I’m not sure if this is a problem or not, but I noticed that quite a few of the major dailies’ stories about the decision that struck down the warrantless NSA wiretapping included a photo of the judge, Anna Diggs Taylor. The New York Times did, and so didThe Washington Post and the LA Times. The thing is, I don’t recall seeing many other photos of judges in other stories about federal rulings. It does make me wonder—are the papers demeaning the ruling by emphasizing the judge's personality?
Is it sexist to publish a female judge’s photo with a story about her ruling, when you don't for a male judge? The stereotype of women (read: liberals) being less rational and more emotional might be subtly emphasized by running a soft-lit picture of her. Since there is already this right-wing slogan that judges (who rule against Bush) are "activists" irrationally deciding cases—allowing their feelings to guide them rather than the law—the fact that the judge is a woman (and black) is certainly going to get some play from people who want to criticize her ruling. And by so doing distract attention from the legal basis of the ruling.
Ironically, one of the few other examples of a judge'’ photo being featured prominently with her ruling also happened today, in the tobacco case. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler’s picture is splashed about in many of the articles talking about the settlement and it shortcomings.
Obviously I don't know if Judge Taylor had been a man whether the papers would have run her picture. If photos of judges were run with their rulings all the time, I wouldn’t see this as an issue, but the media seems to do this kind of thing selectively, and often when the judge rules against the government—or does something that might be perceived as “unpopular.”
Putting up a photo of a judge is personalizing the ruling. Its set up a storyline that there is one judge “standing up” to President Bush. In other words, it makes the story not about the law, but about the conflict between two people, Judge Taylor and Bush. There was some foreshadowing of this “showdown” between the judge and the president being the operative news frame when the Detroit Free Press ran a personal profile of Judge Taylor on August 7 . They obviously didn't know that she was going to rule against the NSA's warrantless wiretapping at the time, but it seems a like an odd choice to personalize the background of a judge unless you feel they aren't going to be impartial in their ruling. Like, for example, if a judge had a conflict of interest in a case. Judges are supposed to be objective so the cases won't be "about" them.
Jonathan Turley was on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” last night and noticed that every time a judge rules against this administration, it's made out to be some kind of personal vendetta. Crooks and Liars has the video :
Every time a judge rules against the administration they are either too Democratic or too tall or too short or Pisces. All this spin - this effort to personalize it is doing a great injustice to our system. The problem is not the judge. The problem is a lack of authority. When Gonzales says ‘I got something back in my safe and if you could see it you would all agree with me’. Well, unless there’s a federal statute back in his safe, then it’s not going to make a difference.
Consider how many people in this country actively view judges, not as impartial arbitrators of law, but as some kind of personal tastemakers who make up rulings to suit their own beliefs—you don’t even want to read the letters we got about Susan Jacoby’s article this week on the myth of “activist judges,” which was linked to by right-wing WorldNetDaily. This kind of news frame probably isn’t helpful at all in squashing that sort of feeling.
--Rachel Joy Larris
Maybe I’m just inventing this phenomenon, but try “Google news” on U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. He’s also been ruling on some important federal issues involving espionage and the press, and you don’t see his photo accompanying stories about his cases. Granted, his stories haven’t been “Page 1” material for the most part, so maybe they didn't need a photo. But if a photo were needed for the warrantless wiretapping case, why choose the judge? They could have used the NSA building itself or the ACLU lawyers who brought the suit (along with Christopher Hitchens—now there’s a pretty mug for ya).
| Friday, August 18, 2006 12:26 PM