THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2022
The scripting of one of our worlds: It was Tuesday morning, March 22, in the year 2022. As the Senate committee took its first break, five senators—out of 22 in all!—had questioned Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden's nominee to sit on the Supreme Court.
In fact, very little had happened. Three of the senators had been Democrats. Playing a now-traditional role, they'd lobbed softballs at the nominee of the president of their own party.
Meanwhile, the first of the two Republican senators had been the doddering Senator Grassley, who is currently running for re-election at the age of 88. During his allotted thirty minutes, the doddering Grassley had read a list of staff-prepared questions, showing little interest in, or awareness of, what the nominee said.
At this point in the proceedings, only one senator had questioned the nominee in anything like a challenging manner. That was Senator Lindsey Graham, who would soon be the focus of an instructive session on CNN.
That silly session showcased the way denizens of our Two Different Worlds receive their tribal scripting—the way they "receive all that false instruction," as the poet once said. The session showcased the way such denizens are instructed in what they should think and in what they should say—in what they should believe, and in what they should feel.
After the doddering Senator Feinstein had finished her own round of questions, the Senate committee took a 15-minute break. Kate Bolduan introduced the CNN panel.
Jeffrey Toobin was first to speak. When he did, he said this:
BOLDUAN (3/22/22): A lot to discuss. Let me bring in the panel right now. Let me get first to CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, what have you heard so far?
TOOBIN: Well, it's certainly been an interesting morning. And to just cut to the chase, I certainly have not heard anything that would jeopardize the confirmation chances of Judge Jackson. She has not been thrown off stride. She has not said anything that seems particularly controversial.
She has explained her judicial approach, which she calls a methodology as opposed to a philosophy. But just in terms of the outcome that is likely to come here with, you know a Democratic majority on the committee and in the Senate, there doesn't seem to be anything that came out this morning that would jeopardize your chances.
As usual, in these hearings, it's quite clear that the nominee, especially this nominee, knows about a hundred times more about the law than any of these senators do, and that has come out whenever they have discussed specific issues and specific cases. But it has been smooth sailing for Judge Jackson.
According to Toobin, Supreme Court nominees typically "know about a hundred times more about the law than any of these senators do." He said that had been "especially" clear in the case of Judge Jackson.
We don't know if either part of that assessment is accurate. For ourselves, Jackson's testimony to that point hadn't seemed to set her apart from previous nominees to the Court—but then again, she'd faced little serious questioning from four of the five senators who had spoken with her to that point.
Did pundit Toobin really believe that Jackson's performance had already set her apart in this way? We have no way of knowing that. We can tell you this:
The notion that Jackson was the most qualified nominee in Supreme Court history had already been established as a standard talking point of our childish blue tribe.
There is, of course, no serious way to demonstrate the accuracy of any such assessment. But that claim has been asserted, again and again, as tribunes of our failing tribe have instructed us, the rubes, concerning the various things we should think and say about this nomination, which we should of course describe as "historic."
Toobin may have been fully sincere in every word he said. He said that Jackson hadn't disqualified herself to that point, an utterly pointless assessment.
It had been an interesting morning, he said, without citing anything of any interest that anyone had actually said. Toobin had basically phoned it in—and now the harder messaging started:
BOLDUAN (continuing directly): CNN Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates, with us as well. Laura, how do you think the judge has done so far?
COATES: I think she's doing phenomenally well and I will note, of course, that I am twinning in her outfit inadvertently. But let me tell you, that's really where the comparison stop because she is phenomenally talented in what she's doing.
Of course, it's her fourth time being before the Judiciary Committee, so she's well aware of the stakes and what needs to be done in order to make sure that she is conveying her intellect in a way that is persuasive, that is compelling, and really showcases what she's all about...
At this point, Judge Jackson had been "questioned" by three softball-lobbing Democrats, and by the doddering Grassley. Very, very, very little had actually happened at that point.
The challenges to Jackson, such as they were, were yet to come.
Jackson had barely been questioned to this point, let alone challenged in any serious way. Of the five senators, only Graham had posed any challenging questions, and he and Jackson had agreed, again and again, on a long series of points.
Despite this fact, Coates was eager to let viewers know what they should be thinking about the nominee—about a nominee who hadn't yet been tested. This is the way we're now told what to think and say, believe and feel, within our Two Different Worlds.
According to Coates, the nominee had been "doing phenomenally well." Almost surely, that was because of the fact that she is "phenomenally talented."
More specifically, the nominee had "conveyed her intellect in a way which [was] compelling!" In this way, CNN viewers were gaining instruction in what they should say, think and feel.
At this point, Coates moved on. She offered an assessment of Graham's questioning—an assessment which strikes us as stupendously hard to defend, except within the part of the world where tribalized fairy tale dwells.
Where Jackson was "phenomenally talented"—better than the rest, Toobin had said—Graham would now be cast in the demon role.
How do our nation's Two Different Worlds take their shape and gain their form? In part, through manifest bullshit like this from party-line players like Coates:
COATES (continuing directly): I will say the moments for Senator Lindsey Graham were perhaps the most shocking of the day.
The discussions of trying, on the one hand, to educate the first black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States, to try to attempt to educate her on double standards in America, was just too rich for me.
So was the notion of him trying to use the time to think he squandered a great deal, squandering the time pointing out the ideas of other past nominees as opposed to focusing on this particular person.
Discussions about Judge Childs and the idea of so-called conservatives and other rounds as well, attacking and asking her about what she knew about these attacks on social media, as opposed to what she knew about the law, was a missed opportunity to elevate the conversation.
And finally, the discussion she had about the sentencing, as it relates to child pornography as well as sex offenders, I think she handled it very well to talk about, thematically about the departures from sentencing guidelines. Why they can at times be appropriate for the nuances about it.
But her most strong line to me was when she said and was asked about Senator Josh Hawley's comments. As a mother, as a judge, nothing could be further from the truth, that she was leaning in on these offenders. It's a very powerful talking point that was used against her. I think she undermined it particularly well.
We apologize for the occasional incoherence of the CNN transcript. The channel doesn't waste its time proofreading such documents.
We watched this segment in real time. We think this transcript captures its essence, in large part because the "legal analysis" being offered went so far over the top.
Fellow citizens, had there really been anything "shocking" about Graham's questions this day? In Tuesday's report, we noted the strangeness of that claim—especially when it was specifically directed at the questions Graham had posed about those "double standards," in which Graham had dared to try "to educate...the first black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States."
At that moment, Coates brought in the eternal note of messaging concerning matters of race. Jackson was phenomenally talented, but Graham—who is white—had been trying to "educate" her about something. Given the fact that Jackson is black, this attempt had been "shocking."
Plainly, Coates was referring to the first ten minutes of Graham's session, in which he complained about the way Republicans nominees to the Court had allegedly been treated in the past. How dare the white guy talk to the phenomenally talented black woman about some such matter as that?
Coates is almost always useless as a cable news analyst. But in this moment, she was instructing one of our Two Different Worlds in the things we should think, say and feel.
Tomorrow, we'll note the ridiculous way those initial questions by Graham have been viewed within our liberal tribe. First, though, we should visit the third pundit to speak this day, Nia-Malika Henderson.
In our view, Henderson is typically far superior to Coates as a cable news analyst. On this day, she completed the hat trick. Henderson said the nominee had knocked it out of the park.
Bolduan played tape of Jackson's statements—to the highly supportive Durbin—about the child pornography cases in which she had ruled as a judge. (Later in this session, Toobin referred to these cases as examples of "kiddie porn.") When Bolduan threw to Henderson, Henderson offered this:
BOLDUAN: You can feel the heat there, Nia. I mean, what did you—what did you think of that?
HENDERSON: Yes, incredibly moving to see her. I had first heard that just on the radio. I was driving in to work, but to see her there so moved, almost crying and certainly emotional in that moment, thinking about the victims of child pornography.
So this idea that you hear from Senator Hawley, saying that she's gone soft on child pornographers, she had a very, I think, compelling comeback, we'll see later on in these hearings what Senator Hawley has to say in terms of this line of attack, because I thought Dick Durbin obviously set her up for this very compelling pushback against these, you know, very, very untrue charges that somehow she is soft on crime, or generally, and specifically, soft on child porn...
Out of embarrassment for CNN, we'll turn our camera off here. We'll skip the astounding dumbness of the latter part of Henderson's presentation, in which Jackson's slender account of her "methodology" as a judge was praised to the skies.
("Given her methodology, it's clear that she likes to clear the decks, as she said, when she approaches these different issues as a judge," Henderson said. In Jackson's very slender telling, that seemed to mean that she likes to approach all cases impartially.)
By now, it wasn't just that Judge Jackson had done phenomenally well in the early questioning, due to her phenomenal talent. It had also been incredibly moving to see her very compelling pushback against the charges by Senator Hawley—against charges which were very, very untrue.
She had almost been crying! Also, she spoke as a mom!
Of course, Hawley hadn't voiced his charges yet—and Henderson did manage to say that Jackson's very compelling comeback had been offered in response to Senator Durbin, who "had obviously set her up" for her compelling rejoinder.
But the messaging went on and on. So did the assault on our nation's rather limited political intellect.
The performance by these CNN stars was about as dumb and scripted as cable news dumbness and scripting can get. Their performance stands as "legal analysis" in much the way that "Dick and Jane" qualifies as the great American novel.
Judge Jackson had barely been questioned yet, but so what? She had made her compelling intellect show, thanks to her phenomenal talent.
She'd offered very compelling pushback against charges which were very, very untrue. According to Toobin, she was more capable than nominees in the past, presumably those of both parties.
Also, a white guy had tried to question or challenge her! Coates instructed us that we should find his temerity "shocking," but also "rich." It's hard to have sufficient contempt for unhelpful players like this.
Days later, a column in the Washington Post made this dumbness even dumber. But as you watch these corporate stooges pretend to offer legal analysis, you're seeing a basic fact about the shaping of the Two Different Worlds within our American polity.
Nothing that we've said today is offered as a criticism of Judge Jackson, who has had a very substantial legal and judicial career. For ourselves, we weren't blown away by her performance during these hearings. But we're speaking today about four stooges out of the CNN stable.
The stooges were instructing us about the things we should think and say. No discouraging words were heard during their pundit session. And of course, this same process—this same segregation by tribe of all information and all opinion—is conducted on an hourly basis on the Fox News Channel, and across the "conservative" world.
In these ways, the Two Different Worlds of our failing nation are told what to think and to say. On the brighter side, the cable actors are well paid, and their party-line conduct seems to be good for ratings and corporate profits.
Dissenters have long since disappeared from the lineups of the two competing sides. This allows us the people to select the cartoon we prefer.
Meanwhile, was it true? Had Graham's attempt to "educate" Jackson about those "double standards" really been "shocking" in some way? As far as that goes, had he been trying to "educate" Jackson at all?
The future column to which we've referred came from the Washington Post's Paul Kane. Anthropologists admit to terminal dismay in the face of such human behavior, but it's clearly part of the way we're now consigned to life in our Two Different Worlds.
Tomorrow: Journalist Kane. Also, questions from Hawley