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Sotomayor confirmation hearings on TV: Both dramatic and squishy

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No matter how many TV shows or movies we’ve seen about government, judges, and the Supreme Court, the televised confirmation hearings of a Supreme Court nominee remains a unique spectacle. This was the second day of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s appearance before the Senate, but the first in which she was grilled by representatives of both parties.

It’s always best to turn away from the cable outlets who bring on squads of experts to dissect the hearings. (Who needs the networks touting talking-heads as the “finest panel of analysts in the country,” let alone the mostly-predictable points of view on Fox News and MSNBC?) No, it’s C-SPAN that I turn to (in this case, C-SPAN3) for the undiluted drama.

Sure, Sotomayor must avoid drama as much as possible, lest she pull a Robert Bork and implode her confirmation with strenuous opinionizing. But because prime-time TV would have us believe most members of the bar are swingin’ twentysomethings or Boston Legal-style eccentrics, she cannot avoid, simply by being a middle-aged woman engaging with middle-aged men, being a novel, compelling, unusual sight on our screens.

So far, aside from the softball questioning from Democratic senators, one theme that stands out is a class-based line of questioning that condescends to Judge Sotomayor while “complimenting” her. Sen. Jon Kyl praised her “background as a way of inspiring young people.” Sen. Charles Schumer informed her, “You have suffered discrimination in your own life.” (Her steady gaze said, “Really, Chuck? Do tell me about my own life, please.”) By far the most belittling has been Sen. Lindsay Graham, who repeatedly cut off Sotomayor in mid-sentence to ask whether the word “abortion” appears in the Constitution; to ask the mind-cloudingly meaningless, “What’s the most legitimate way for a society to change?”; and to declare, “I like you… and since I may vote for you, that oughta matter.” Graham began one verbal paragraph with the lordly, disdainful phrase, “If I gave you this robe to be on the Supreme Court… “

Ick. It almost makes you want to turn to the bloviating pundits…

Have you been watching any of the confirmation hearings on TV? What networks do you watch, and how do you think television is handling coverage of this event?

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