Mar 23

How the media normalized QAnon smear of historic Black nominee

Ugly stuff

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Signaling that the Republican Party would not allow the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be an entirely serious and dignified one, Republican senator Josh Hawley began trafficking vile claims about the first Black woman tapped for the Court.

For the last week, Hawley and his allies have been trying to turn Jackson, arguably the most qualified Supreme Court nominee in the last half-century, into a child-pornography apologist. It’s breathtaking, unconscionable and straight out of the QAnon cult playbook— but the press doesn’t care. In their eyes, there is no decency line that the GOP can ever cross. Nothing is out of bounds for them.

On Fox News, Hawley specifically described Jackson as protecting pedophiles when it came to sentencing: “I haven't been able to find a single case where she has had a child porn offender, a pedophile, in front of her where she hasn't given him the most lenient sentence she possibly could.” 

Still, the New York Times downplayed the outlandish GOP smears against the mother of two, describing the claims as merely “hostile critiques,” and Republicans “forcefully attacking Jackson’s record.” In a puff piece highlighting four GOP senators this week, the Times elevated Hawley as one “to watch” during the confirmation hearings.

The allegation that Jackson operated as some sort of pro-child pornography outlier on the bench because she sentenced below federal guidelines is obviously false, as ABC News, among others detailed [emphasis added]:

Federal appeals court Judges Joseph Bianco of the Second Circuit and Andrew Brasher of the Eleventh Circuit, both Trump appointees, had each previously sentenced defendants convicted of possessing child pornography to prison terms well below federal guidelines at the time they were confirmed with Hawley's support.

Hawley didn’t make the bogus claims because he thought they were valid, or that they could withstand a moment of scrutiny. He made them to link Jackson to the odious phrases “child pornography” and “pedophile,” which are signaling mechanisms for the QAnon cult.

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And the press obediently played along. D.C. journalists regurgitated the allegations when Hawley first made them, incorporating them in endless headlines:

• “Republicans to Roll Dice by Grilling Jackson Over Child Pornography Sentencing Decisions” (The Hill)

• “Ketanji Brown Jackson, Child Porn Sound Bites and America's Angry Parents” (Newsweek)

• “Ketanji Brown Jackson Defends Her Record on Child Pornography Cases” (Today)

• “Durbin Defends Supreme Court Nominee Jackson’s Record on Child Pornography” (Washington Post)

Mission accomplished — Jackson became the first Supreme Court nominee in history associated with the phrase, “child pornography.”

When Hawley’s smears did get debunked it was with timid, non-judgmental language — Republicans had merely “omitted context,” and the child pornography charges were “misleading.” The press treated the allegations with respect, as if Hawley were just questioning Jackson’s judicial philosophy.  

More importantly, the D.C. press completely ignored the blatant QAnon framing in play. Still reluctant to tie the GOP to a cult that believes that the Democratic Party harbors a secret network of pedophiles who drink children's blood, the mainstream media continues to look away from the ugly truth. Hawley’s attack on Jackson was simply confirmation politics, according to the Beltway conventional wisdom. There was nothing sinister at play.

But there clearly was, as Salon’s Amanda Marcotte noted:

It's also part of a larger strategy by leading GOP figures like Hawley to radicalize the Republican base by funneling them to conspiracy theories like QAnon. The end game here isn't particularly mysterious. QAnoners were the backbone of the January 6 insurrection and continue to be a source of energy for the growing fascist movement that backs Trump. 

The far-right media didn’t miss the message Hawley sent. On OAN, RedState editor Brandon Morse spouted QAnon rhetoric, claiming Jackson “has a scary history when it comes to pedophilia or handling people who are pedophiles. It's one more drop in the bucket when it comes to dealing with the left and their problem with pedophilia.”

There’s a direct line between Hawley slandering Jackson as child pornography apologist and the right-wing’s sprawling conspiracy culture. During the 2016 campaign, Pizza­gate was concocted. It alleged that prominent figures in the Democratic Party were running a child sex ring in tunnels beneath a pizzeria in a residential Washington, DC, neighborhood.

Today, bizarre claims of child abuse, sex trafficking, and pedophilia remain the center of the crazed QAnon belief system. It’s no coincidence Hawley picked those issues to baselessly smear Jackson. In fact, the wider QAnon conspiracy theory insists that Trump remains on the verge of uncovering a throng of liberal elites for facilitating and participating in a sprawling child sex ring.

That’s the garbage today’s Republican Party is tapping into during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing. And the press shrugs.

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