During ABC's live special coverage of Roberts's nomination on July 19, 2005, then This Week host and former Democratic operative George Stephanopoulos declared: "This is a very conservative man with a strong paper trail that proves it." NPR's Nina Totenberg could hardly contain her urge to label, using the word "conservative" several times during a July 23 appearance on Inside Washington: "John Roberts is a really conservative guy...he's a conservative Catholic....[President Bush] has given conservatives a hardline conservative."
The same labeling followed Alito's nomination months later. CBS's Bob Schieffer opened the October 31 Evening News by proclaiming: "Conservatives wanted a conservative on the Supreme Court, and said the President ought to risk a fight in the Senate to get one. Their wishes have been fulfilled." Later that evening, on a special 7PM ET hour edition of CNN's The Situation Room, anchor Wolf Blitzer described: "...there is a new nomination and new controversy. A battle shapes up as the president picks a staunch conservative who could help reshape the U.S. Supreme Court."
Compare those characterizations of Roberts and Alito with how Stephanopoulos introduced Sotomayor to Good Morning America viewers on May 1, 2009: "She's built up a strong centrist record on the court." On the May 27 CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric scratched her head when it came to Sotomayor's political views: "Now pundits usually label judges as either liberal or conservative, but that won't be easy with Judge Sotomayor." Meanwhile, Totenberg actually remained consistent, arguing Obama's nominee was actually on the Right: "...she's more conservative than some members of the Supreme Court, including Justice Scalia, perhaps."
With Kagan, on CBS's April 11 Face the Nation, legal analyst Jan Crawford described the broad support the potential nominee would receive: "...she's got some support among conservatives because she hired a lot of those conservative law professors at Harvard." On the May 10 Good Morning America, ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer explained how Kagan "is expected to play a role as somewhat of a conciliator, the bridge across the conservative and liberal wings of the Court." Like Totenberg with Sotomayor, on the May 11 CBS Early Show co-host Maggie Rodriguez floated the idea that Kagan was conservative: "she may actually shift the Court to the Right, compared with Justice Stevens."
As evidence of Kagan's staunch liberalism comes out in her confirmation hearings, one wonders if the media will finally be willing to accurately describe her left-wing views.
-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.