Weekly Media Matters Update

This week’s e-mail is all Elena Kagen:

Media Matters: Conservatives claim Kagan is an inexperienced, socialist, Marxist bad driver who hates the military and wants to steal your guns

Well, that was predictable.

As we saw last year with the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, few events unleash a bigger torrent of conservative misinformation than when a Democratic president nominates someone to the Supreme Court. But there was a chance, albeit small, that this time might be different.

By all reasonable accounts, Elena Kagan does not fit the Marxist/socialist mold into which conservative media like to shoehorn all prominent figures to the left of Glenn Beck. (This is not to suggest that Sotomayor fit, either.) In fact, prior to — and in the days following — her nomination, numerous conservatives and legal scholars praised Kagan. Reagan Solicitor General Charles Fried endorsed Kagan’s nomination, describing her as “supremely intelligent” and “an effective, powerful person.” Bush judicial nominee Miguel Estrada called Kagan a “rigorous lawyer” who “should be confirmed.” Even Fox News personalities joined the chorus of praise, with reporter Shannon Bream calling her a “brilliant individual” with a “fantastic resume.” Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said that Kagan’s credentials are “impeccable.”

Of course, it’s naïve to think the conservative noise machine would sit on its hands and not seize a good opportunity to rile up its base. After all, the conservative movement is fueled — both monetarily and electorally — by a cynical mix of outright misinformation and fearmongering about all things conservatives perceive as not conservative.

Prior to Kagan’s nomination, conservatives telegraphed their upcoming efforts to oppose any nominee, regardless of opinions or qualifications. Bill Kristol, who by this point is qualified to teach a master’s-level course in shameless dishonesty, said in April that while he “endorsed Elena Kagan,” Republicans “should oppose her anyway.” National Review Online said that the “question for conservatives will be not whether but how” to oppose the eventual nominee. Foreshadowing his future efforts to set the new land-speed record for lies about a Supreme Court nominee, Sean Hannity agreed that “it’s always good to have a fight over the courts.”

Additionally, as TPM reported earlier this week, conservative activist Curt Levey — whom the media should stop quotingcounseled the GOP on delaying the eventual confirmation to help block the president’s agenda. In a recording of a conference call between Levey and “Republican operatives,” Levey made it clear that conservatives shouldn’t be bound by pesky things like reality and honesty when opposing the eventual nominee. From TPM’s Brian Beutler:

Levey acknowledged that a filibuster likely won’t last–that Obama’s nominee, now known to be Solicitor General Elana Kagan, will almost certainly be confirmed. But he hammered home the point to Republicans that there’s value in mischaracterizing any nominee, and dragging the fight out as long as possible, whether or not Obama’s choice is particularly liberal.

“We wouldn’t have a lot to object to if it was [Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar. He’s quite moderate as Democrats come,” Levey admitted. “We’re not necessarily going to say that if he’s nominated, but I think that’s the truth.” Emphasis mine. This advice was met with laughter by one of the listeners on the call. (Salazar was cited in early reports as a long-shot candidate on Obama’s short list.)

So, conservatives made clear that their eventual opposition of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee would be motivated by political gain, with Levey suggesting that lying would be a good way to accomplish this goal.

And lie they did.

The two main themes that have dominated conservative attempts to derail Kagan’s confirmation have been that she lacks judicial experience and is “anti-military.” These are both rooted in blatant falsehoods, so let’s tackle them one at a time.

Immediately following Obama’s announcement of Kagan, Fox News, RedState, and several other conservative outlets rushed to brand her as “Obama’s Harriet Miers,” a comparison that conservatives themselves say doesn’t hold water.

The argument that Kagan’s lack of judicial experience should disqualify her is asinine for several reasons. First, it is far from unprecedented to have Supreme Court justices who’ve never served as judges. More than a third of justices had no prior judicial experience when they were first nominated to the court, including two of the past four chief justices and seven of the nine justices who decided Brown v. Board of Education.

In fact, Kagan’s legal experience is comparable to that of William Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas, and John Roberts at the time of their nominations.

But experience doesn’t matter if you hate the military, right? Kristol helped to get the ball rolling on this front, claiming on Monday that Kagan has a “hostility to the U.S. military” and urging conservatives to fight her confirmation. This may strike you as strange considering Kristol had previously “endorsed” Kagan — then again, if you are at all familiar with Kristol’s “work,” you’ll realize this probably doesn’t even rank in the top 100 most absurdly dishonest things he’s ever done.

The “anti-military” attacks on Kagan have hinged on the claim that she kicked military recruiters off campus at Harvard. First of all, most people who are “anti-military” don’t usually describe serving in the military as the “noblest of all professions.” But more substantively, Kagan did not actually kick military recruiters off campus at Harvard. Conservatives (looking at you, Sean) are having a hard time grasping this simple fact. Again, Elena Kagan did not “throw,” “kick,” “boot,” “ban,” or “bar” military recruiters from Harvard’s campus while she was dean of Harvard Law School. Harvard Law students still had access to military recruiters during her tenure. In fact, military recruitment at Harvard Law was not even diminished during Kagan’s tenure.

So, there go those talking points — but of course those weren’t the only smears conservatives tried to lob at Kagan. As Media Matters president Eric Burns said on MSNBC this week, “conservatives have nothing” so “they’re throwing everything at the wall.”

Indeed, we haven’t even covered some of the more ridiculous smears. Let’s take a quick tour of some of the inane things conservative media figures and outlets threw at the wall this week.

Walking embarrassment/Human Events editor Jason Mattera led the race to the bottom with an attack on Kagan’s looks. Mattera said that Kagan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Sotomayor all “look like linebackers for the New York JETS.” Responding to a caller who referred to Kagan as a “horrendous creature,” radio host Michael Savage said that “although I find it personally grotesque, there are many who find it attractive. … Let’s talk about her radical, Marxist policies.”

Numerous conservative media figures seized on Kagan’s college thesis to claim, as Rush Limbaugh put it, that “it is clear this babe is hot for socialism.” Conservatives have run with this ridiculous claim despite the fact that the thesis did not express support for either socialism or radicalism.

Limbaugh and Beck claimed Kagan wants to censor right-wing speech. This is literally the opposite of true. In the article they cite, Kagan stated that the government “may not restrict” speech “because it disagrees with … the ideas espoused by the speaker.”

Taking a break from looking for Obama’s birth certificate and Noah’s Ark, WorldNetDaily.com distorted Kagan’s record to fabricate the smear that Kagan essentially supported terrorism sponsors.

Byron York, with an assist from Fox News, forwarded a decade-old smear against Kagan that even NRO judicial attack dog Ed Whelan called “highly speculative.”

Speaking of Whelan, he spent most of the week making things up, and actually hit Kagan for being a bad driver.

And it wouldn’t be a Supreme Court confirmation “debate” if conservatives didn’t tell their base the evil liberal judge wants to steal their guns. So they went ahead and lied about that, too.

So, just to recap: According to the unhinged right, Elena Kagan is an inexperienced, socialist, Marxist, anti-military, free-speech-censoring bad driver who supports terrorism and wants to steal your guns.

Not only are the smears the same — always — but we were also reminded that some other things never change. Namely, Bill O’Reilly has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

Oh, and Pat Buchanan still has a problem with “Jews.”

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Media Matters’ Ben Dimiero.

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