Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Preemptive Framing

One of the more common genres of “The Point” is the preemptive frame. This is when Hyman characterizes likely upcoming events in a way that encourages viewers to understand these events in a particular way when they do occur.

A case in point is Hyman’s recent anticipation of the confirmation process of John Roberts. Pointing out that political groups have been preparing for this eventuality for some time, Hyman suggests that while we might be lucky enough to have a “civil and fair” process, we might be subjected to “political wilding.”

Tabling for now the racially charged connotations of the term “wilding” in his metaphor, the purpose of Hyman’s commentary is to frame any potential protest or challenge of Judge Roberts’ nomination as unthinking, inappropriate, and destructive. Hyman couches this in seemingly neutral rhetoric (noting that both liberal and conservative groups have been prepping for Bush to name a replacement for Sandra Day O’Connor), but given that most of the possible challenges to Roberts will come from the left, it’s not hard to see that this is an attempt to characterize any Democrat who criticizes the nominee in any way of being “uncivil” and, therefore, someone who should be ignored.

Hyman also camouflages his political intent by saying that the political views of a judge are immaterial; what matters is whether he or she “follows the Constitution.”

Of course, “following the Constitution” is an intentionally vague phrase. For Hyman, it means whether or not the judge in question reads the Constitution in a way that will lead to particular rulings on any number of issues that Hyman feels are important . . . political issues. How the Constitution is interpreted is an inherently political issue. One might agree that any judge’s position on a specific issue is immaterial (e.g., whether he or she is pro life or pro choice), but how and why that judge feels Roe v. Wade is or isn’t good law is very much material.

In short, Hyman takes a complex question that should be posed of any nominee (“How do you apply the Constitution’s broad strokes to specific cases that come before you today?”) with a meaningless binary query (“Do you follow the Constitution or not?”).

And while Hyman suggests that such a question is separate from political issues, we know from the way he throws around epithets such as “activist judges” that Hyman himself bases his own opinion of whether or not a judge “follows the Constitution” on the basis of his or her positions on particular political issues.

Perhaps one day Hyman will offer a coherent and well-thought out explanation of what he means by the phrase “follows the Constitution.” But we might be in for many more commentaries in which this empty phrase is used to camouflage his political agenda in the sheep’s clothing of objective-sounding rhetoric.

(Two can play at the preemptive framing game!)

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.11


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