Who made her cry?

NBC says the teary exit of the nominee's wife may be the "seminal moment" in Samuel Alito's confirmation hearing.

Published January 12, 2006 2:58PM (EST)

We may have reached a new low here: Partisans are arguing over who made Samuel Alito's wife cry, and some in the press are acting like the episode actually matters.

"Alito Wife Leaves Hearing in Tears After Dem Attack," Matt Drudge screamed Wednesday. It was true, technically speaking. Martha-Ann Bomgardner did indeed walk out of the hearing room Wednesday, and she was a little choked up. And her departure did indeed come "after" Democrats pressed Alito to come clean about Concerned Alumni of Princeton. But Bomgardner's departure came during questioning from a Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham asked Alito, facetiously, if he was a "closet bigot," then said that he was "sorry" that Alito and his family have "had to sit here and listen to" the Democrats' charges about CAP. Something in there -- plus a migraine, maybe -- seems to have set Bomgardner off. Partisans on the right say that it's the Democrats' fault. Partisans on the left say it's Graham's.

Is this what we've come to? We suppose that some folks will view Alito's wife, and by extension Alito himself, with a little more sympathy now than they would have otherwise. But it's hard to see how Bomgardner's tears are some sort of watershed event -- at least unless you toil in the fields of TV news, where emotional images are what it's all about. "Maybe Martha-Ann Alito's tearful exit from the hearing room yesterday will do for the relentless partisanship in Washington what the Abramoff plea has done for the downward spiral on ethics: inspire introspection and a rush to demonstrate a change of behavior," the NBC News crew writes in this morning's First Read. "Between the partisan rancor on display during the Alito hearings, and mounting examples of public servants forgetting their mandate, the time is ripe for a lot of hand-wringing inside the Beltway over how fetid the atmosphere here has become."

NBC says that Bomgardner's teary exit may become "the seminal moment" in her husband's confirmation hearings, a hyperbolic conclusion that leaves us thinking about something they say at the beginning of each Supreme Court session: "God save the United States and this honorable court."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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