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Sotomayor Falls in Journalism's Blind Spot

The president's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court has come during a most awkward time in the history of U.S. journalism, which many analysts claim is in serious decline, if not on life support.

What her nomination clearly shows us is that what this nation needs is more incisive journalism, not less. Yet, to be sure, the rise of right-wing media, which include FOX News and virtually all the known right-wing radio talk show hosts, is the antithesis of journalism.

Their coverage of the Sotomayor nomination points to the need for honest debate, not simply on the issues of race, but on the right wing's aversion to truth. It also points to the right wing's pompous beliefs, on every topic, including affirmative action, that their positions are "American."

Extremist politicos Newt Gingrich and Tom Tancredo, both of whom have zero credibility but are stars of right-wing media, have led the charge that Sotomayor is a racist. They have been joined by the usual wingnuts: Rush Limbaugh, Gordon Liddy, Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, to name a few. Even Juan Williams of NPR, has parroted the claim that Sotomayor's (out-of-context) statements are racist. The fact that the nation's discussion centers on whether she is a racist or not -- or that she is an "affirmative action" pick (Buchanan) -- points to both the power of the wingnuts and also to the virtual impotence, or complicity, of mainstream media.

Historically, mainstream journalists have been taught that critical analysis constitutes injecting subjectivity into their reporting.

All this brouhaha is based on the Sotomayor statement that the experiences of a Latina might allow her to make better judgment in court than a white male. Her detractors say that if a white male had made similar statements he would have been automatically disqualified. They conveniently ignore the fact that the Supreme Court has been virtually all-white for most of the nation's history. It also ignores the fact that throughout U.S. history, white males have generally not been subjected to apartheid discrimination and segregation, let alone extermination, slavery, forced removals, extra-legal brutality and false imprisonment.

The charges against Sotomayor have a familiar ring. Staunch segregationists used to charge that Martin Luther King, Jr. was both un-American and a racist. President Ronald Reagan institutionalized that kind of thinking in defense of South Africa's apartheid regime. For him, Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, while the outlaw South African regime constituted a "democratic ally."

Such thinking was also "normalized" during the affirmative action debate; those who attempted to dismantle the vestiges of racial discrimination were deemed "racists" or "reverse racists," or communists by those working to maintain it. A reverse racist is precisely what Limbaugh labeled both Sotomayor and President Obama.

Those doing this labeling have well understood the nation's changing political climate; they could no longer campaign as the defenders of white racial supremacy. Instead, they generally cloaked their views under the conservative-Republican mantle and wrapped themselves in the American flag.

They also knew that to win a debate required further subverting the nation's political language. These same "patriots" began to reinterpret MLK Jr.'s quote about the dream of a color-blind society. In public, they gladly accepted the "dream" without accepting the societal responsibility of dismantling and remedying centuries of institutional racism and discrimination in this country.

While the majority of Americans can see through the false arguments and the "clever" subversion of the political language by these so-called patriots, this does not hold true for the mainstream media. As we are seeing with Sotomayor, all it takes is a handful of "extremists" to control and shape the media debate.

Perhaps the only upside is that Americans can now clearly see that the politics of Gingrich and Tancredo are the same as that of Limbaugh, Liddy, Beck, Buchanan and Dobbs. These pundits who daily rant against "illegal aliens," and who daily clamor on the need to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border, are quoted as credible sources by the mainstream press. They are generally the same ones who promote the politics of fear and hate, who believe in the use of torture, and who also believe that the United States is endowed with the God-given right to conduct permanent war against the rest of the world.

Truthfully, who can discern a difference between these right-wing fanatics and the positions of mainline conservatives within the Republican Party?

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Roberto Rodriguez

Roberto Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona and a member of the Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Board, can be reached at:

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