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When Gossip is Journalism - Jeff Rosen's Sotomayor Article in TNR

By May 5, 2009

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When it happens between women at a neighborhood barbecue, on a playground, or during a cocktail party, it's called gossip. But when it appears on a political magazine's website, it's called journalism.

"It" is the passing along of baseless, sourceless anecdotal information about an individual that puts her in a bad light. And this is what's happened in the case of Sonia Sotomayor, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She's one of a handful of potential Supreme Court nominees to fill the seat being vacated by David Souter, and many believe she's the front-runner. Because of this, she's attracting all kinds of media attention, and an article by Jeffrey Rosen for The New Republic, has caused an uproar.

As I wrote yesterday, it's this sort of public search for dirty laundry that legal issues commentator Dahlia Lithwick says makes prominent and capable women gun shy about being considered for the Supreme Court. Less than four days into the "Who'll Replace Souter?" show, Sotomayor's being dragged through the mud due to Rosen's article, which critics say is based on anonymous gossip.

Glen Greenwald, a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York, writing for Salon, is horrified at the damage done:

I'm genuinely amazed at how -- overnight -- she's been transformed in conventional wisdom, largely as a result of Rosen's piece, into a stupid, shrill, out-of-her-depth Puerto Rican woman who is being considered for the Supreme Court solely due to anti-merit, affirmative action reasons....

The amazing speed with which so many people who know absolutely nothing about her are willing, indeed eager, to assume that she's stupid and doesn't deserve her achievements -- based on the fact that she's Puerto Rican and female and Rosen published some trashy, unaccountable gossip feeding that perception -- is really remarkable.

My perception of Sotomayor is almost the exact opposite of the picture painted by Rosen....I found her to be extremely perceptive, smart, shrewd and intellectually insightful. The image that has been instantaneously created of her as some sort of doltish mediocrity, based on nothing but Rosen's water-cooler chatter, is, at least to me, totally unrecognizable.

Are 'they' going after her early and hard because she's the perceived front-runner? Because she's Hispanic? Or because she's a woman? Would there be this same type of gossip-based coverage if the subject were male?

Whatever you believe regarding the above, there's a certain justice in the fact that this particular "he said" debate is occurring between male combatants; if two women were involved, the whole thing might simply be dismissed as a catfight.

We're still 1-2 months away from the nomination itself, and the mudslinging has begun. It's looking like the summer of 2009 won't be a good season to wear white.

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May 6, 2009 at 7:08 am
(1) Judith DiGennaro says:

I am deeply disgusted by Jeffrey Rosen’s attack. Having been an attorney for over thirty five years, I am well aware of the dirt thrown at any woman who dares to rise above her station who is not white and well-connected politically. If the Dems had run a Sarah Palin, the hoots of derision would have been heard around the world. But to nominate a well-qualified Puerto Rican woman for The Court, is a whole different matter. Bush appointed a man who authorized torture to the federal court(and yes, it is torture, not “enhanced interrogation”) and he sailed through. Frank Sessions, a renowned Republican racist, is going to be the ranking minority leader on the Judiciary Committee. The Right, not knowing how to build anything, can only tear people up. Shame on Jeffrey Rosen for playing into their hands and shame on anyone who takes the word of any media commentator instead of checking on her record themselves!

May 6, 2009 at 11:59 am
(2) Sue J. says:

Oh! Please!

May 6, 2009 at 6:01 pm
(3) R., JD says:

I think you can do better than saying that “critics say” the Rosen piece is based on anonymous gossip. Take a look at it yourself – it IS nothing but anonymous gossip.

And I think we should all find it very unsurprising that the “gossip” attacking a Puerto Rican woman just happens to be that she conforms to lots of stereotypes about Hispanic women: not smart, overly emotional and combative, et cetera, et cetera.

Depressing. Also wrong. Sotomayor’s actual reputation, as many other people around the web have been pointing out and as I know myself, is as a very smart, very capable judge.

May 8, 2009 at 7:41 pm
(4) Bliss says:

We are the only perfect people. We never commit any mistake. We dislike everything, every action and reaction of the rest of the world. We are awesome judges and were born wise and highly educated…why, aw…er…we shall talk to you later, deal?

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