Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Put Alito Love In Your Heart

Whenever some incompetent, extreme, emotionally crippled, pathologically dishonest conservative judge must be spitshined for public consumption, you can count on Nancy Benac to wear out her elbows on the job.

Her latest puff piece celebrates Samuel Alito, and though it’s not quite as maudlin and treacly as her piece on Janice Rogers Brown (who was a sharecropper’s daughter, in case you didn’t know!), it’s just as cynical and twice as sycophantic.

Before I discuss it, let me make one thing clear: I don’t dislike Benac for her partisanship; she has every right to be a soulless shill for BushCo or anyone else she fancies. What I object to is her apparent belief that her brand of tawdry mawkishness will render her readers as pliable as Silly Putty. Every article she writes suggests that she thinks of her readers as hapless rubes who'll gladly gnaw any old bone she tosses them.

The Alito article starts off with an epiphany. Forget everything you thought you knew about Alito, friends, because Benac has coaxed a trivial anecdote out of someone who knew him as a child:

Samuel Alito's ninth-grade Latin teacher still swoons at how beautifully he conjugated verbs. A fellow judge admires him as someone who won't use five words when two will do.
I'm skeptical about that last bit. Today, Alito was asked a simple yes or no question by Russ Feingold: Does a president have the legal authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps of American citizens? Alito talked for a couple of minutes without answering the question. And that was one of his shorter evasive answers.

To be fair, it’s possible that Alito was merely being smart, serious, and cautious, as is his wont.
From the classroom to the courtroom, President Bush's latest nominee for the Supreme Court leaves a distinct impression. Talk to those who know him best and a portrait emerges of a smart, serious, cautious young man who grew up to be a smart, serious, cautious judge.
For comparison, here's a bit of the love song Benac wrote to Harriet Miers, the judicial nominee who previously flew her to the moon:
Among a host of qualities that...Harriet Ellan Miers shares with new Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts is the apparent lack of any personal legal agenda. Known for an exacting, no-nonsense style, Miers — like Roberts — tends to avoid the limelight.
Benac’s judicial profiles are pretty much interchangeable. First, she offers up a bit of humanizing fluff (“Those who know Gilles de Rais best invariably describe him as a humble man who makes a delicious omelette, and still gets choked up over Bambi”). Next, she insists that the nominee is anything but partisan (“Dr. Crippen's colleagues call him smart, fair, and thoughtful”). Then, at some psychologically appropriate juncture, she conjures up an infernal scene of liberal knife-sharpening and axe-grinding.

The actual substance of liberal complaint is of absolutely no consequence to Benac, and she doesn't bother to report it. Instead, she trots out some token "moderate" to explain that no matter what anyone says, the nominee is actually smart, fair, and thoughtful. The articles generally end with a reiteration of the nominee’s charming or inspiring qualities, and leave his or her fate hanging in the balance. Will leftist slander and treachery crush the humble aspirations of an invaluable public servant? Or will virtue and honesty win the day?

I've gotten ahead of myself, I'm afraid. When we left Ms. Benac, she was saying that Alito was very, very smart. But don't let that worry you; he's not some fancy-pants elitist. Why, you could probably even have a beer with him!
[H]e is well-liked as a regular guy who doesn't lord it over others just because he's way smarter than truly regular guys.
Just in case that concept went over your pointy little head, Benac dumbs it down and repeats it almost immediately:
Alito, 55, has long managed to be the smartypants who doesn't act like a smartypants.
Alright then. We've ascertained that Alito's an adorable egghead who hasn't lost the common touch; he's a winning combination of George Bailey and Braniac 5. That being the case, this is the perfect moment for unprincipled liberal fanaticism to rear its shaggy head:
Interest groups on the left portray him as an extremist eager to impose his conservative views on the nation. But among those who have worked closely with Alito, even liberal Democrats tend to characterize him as fair-minded, measured and pleasant.
In other words, bad lefties call Alito an extremist, but good lefties say he’s fair-minded and measured. Sure, the former outnumber the latter by a wide margin...but all that means is that the modern Left is corrupt and out of touch.

And irrational, too. Honestly, could anyone who's good at Latin conjugation be an extremist?
"I remember right where he sat: first row, second seat," says 91-year-old Grace Bolge, who taught him Latin at Reynolds Junior High outside Trenton. Alito easily nailed the nuances of verbs and subtleties of translation, but never held himself out as better than others, she recalls.
With that whimper, believe it or not, Benac’s piece ends. There’s no discussion of Alito's failure to recuse himself from cases in which he had a financial interest…even though he'd promised under oath to do so. There's no discussion of the reversal of some of his more controversial decisions, nor of the bizarre dissents that were sharply criticized by his colleagues (that liberal firebrand Michael Chertoff, for instance). There's no mention of his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, and his inconsistent and almost certainly dishonest claims about it. Benac tells us no more than she feels we need to know: Alito is terse and measured and good at Latin conjugation. He's a genius, but he's also a regular guy; everyone likes him because he knows better than to act like a "smartypants." Those who oppose him are mere "interest groups," acting out of dull habit; there's no reason to mention their names, let alone their arguments.

After reading an article like this one, I feel like all I want out of American journalism is a dishonesty that acknowledges the possibility of human intelligence, by laboring to make itself plausible. It's not the lying that bothers me, after a certain point; it's the contempt.

1 comment:

juniper pearl said...

if excelling in first-year latin is all it takes to make it to the bench, then look out, supreme court, because here i come. is that really the glowing point she felt the need to reiterate? i guess if we're going to discuss his scholastic history, i'd rather hear what some of his law professors thought of him.