Sunday, June 14, 2009

Media Matters: NYT, Fox and MSNBC Delete Sotomayor Comment Regarding Her "Socio-Economically Poor Background"

Recently, the New York Times produced video footage of a panel discussion during which Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor stated that her standardized test scores (not grades) were below the average of persons at Princeton and Yale Law School. Although she ultimately graduated from the top of her class at Princeton and performed excellently at Yale Law School (which does not "rank" students), conservatives who oppose affirmative action have used these comments in order to depict Sotomayor as an undeserving beneficiary of race-based admissions policies.

There is one glaring problem with their analysis, however: The edited video footage deletes Sotomayor's statement that she "is from what is traditionally described as a socio-economically poor background," which leaves the impression that Princeton and Yale only considered "race" as an affirmative action category. Media Matters uncovered the misleading reports (on Fox, MSNBC and in the NYT).

Many studies show that academic performance in college and graduate or professional school correlates more strongly with prior GPA than with standardized tests. Furthermore, it is well known that expensive test preparation courses, which benefit the wealthy, can add significantly to a test-taker's performance. It is unclear whether Sotomayor enrolled in professional test preparation courses, but it is unlikely that she did.

Also, Sotomayor's gender probably played a tremendous factor in her admission to college and law school, but most conservatives have reserved their anger for race-based affirmative action. Undoubtedly, graduating summa cum laude from Princeton, one of the highest ranked universities in the world, strongly influenced the Yale Law School admissions committee (as it should have). This remarkable achievement, however, receives little attention from individuals who seek to blame affirmative action for their own irrational refusal to appreciate her intellectual power (and the achievements of other persons of color).

Although conservatives argue that affirmative action "stigmatizes" persons of color as inferior, this racial stereotype predated affirmative action by centuries, and it clearly remains a part of American culture. This stereotype operates so powerfully among those who accept it, that even the top graduate from one of the world's top colleges and law schools cannot escape it. Blaming affirmative action for this patent bigotry is an act of cowardice.

Ironically, conservatives have chosen to deemphasize Sotomayor's poverty even though they often advocate affirmative action on the basis of "class," rather than race. I have always doubted the sincerity of the class-based "alternative" (often, affirmative action is based on race and class), given conservative opposition to antipoverty programs -- which often portrays beneficiaries as lazy persons of color. Nevertheless, if the class argument comes from an honest place, then conservatives should point to Sotomayor's academic and professional success as vindicating -- rather than delegitimizing -- societal efforts to extend opportunities to poor and disadvantaged individuals. Instead, they have chosen to downplay or question her obvious success and to vilify an individual who succeeded despite her severe disadvantages. This approach is politically suicidal -- not to mention deceitful and hypocritical.


Kansas City said...

Sotomayer is obviously an affirmative action success story, as I have said in prior comments. She also apparently would have qualified for affirmative action under a economic/class based program, which I and many other conservatives support.

BUT, you are playing a bit of a shell game here. She did refer to her socio economic background in her statement and apparently it was not part of the video clip played by Fox and MSNBC [which hardly would be biased against a democrat]. HOWEVER, there is no evidence that Princeton or Yale considered socio economic standing in their affirmative action programs in the 1970's.

So, the fact that she referred to it does not mean that it was considered by Princeton and Yale. Also, you are using a bit of a straw man argument in saying conservatives are criticizing her because of her affirmative action beneficiary status. How is doing that?

Finally, Media Matters is notoriously biased and partisan, so it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Here, its seems to have the facts about the video tape correct, but the conclusion by Media Matters [and you] that Princeton and Yale actually considered socio economic background is where there is no evidentiary support at this point.

Melanie said...

Isn't it just amazing how insecure conservatives are? Only someone with a serious inferiority complex would get their panties in a bunch over the idea that something other than the tests they made up and blue blood lineage could be considered.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Melanie - In my opinion, people who believe that multiple choice exams are a sole measure of intellect are sorely lacking in intellect. I would never give a multiple choice exam in my courses. Students need to learn how to argue and think about the "grey" areas - rather than pretending that the law is reducible to 1 or 2 "right" answers.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

KC: MSNBC was highly biased against Hillary Clinton. Last time I checked, she was a Democrat -- and a woman. I find MSNBC a highly sexist network.

Media Matters is liberal, but it does not condemn conservatives as such. It just highlights conservative errors. What's wrong with that?

As for your point about Princeton and affirmative action, you should read "The Shape of the River." It shatters a lot of the mythology that conservatives spread about affirmative action ("undeserving" and "stigmatized" persons of color). It was written by the Presidents of Princeton and Harvard.

Also, Princeton claims to have begun using affirmative action in the 1960s and that it always tried to give a break to poor kids. Most of the Ivies began using race, gender and class-based affirmative action, in varying degrees, in the 70s. Even when they used only "race" formally, race often served as a proxy for disadavantage -- socioeconomic or otherwise. Clearly, there was (and remains) a close correlation.

But let's assume that Princeton actually did not have a "formal" class-based policy and never formally considered Sotomayor's poverty. This does not change the fact that she excelled at Princeton; it does not change the fact that she was disadvantaged -- relative to whites and wealthy individuals -- in her childhood; it does not change the fact that she grew up poor, overcame substantial obstacles and, despite this, faces ridicule from conservatives who pretend to support antipoverty programs. Again, if conservatives were so "high" on class-based affirmative action, they would promote Sotomayor as the poster-child of the potential success of class-based remedies. Instead, they simply fall into the well worn narrative of imagined stigma and accusations of incompetence. But, as I said in a prior comment, the same people who pretend that they would support class-based affirmative action, disparage programs for poor people as too burdensome too society, as rewarding undeserving/lazy people -- typically imagined as persons of color. These are the same arguments used to smack down race-based affirmative action. The class rhetoric is just a misleading escape hatch.

Pat Buchanan said she graduated "Number one" due to affirmative action. Does he believe that Princeton or any other school has an affirmative action program that extends to grades or to graduation? Facts seem to matter very little in this context.

Kansas City said...

There are very few conservatives that I have heard who are criticizing the Sotomayer pick because she was the product of affirmative action, so I think you are going the strawman route again. I, and I think most conservatives, have lauded the accomplishments of Sotomayer. The issue is what are her current beliefs on affirmative action and other racial issues.

One of the problems with affirmative action is when people hear of accomplishments by affirmative action students like Sotomayor's grades at Princeton and Obama as law review president at Harvard, they wonder if affirmative action helped them get those
honors (apparently not).
You also question the motives of conservatives advocating class based affirmative action, worse without any factual support. I don't usually agree with Joe Biden, but when Gregory tried to get him to attack Cheney's motives this morning, he declined to do so. It seems like you have a lot of hostility towards conservatives.

But you are right on one point. Sotomayer is an example of how class based affirmative action could produce great results without the baggage of racial preference. I don't know that conservatives should be expected to "promote Sotomayor as the poster-child on the potential success of class-based" affirmative action [especially since it was not the system that produced her success], but she is the type of person who would succeed in class based affirmative action. I have long thought class based affirmative action was the answer to the problems inherent in race based affirmative action, but democrats are resistant and republicans have not sufficiently pushed it. I think a national republican candidate could use it very successfully in a presidential compaign and, in the process, do a lot of good for the country.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hutchinson,

It is absolute fact that preferred minorities (all Americans are are minorities, but Jews, Asians, Polish, Italian and Irish, among others, aren't "preferred" even though they are much smaller "minorities" than blacks and hispanics and even though they all suffered major discrimination) are admitted to the best universities and law schools with lower qualifications. That doesn't mean all of them were otherwise unqualified, it's just that, as fact, many of them were wrongfully admitted but for their race.

The result is that the degrees and true qualifications of preferred minorities are suspect. I've practiced law for 3 decades in upper end practice and we need always to find a way to learn the SATs and LSATs of preferred minorities because the preference that advances them is so persistent that their grades are not believed unless verified by other documentation.

IT is bizarre and unexplained that Sotomayor graduated high in her Princeton class when she admits herself that needed all sorts of remedial support in her freshman year, turning to childrens' books to improve her English. Having attended peer schools, NO ONE graduates summa with even a single "bad" semester. No one. So she was clearly getting some sort of handicapping and preferential treatment.

Even Obama, clearly an intelligent man, only got into Columbia and Harvard through preferential discriminatory treatment. He did'nt even get honors at Columbia when over 60% do. NO WHITE person ever got into Harvard Law with such poor undergrad performance. Did he make law review on grades or on writing sample? I have no idea. But to be candid, the pervasive existence of the types of courses you teach permits blacks and hispanics to basically take ethnic studies in law school to enhance their grades, so no one knows.

Because everyone knows that standards have been bended, even persons with fine credentials as yours leave people wondering.
That may have gotten you a fine position at a fine school, but it leaves exactly the cloud that Clarence Thomas, Sowell and many others complain of.
We make our beds, we sleep in them. Sotomayor is recognized as a poor writer and somewhat inarticulate judge. She has clearly done, despite all that, a fully competent job as a judge. But she is a minor leaguer who is being promoted exclusively because of race. Were she even a white woman ,you wouldn't know her name.

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