Networks Defend 'Consensus Builder' Kagan; Downplay Military Recruiter Ban
The Monday morning shows on CBS, ABC, and NBC all worked to portray President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan as a moderate and open-minded legal scholar, downplaying her liberal views. All three network programs also minimized her controversial decision to ban military recruiters on campus while Dean of Harvard Law School.
On CBS's Early Show, legal correspondent Jan Crawford touted Kagan as "an intellectual heavyweight and consensus builder." Crawford noted how Republicans had "several lines of attack" against Kagan and would "try to paint her as a liberal activist." Crawford herself recently described Kagan as having "stood shoulder to shoulder with the liberal left."
On ABC's Good Morning America, correspondent Claire Shipman did a fawning segment on Kagan in the 8AM ET hour, describing the former Dean as "intellectual" and "full of personal charm" during her tenure at Harvard. Shipman claimed that Kagan had "a determination to be open-minded," despite banning military recruiters from the university's campus over the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. On that issue, Shipman explained that despite Kagan's decision being unpopular "among student military vets....Iraq War veteran Kurt White says they were won over by Kagan's persistent outreach, another example of her political skills." Shipman failed to mention that White would be testifying on Kagan's behalf during the confirmation hearings.
Shipman went so far to portray Kagan as open-minded that she touted how "though her political views are quite different than his, she honored conservative justice Antonin Scalia at the law school a few years ago, calling him a great justice." Shipman even argued: " It's an openness to all voices that worries some liberals, but colleagues argue Kagan's style is just what the Court needs."
NBC's Today did not provide quite as strong a defense of Kagan, but a report by legal correspondent Pete Williams did feature a soundbite from Kagan supporter and SCOTUS blog founder Tom Goldstein declaring: "Elena Kagan isn't a political partisan." Williams, like Shipman, attempted to downplay the military recruiter ban: "Republicans also accuse Kagan of treating the military unfairly when she was dean of Harvard Law....But student military veterans say she made them feel welcome at Harvard and praised them for their service, even though she strongly opposed the policy on gays in the military."
Here is a full transcript of Shipman's June 28 segment on Good Morning America:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is preparing to take the stand for Senate confirmation hearings this afternoon, and they're meant to tease out the nominee's judicial philosophy. Well for some clues, Claire Shipman talked to some people who knew Kagan during the most substantial legal job of her career, the first woman dean of Harvard Law School.
CLAIRE SHIPMAN, ABC correspondent: Good morning, George, well that's right. We decided to look for clues at Harvard Law School where she had a very distinctive style. She was only there for six years, made a large number of changes. She was intellectual, yes, but also full of personal charm, say colleagues, and a determination to be open-minded.
It's an institution usually resistant to change, some might say an immovable object, until it was confronted with the irresistible force of Dean Elena Kagan.
ELENA KAGAN: This is a wonderful time, and it's so good to be with you.
LAURENCE TRIBE, Harvard Law professor: I've watched Harvard Law School go through lots of transitions, but there has never been anything like Elena Kagan.
MARTHA MINOW, Harvard Law dean: She was going to turn over every stone at this institution and figure out a way to make it better.
SHIPMAN: She thinks big.
MINOW: She thinks big.
SHIPMAN: But she was savvy enough at times to start small, offering perks like free coffee for students. Then bigger battles, fighting to hire more conservative professors like John Manning.
JOHN MANNING, Harvard Law professor: She felt that her job as dean was to foster an atmosphere in which all sorts of ideas would be presented.
SHIPMAN: And selling a total curriculum overhaul, the first in a hundred years.
KAGAN: For the most part, a first year curriculum now looks like what it looks like back in 1880.
SHIPMAN: Some say her meteoric rise is impressive, but also suggests a calculating careerism. Two of her best friends, roommates at law school, say she's just always just reveled in the work.
JOHN BARRETT, friend of Kagan: A visual that I have, a memory, is her sitting at her desk with a cigarette and a pen and a book and a little desk lamp, and she could kind of grind it out for a long time.
UNIDENTIFIED FRIEND OF KAGAN: I think what was clear was that she really loved the law, and reading about it, and thinking about it, and talking about it.
SHIPMAN: Her time as dean wasn't without controversy. She decided to renew a ban keeping military recruiters from using the career services office because of opposition to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Support was high on campus, but not among student military vets.
KURT WHITE, Harvard Law student: It didn't seem like banning military recruiters from the law school campus was going to be something that was likely to lead to a change in this law.
SHIPMAN: Still, Iraq War veteran Kurt White says they were won over by Kagan's persistent outreach, another example of her political skills.
WHITE: It was really her showing her appreciation for the military and being very supportive of us.
SHIPMAN: And though her political views are quite different than his, she honored conservative justice Antonin Scalia at the law school a few years ago, calling him a great justice.
MANNING: She as dean was able to recognize his accomplishments and celebrate them without reservation.
SHIPMAN: It's an openness to all voices that worries some liberals, but colleagues argue Kagan's style is just what the Court needs.
TRIBE: I think that her ability to find common ground, bring people along, see long-term implications, will make a very large impact on the Court.
SHIPMAN: It's certainly a good place to start hearings as a potential liberal justice when you have the support of a conservative justice, like justice Scalia. George, but of course the hearings will still be heated, they'll look at that military recruitment issue, and also try to pin her down specifically on how she might rule on some controversial issues.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right, and in an election year, likely to get a lot of no votes as well. Okay Claire Shipman, thanks very much.
-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.