Time and Newsweek ignored White House 180 on Supreme Court nominees' religion

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In their October 24 editions (posted online on October 16), Time and Newsweek reported on the White House's announced shift from the "biographical phase" to the "accomplishment phase" of the effort to secure confirmation of President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, White House counsel Harriet Miers. Time and Newsweek both noted that Miers's Christian faith factored heavily into the "biographical phase," but neither reported that the administration's touting of Miers's religion contradicted the White House's position -- during the nomination of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. -- that a nominee's religious views are irrelevant. Time and Newsweek bypassed examining the White House's contradictory positions, even though they quoted White House press secretary Scott McClellan and an unnamed "Bush aide" attacking the press for focusing on Miers's faith -- after Bush promoted her religious views -- and claiming they needed to move away from discussions of religion that "really have no bearing on her qualifications."

Time reporter Mike Allen wrote that White House officials "hope to relaunch the nomination of Harriet Miers," and intend to "stop debating her religion and personality and start focusing on her résumé as a pioneering female lawyer of the Southwest." Allen also noted that McClellan "briefly dropped his sunny volubility and accused reporters of obsessing about the 'side issues of religion,' as if the White House hadn't been pushing Miers' faith." Similarly, Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman and senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe reported that the White House is "releasing Harriet 2.0, focusing on an inch-by-inch ground game." Fineman and Wolffe noted that the White House issued talking points that "were notable for their absence of even a passing reference to her religion." The Newsweek report also quoted an anonymous aide to Bush saying: "We got distracted by discussions about her faith and church attendance that really have no bearing on her qualifications for the court."

Whereas Time and Newsweek simply reported the White House's strategy shift, other news outlets have reported on the embrace of Miers's faith in the context of earlier judicial nominations, noting that the White House had abandoned its position articulated during the Roberts nomination that religious views are immaterial to a nominee's qualifications as a judge:

  • The Boston Globe, referring to a July press briefing by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, reported on October 13: "But the increasing focus on Miers's religious faith drew criticism from some leaders of the religious right. They noted that White House supporters of Bush's last nominee, John G. Roberts Jr., had rejected suggestions by liberals that his devout Catholicism might affect his judicial rulings. White House spokesman Scott McClellan emphasized that Roberts had said 'personal beliefs or views have no role whatsoever when it comes to decisions that judges make.' "
  • An October 13 Chicago Tribune article reported that "[t]he White House also has injected Miers' religious views into the process, even though many Republicans, including the president during the Roberts confirmation, have long argued that a nominee's religious views are irrelevant."
  • Newsday reported on October 13: "In past debates over Bush judicial nominees -- including just-confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts, a devout Catholic -- Republicans and the White House have vehemently insisted that personal religious beliefs should be off-limits."
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