’s worth noting, of course, that the first lady, from Africa, weighed in on this about a week or so ago when she suggested she would like to see a woman …”
And at least one network got into the act, with ABC’s John Cochran reporting that “Laura Bush, on her recent trip to Africa, made plain her thoughts on another woman to replace Sandra Day O’Connor which led to intense speculation [about female nominees].” Cochran got a “Supreme Court litigator” to confirm on air what a “serious surprise” the nomination was given “there was speculation we were getting a woman.”