Pickering news gets buried


Eric Boehlert
January 18, 2004 9:09PM (UTC)

No doubt by announcing the controversial recess appointment of right wing Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering to the federal bench late on Friday afternoon the White House hoped to bury the news over the weekend. For the most part, it worked, as cable news channels in particular virtually ignored the news.

That's good news for President Bush's reelection plans; the recess appointment appeals to his conservative base, while most independent and moderate voters probably only got a passing sense of the dynamics at play.

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For Bush-Cheney, then, the coverage of the Pickering appointment in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and scores of other Knight-Ridder papers that ran the same story Saturday, must have been pure heaven.

The article starts by describing how Democrats, anxious about the judge's alleged racist past, refused to allow a full Senate vote, and how Bush did an end-run by appointing Pickering while the Senate was out of town.

But then Inquirer reporter Stephen Henderson decides to tell the paper's readers what to make of this political he said/he said. "A Knight-Ridder examination last year of the judge's complete record revealed him to be much more moderate than his opponents made him out to be," he writes.

That 2000-word article, also written by Henderson, was a valentine, finding Pickering to be "a man whose 30-year public record reflects deep compassion and a penchant for inclusion."

What's the proof that Pickering's just a misunderstood moderate? As a state legislator in the '70s, Pickering "worked to help those at the bottom of the economic ladder," the Inquirer tells us. It's a classic straw man; during the nomination process judges have to defend their judicial record, not their legislative one. And if the Inquirer's so interested in Pickering's legislative career, why ignore the fact, as Sean Wilentz reported in Salon, that historical documents show Pickering's decision to switch to the Republican Party in the '60s was done to "protest the national Democratic Party's support for civil rights and its attacks on segregation."

The Inquirer on Saturday told readers Pickering's appointment is "not unusual." Then why put the story on A1? In the nation's 228-year history, out of thousands and thousands of judicial confirmations, only about 300 recess appointments have been made. Sounds unusual to us.

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Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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