Nets Fretted Over ‘Staunch Conservative’ Court Choices, Skimp on Liberal Labels for Dem Picks

Joe Biden, on February 25, nominated Ketanji brown Jackson as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s nominee. When it comes to ideological labels for high court picks, the networks have one rule: Republican nominees are “staunch,” worrisome conservatives. However, Democratic nominees are not often labeled extreme liberals. 

In the 24 hours after the nomination went public, the morning and evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC only used the liberal/left label five times for Jackson. In contrast, over a similar 24 hour period after the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, the same networks deluged the public with 13 labels, showing concern over the “staunchest” of “committed” conservatives. 

Networks have a history of partisanship regarding Supreme Court nominees. Since the nomination of John Roberts in 2005, ABC, CBS and NBC have used 60 conservative labels in the first 24 hours after an announcement of a GOP Supreme Court pick and just 12 liberal labels for Democratic selections. 



Only two liberal comments were made about Jackson on the evening newscasts of February 25, 2005. They were two paraphrased comments by Senator Lindsey Brown from South Carolina. ABC’s World News TonightRachel Scott pointed out that Jackson had been confirmed by the Republican to be a Circuit Judge. She added, “[Graham] came out today and called this a win for the radical left.” On the NBC Nightly News, Peter Alexander echoed this, saying, “Graham tweeted [that] the radical left has won President Biden over yet again.” 

Graham was quoted on the 26th of February in morning television shows. You can read more CBS Saturday Morning, Ed O’Keefe generically noted that Republicans think she’s a “a vehicle of the far-left.” In total, there were three more labels, bringing the total in the first 24 hours to five. 

It was more common to hear non-ideological praises, like Jan Crawford’s on the CBS Evening News touted Crawford’s “stellar academic and legal credentials and a compelling life story.” She added, “Her resume reads like that of a future justice: Graduating with honors from Harvard and Harvard law.” 

Opening World News Tonight, anchor David Muir singled out Jackson’s religiosity: “Judge Jackson saying her faith got her here, saying she’s humbled by this extraordinary honor.”  Most of the segments correctly pointed out the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination and that she is very well qualified. 

But that’s all quite the contrast to the stern warnings and worry the journalists used when then-President Donald Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his choice on September 26, 2020. On that day’s CBS Weekend News, Jan Crawford fretted, “[Barrett] sees the law a lot like her old  boss, the late Justice Scalia…. That  would make her one of the court’s staunchest conservatives” 



You can find the NBC Nightly News, Hallie Jackson called out the choice: “From President Trump, a move to cement a more conservative Supreme Court for a generation…. This is unusual [Ruth Bader]Barrett, Ginsburg are committed conservatives. Key Republicans love the federal appeals court judge, who is well-liked by President Obama. Many others on the religious right.” 

On September 27, 2020 Good Morning America, the show’s journalists highlighted Barrett’s faith connections. Guest host Rachel Scott observed: “The devout Catholic has strong support among religious conservatives and anti-abortion activists.”  Reporter Janai Norman noted, “Barrett is devout Catholic with strong support among religious conservatives and anti-abortion activists.” 

On the same day’s Today, Willie Geist warned that Barrett could “lock in a conservative majority for a generation.” 

The pattern has repeated itself for President Trump’s other nominees, as well as Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. 

The July 10, 2018, 2018 CBS This Morning, Jan Crawford called Brett Kavanaugh a “conservative intellectual powerhouse who had a “conservative judicial philosophy.”

On the same day’s Good Morning America Terry Moran labeled the nominee a “True loyal blue foot soldier for the Republican cause and in the partisan Republican wars..” 

John Roberts was elected by George W. Bush as his 2005 presidential candidate GMA’s Nina Totenberg found him to be “very, very conservative.” Also in 2005, World News Tonight anchor Elizabeth Vargas deemed Sam Alito was a “staunch conservative.” 

In contrast, here’s what former MRC Research Director Rich Noyes found when it came to Democrats: 

ABC and NBC’s own correspondents never referred to any of President Obama’s Court selections as “liberal” during their first 24 hours of coverage, while CBS offered seven such labels — two for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one for Justice Elena Kagan, and four for Judge Merrick Garland, whose nomination failed in the face of GOP opposition.

As the nomination of Jackson proceeds, there’s one thing viewers can be sure of: Journalists will not fret and worry about the “staunch,” “committed” liberalism of the potential Supreme Court justice. 

Geoffrey Dickens (Director for Media Analysis) on February 23rd highlighted the hypocrisy of mainstream media. Nominated Democratic Supreme Court judges are not liberal enough.

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