While reporting on the ongoing Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, many mainstream media outlets have buried the racism and misinformation that are shaping the Republican members’ questioning of the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, instead downplaying the attacks with vague euphemisms for racism and failing to provide proper fact-checking of the GOP’s smear campaign.
Leading up to the hearings, right-wing media amplified misinformation against Jackson about her record on the sentencing of sex offenders to inaccurately paint Jackson as a “radical.” The claims about Jackson’s record, which have been debunked, are in line with (and pushed in the same circles as) the QAnon conspiracy theory. Despite the baselessness of these attacks, many mainstream outlets have failed to fact-check this misinformation in their coverage of the hearings. Additionally, some coverage framed the hearing as “a bruising affair” in which Republican senators “pummeled” Jackson, positioning her as part of a fight rather than as the target of a concerted misinformation campaign.
Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee also employed racist dog whistles in their questioning of Jackson on critical race theory, a broad framework of ideas that examines systemic racism in the United States legal system. CRT is not taught below the college level, but this fact has not stopped GOP politicians from pushing legislation at the state level banning the practice in public schools as part of their racist attacks on Black history in public education.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in particular advanced this racist line of attack during the hearings, questioning Jackson about her stance on CRT and The 1619 Project, a journalism project to reframe the founding of America through the lens of Black experience.
Despite the clear racism and conspiratorial conjecture present in questioning from members like Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), some outlets framed these attacks on Jackson with vague terms, saying the hearings had “racial overtones” or were “racially charged” rather than accurately calling out the actual racism on display for their audience. The Associated Press Stylebook notes that euphemisms like this should be avoided, as they downplay the effects of racism and have historically been used by news outlets to avoid directly describing it.
While some articles and tweets correctly demonstrated how to call out this misinformation campaign against Jackson and the racist attacks directed at her by some Republican politicians, quite a few did not. Here are examples of mainstream media uncritically presenting GOP talking points about critical race theory and minimizing the racist tactics of Republican politicians:
- An article from The New York Times headlined “Cruz and Jackson spar over antiracism curriculum at a private school” primarily focused on the racist smears against Jackson in the form of extensive questioning on critical race theory and The 1619 Project, but entirely failed to call out the prejudiced nature of the attacks. The article characterized the racist dog whistle attacks on critical race theory by saying, “Republicans have used the term as a way to criticize educational materials,” and later excused the clear racism in the GOP members’ line of questioning by suggesting they sensed “a high-profile fight over cultural issues ahead of this fall’s midterm elections.”
- An article from The Washington Post framed racist attacks against Jackson over critical race theory entirely around euphemisms, with the headline declaring Jackson “endure[d] questioning with racial overtones” and the subheadline saying the “first Black woman nominated for the Supreme Court finds that there is no escaping race as an issue.” The article framed the attacks as a “burden” that Jackson “bears” and a “a price to be paid” by the first Black Supreme Court nominee, suggesting these attacks are inevitable rather than a conscious choice by Republican politicians to invoke racist dog whistles.
- Politico’s article on the nine potential swing votes for Jackson’s confirmation echoed misleading GOP claims about her history in sentencing child sex offense cases while salaciously describing the hearing as “rowdy.”
- Punchbowl News failed to push back while describing Hawley’s QAnon-adjacent falsehoods about Jackson’s sentencing of child abusers, instead opting to label the exchange as an “explosive line of questioning.” A tweet from the outlet also directly played into the severe distortions of Jackson’s record.
- Another article from The Washington Post, headlined “Ketanji Brown Jackson passionately defends her sentencing of sex offenders,” included extensive coverage of GOP senators’ misleading claims without noting that the questioning was misleading.
- An article from Insider neglected to call out the racism inherent in the line of questioning about CRT. Featuring right-wing outlet Daily Wire and the Republican National Committee's rapid response team, Insider claimed that they "[dug] up her earlier complimentary comments about advocates of critical race theory," while failing to provide context for the dubious outlet's “reporting.”
- ABC News’ newsletter described Jackson as “push[ing] back on the notion that she adheres to ideas around critical race theory” and glossed over a clearly racist line of questioning by saying, “Issues of race and crime are being placed prominently on the table.”
- The Hill tweeted out a video that quoted Cruz and amplified his conspiratorial questioning about critical race theory without adding context or fact-checking.