Elena Kagan’s first "interview" as a Supreme Court nominee quickly hit some turbulence.
Kagan sat down with Arun Chaudhary, an Obama administration staffer, for a White House video presenting Kagan "in her own words." Like a campaign bio ad with a dash of 60 Minutes, the three-minute film shows Kagan’s rise, as she sits, flanked by an American flag, ticking through her work as a law clerk, dean and government attorney.
Yet the video, like Kagan, says virtually nothing about her legal views.
And the video, like the White House, aims to divert rather than answer public questions about this important nominee.
While Obama’s staff often use web videos to share information and advocacy directly with the public, routing around the media filter, the Kagan spot drew unusually sharp complaints from reporters and legal commentators. A CBS News report of press secretary Robert Gibbs’s dismissive response to questions about the video was the most linked story online Wednesday. And Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, compared the White House’s Kagan press strategy to Sarah Palin’s stint on the 2008 campaign trail. That’s probably the only name that tops Harriet Miers for heartburn on Pennsylvania Ave right now.
Supreme Court nominees do not usually do media interviews before their confirmation hearings, however, so it’s not like the White House has breached decorum or Washington expectations. There is a much larger dynamic in play.
Obama has tapped a thoroughly qualified individual with a very thin paper trail. This is an individual who used to argue that Supreme Court nominees should "reveal" themselves and disclose their "views on important legal issues" in confirmation hearings. Kagan even blasted the modern, evasive confirmation process as an "embarrassment" — a "vapid and hollow charade."