Media used emotional reaction of Alito's wife to suggest Democrats "went too far"

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Despite the fact that Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s wife's emotional response did not come during the Democrats' questioning, but during Sen. Lindsey Graham's characterization of the Democrats' questioning, numerous media outlets pounced on the incident to raise the question of whether Democrats on the committee "took this a step too far."

On the third day of Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s confirmation hearing, Alito's wife, Martha-Ann, broke down in tears during a series of questions and comments by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), in which Graham, apparently referring to Democrats' questions about Alito's membership in the now-defunct group, Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), said:

GRAHAM: If you don't mind the suspicious nature that I have -- it's that you may be saying that because you want to get on the Supreme Court; that you're disavowing this now because it doesn't look good. And really, what I would look at to believe you're not -- and I'm going to be very honest with you -- is: How have you lived your life? Are you really a closet bigot?

ALITO: I'm not any kind of a bigot. I'm not.

GRAHAM: No, sir, you're not. And you know why I believe that? Not because you just said it -- but that's a good enough reason -- because you seem to be a decent, honorable man. ... Judge Alito, I am sorry that you've had to go through this. I am sorry that your family has had to sit here and listen to this.

Martha-Ann Alito left the hearing room. Despite the fact that her emotional response came, not during the Democrats' questioning, but during Graham's characterization of the Democrats' questioning, numerous media outlets pounced on the incident to raise the question of whether Democrats on the committee "took this a step too far."

Among the subjects Alito was asked about during the second day of questioning was his membership in CAP -- an organization that opposed increased admission of women and minorities to Princeton. Founded amid the first enrollment of women to the school, CAP, according to People for the American Way, circulated a fundraising letter in 1973 that claimed: "a student population of approximately 40 percent women and minorities will largely vitiate the alumni body of the future." Alito listed his membership in the group on the "Personal Qualifications Statements" part of his 1985 application for the position of deputy assistant attorney general with the Reagan administration.

During a segment devoted to the episode on the January 12 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, the onscreen text read: "Will vicious Dems pay for driving Alito's wife to tears?"

Uncritically reporting the accusations from Alito's supporters that Democrats went "too far," a January 12 Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) asserted that Democrats "may have lost points" as a result of the incident:

Democrats may have lost points, however, when Judge Alito's wife, Martha, left the hearing room in tears after Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina apologized for the treatment of her husband. She later returned. Alito's supporters sent emails about the incident, blaming Democrats for going too far.

Moreover, in writing that Graham "apologized for the treatment of her husband," the Journal was reporting as undisputed that there was something unfair or inappropriate in the Democrats' "treatment of her husband."

Similarly, during CNN's special January 11 coverage of the nomination hearing, CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry simply reported that "Alito's advisers and people close to the White House are not quite as stoic" as Judge Alito was after the incident, suggesting that the inevitable result of the Democrats' conduct -- which Henry paraphrased as "hitting below the belt" -- was stoicism from some and furor from others -- rather than a dispassionate assessment of the Democrats' questions and Alito's answers. From CNN's special coverage:

HENRY: In fact, I spoke first to Mrs. Alito, and she said, "I'm good now," and then Judge Alito said, quote, "We're not used to what we've been through, but she's fine." But I can tell you, that Alito advisers and people close to the White House are not quite as stoic -- stoic. They're furious. They're telling us that they feel the Democrats were just really hitting below the belt today, and that's why she got upset.

On the January 11 broadcast of CBS' Evening News, CBS News contributor Gloria Borger questioned "whether the Democrats took this a step too far today," and noted that "some say" Democrats "went over the line":

BORGER: Something that brought Alito's wife to tears. That's Mrs. Alito on the left, and this may be the picture that people really remember from these hearings. It was quite an emotional day for the Alitos, and in the end, the question is whether the Democrats took this a step too far today, [Evening News interim anchor] Bob [Schieffer].

SCHIEFFER: Well, why did the tone change so much here, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, I think what happened is that yesterday the Democrats started hearing from all of their constituency groups, which were really up for a fight, saying that they hadn't pushed hard enough on abortion, that they hadn't pushed hard enough on Judge Alito's character, and so today you saw the Democrats really ratcheting up their questioning. It's a very fine line, very difficult, but some say they went over the line.

On the January 12 broadcast of NBC's Today, co-host Katie Couric also questioned whether Democrats went "too far":

COURIC: Good morning. Too much to take: Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's wife driven to tears after Democrats question his integrity. Did they go too far?

Later in the program, Couric asked Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE), a member of the Judiciary Committee, if he thought the questioning was "too aggressive" or "too personal," pointing to Mrs. Alito's response:

COURIC: When South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, as we just saw, apologized for the Democratic attacks on Judge Alito and his integrity, his wife, as you saw, left the hearing room in tears. What was your reaction to that, and did it make you wonder, Senator, if perhaps the questioning had become too aggressive or perhaps too personal?

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