Accuracy in Media

Since President Obama announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the media has hailed the Puerto Rican federal court of appeals judge as a role-model for women and Hispanics. News coverage by the major networks has mainly focused on Sotomayor’s “inspiring” rags-to-riches upbringing and her “politically moderate” judicial record.

Noticeably downplayed in the barrage of media is coverage of Sotomayor’s ties to ultra left-wing groups and speeches she has made expressing a radical perspective on jurisprudence that is not consistent with the views of most Americans.

While introducing his Supreme Court pick, Obama spent almost twice as much time highlighting Sotomayor’s allegedly hard-knock past as a Bronx-born child of immigrants as he did detailing her judicial record.

“But as impressive and meaningful as Judge Sotomayor’s sterling credentials in the law is her own extraordinary journey. Born in the South Bronx, she was raised in a housing project not far from Yankee Stadium…she’s faced down barriers, overcome the odds, lived out the American Dream that brought her parents here so long ago,” said the President.

The mainstream media took their cue from this theme, gushing over Sotomayor’s upbringing in a housing project, with the New York Times calling her journey an “up-by-the bootstraps tale” and “compelling life story.”

“This woman has a life story that you couldn’t make up!…She’s born in the public projects, in the shadow of Yankee stadium, a single parent household, she goes to a Catholic school, she gets scholarships to the best schools in the country, Princeton and Yale, she overcomes all that while dealing with diabetes all her life, and she is Hispanic. This will be a[n] historic pick,” declared CBS’s Bob Schieffer on May 26th.

CBS correspondent Wyatt Andrews echoed this sentiment. “That a child of the projects would progress through Ivy League schools and later a 17-year career as a federal judge makes hers an all-American story,” he raved on the July 13th Early Show.

But while the New York Times depicted the young Sotomayor as an “impoverished Puerto Rican Bronx girl” in a May 30th article, in reality the Supreme Court nominee had a fairly standard, working-class childhood.

The future federal judge spent her early years in a new public housing development in the Southeast Bronx called Bronxdale Houses from the late 1950s until 1970. Far from the images of gang violence and drug abuse conjured up by the housing projects of today, Bronxdale Houses was home to up-and-coming, working-class families.

“The Bronxdale houses, like many other public housing projects that were built in Bronx in the early and mid 1950s, were filled with families of World War II veterans looking to escape crowded tenements and rooming houses, and their airy apartments, spacious, well kept grounds, seemed like wonderful places to bring up children,” reported the History News Network.

“In those years, there was no stigma attached to living in ‘the projects.’ To the contrary, many residents took tremendous pride in the beauty of their surroundings,” continued the article.

Sotomayor was a product of the New York private school system, first attending the Blessed Sacrament School in Soundview and then the prestigious Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, which the New York Times called a “grandiose” and “luxury type” academy in a May 6, 1964 article. Sotomayor was a student at the Catholic high school from 1968 until she graduated in 1972.

In 1970, 16-year-old Sotomayor and her family left Bronxdale Houses for greener pastures. “By the late 1960s, working families started leaving public housing. It began to become the province of the very poor…Families with higher incomes moved out in order to avoid rent hikes,” wrote Howard Husock for the New York Post on June 8th.

Sotomayor’s mother, who worked as a nurse, moved her family to the newly-built Co-Op City, which was a “neighborhood of 43 buildings containing cooperative apartments for 6,000 middle-income families,” according to a June 28, 1967 New York Times article.

After graduating as valedictorian from Cardinal Spellman High School, Sotomayor, like many of today’s top legal scholars, continued her schooling at Princeton University and Yale Law School.

But while an exaggerated and romanticized version of Sotomayor’s childhood has been extensively reported on by the mainstream media, far less time has been spent covering her left-wing ties and ideology.

Sotomayor was a member of the National Council of La Raza from 1998 to 2004, and also gave speeches at La Raza-sponsored events. La Raza, whose name translates to “the Race” in Spanish, lobbies for radical policies like open border laws and access to drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants.

The Supreme Court nominee also spent over a decade serving on the board of the left-wing LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund (PRLDF) from 1980 until 1992. The PRLDF “pushes for enforced multiculturalism, diversity, bilingual public education, race-based gerrymandering of electoral districts, race-based employment quotas, tenants’ rights, and illegal immigrants’ rights,” argued Matthew Vadum of the American Spectator on May 26th.

A quick look into Sotomayor’s college years reveal that she spent a great deal of her youth involved with Latino justice groups as well. While at Princeton, she co-chaired the Acción Puertorriqueña, a student organization that fought for affirmative action for Latino students and professors.

Not only does Sotomayor have close relationships with radical Latino groups, she has also invoked their extremist ideology during lectures. The judge’s most infamous quote-“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life”-is a staple of her speeches, reported CNN on June 8th. The line has appeared in at least five of her lectures over a ten year period, in 1994, 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2004.

Sotomayor has also called herself a “perfect affirmative action baby” and in 2005 she told an audience of Duke University law students that the Court of Appeals “is where policy is made.” Her controversial support for racial quotas and voting rights for prisoners are just two more examples in what Republicans have called a long history of judicial activism.

However, much of the mainstream media has downplayed Sotomayor’s radical past and struggled to paint her as a moderate. On July 16th, a New York Times article dismissed the judge’s extremist comments as simply “impassioned speeches,” and reported that her legal rulings “have hewed closely to precedent.” In fact, 60 percent of Sotomayor’s rulings have been overturned by the Supreme Court.

Another New York Times article from June 20th insisted that “while Judge Sotomayor has occasionally made statements outside court that conservatives find objectionable, it is far from clear that her judicial record supports the accusation that she is an activist. Several empirical studies have concluded that she is not particularly prone to overriding policy decisions by elected branches.” The article neglected to cite which studies supported this claim.

And even though Sotomayor is a self-professed liberal, journalists have been careful to avoid this buzzword when discussing the nominee’s political leanings. “Pundits usually label judges as either liberal or conservative, but that won’t be easy with Judge Sotomayor,” declared CBS’s Katie Couric on May 27th, while Newsweek praised the nominee for having a “moderate record [that is] solidly within the mainstream.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Sotomayor’s nomination on July 28th. Originally, the vote was scheduled for July 21st but the committee delayed the action for a week.

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