Media Matters vs. Me on the D.C. Circuit

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Meagan Hatcher-Mays of Media Matters doesn’t like my column on the fight over Obama’s three nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. I figured I’d read the post and see if there’s any good point in it I missed. Spoiler: There wasn’t.

She starts by saying that the headline on my column advanced a “discredited falsehood” by describing what Obama is doing as trying to “pack” the court. This is treated not as a question of whether a characterization is fair or not but as a simple matter of factual accuracy. That seems to me a foolish way of looking at it, and one for which she makes no argument. If you want more on the terminological point, see my post from yesterday.

Hatcher-Mays writes: “According to such varied sources as the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service and the right-wing Wall Street Journal, Obama’s nominees have faced unprecedented obstruction.” I assumed, when I read the bit about the Journal, that Hatcher-Mays was treating the news pages, or some liberal op-ed, as speaking for “the right-wing Wall Street Journal.” That’s exactly what she does. Her link takes you another left-wing Media Matters article, which cites WSJ columnist Gerald Seib, who is not part of the Journal’s editorial page, and is acknowledged by that earlier Media Matters article not to be part of the editorial page.

That earlier Media Matters post also says that “the Wall Street Journal” has been “ignoring that historic levels of GOP obstructionism have caused judicial emergencies.” So Hatcher-Mays has presented the Wall Street Journal as having said the exact opposite of what it did. I can’t blame her for not reading Media Matters posts carefully–it’s not a rewarding use of time–but if she is unwilling to do that, she shouldn’t cite the posts.

Seib’s column does not call the Republican campaign “unprecedented,” but does refer to the CRS report to make the point that wait times for nominees have been steadily increasing. (Hatcher-Mays’s “varied sources,” in other words, consist of one claim in one report and someone else who cited it.) The report, though, includes several other measures of how many nominees each president is getting through, and paints a more ambiguous picture than Hatcher-Mays acknowledges.

Here’s the second bullet point in its summary—and the first one that compares Obama’s record to that of his predecessors:

During the first terms of the five most recent Presidents (Reagan to Obama), the 30 confirmed Obama circuit court nominees were tied with 30 Clinton nominees as the fewest number of circuit nominees confirmed. The percentage of circuit nominees confirmed during President Obama’s first term, 71.4%, was the second-lowest, while the percentage confirmed during G.W. Bush’s first term, 67.3%, was the lowest.

Unprecedented! Um, except for that last guy.