Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has been under pressure to vote against President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh -- but if you were to listen only to national media, you’d be missing the big picture. Major media outlets are reporting that Collins has been harassed, but they’re sharing little about what local Maine media and Collins’ own constituents are saying.
Kavanaugh is the least popular Supreme Court nominee in decades. Even before his largely uninspiring performance in last week’s confirmation hearings (which Collins herself remarked could be “a major problem”), Maine outlets were frequently highlighting the stakes involved in Collins’ confirmation vote, as well as the serious concerns of her constituents about Kavanaugh. Indeed, several polls reported that Collins’ refusal to reject Kavanaugh could cost her re-election.
There have been numerous stories from Maine outlets focusing on the opposition from Collins’ constituents to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. As Maine Public Radio reported, over “230 Maine lawyers are urging Senator Susan Collins to vote against Brett Kavanaugh's appointment” because of their concerns about his “record on reproductive rights, the affordable care act, and his partisan record.” Multiple women have written letters to local papers to share their abortion stories and implore Collins to vote no. As Mollie Barnathan wrote for the Bangor Daily News: “Maine’s women and families need leaders who understand it isn’t their place to play judge and jury for women. Ensuring every woman has access to family planning services requires every U.S. senator, and especially Susan Collins, to stand up and vote no on Kavanaugh’s nomination.”
— Maine Public (@MainePublic) July 10, 2018
However, rather than talking about any of this, national media have tuned out the voices of Collins’ own constituents in favor of an overgeneralized narrative about harassment. On September 11, NBC News reported that Collins’ office has received a number of threatening and angry messages. The New York Times noted that even Collins’ staff has been on the receiving end of this harassment.
I want to be very clear: Nobody should be threatening Susan Collins or her staff. This behavior is unacceptable and nobody should endorse it. However, for media to suggest that these comments alone are somehow representative of what the vast majority of activists and constituents are doing to persuade Collins before this essential vote is irresponsible. As NARAL Pro-Choice America noted in a statement, there are many Mainers “peacefully participating in the democratic process and urging Senator Susan Collins to vote against Brett Kavanaugh.”
National media have struggled to cover the fight over Kavanaugh’s potential confirmation from the beginning. As activists across the country consistently worked to oppose Kavanaugh, many outlets reported that his confirmation was inevitable, or that few, if any, activists were involved in the fight against him. This narrative was false. Additionally, nightly broadcast news programs devoted only 10 minutes each to conversations about Kavanaugh in the days after his nomination was announced. And many outlets downplayed the hearings despite their many newsworthy moments.
Fascinating strategy here: frame Collins as the REAL victim of sexism, just before she violates her stated commitment to Roe by voting for judge who would surely expand & codify sexist, racist, economic inequality by making abortion illegal/inaccessible. https://t.co/5E3B0qhAt6
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) September 12, 2018
This seemingly savvy messaging tactic -- running to national media to share stories of harassment -- may work. But her constituents know the difference. And they, along with Maine media, don’t appear ready to let Susan Collins off the hook if she votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.