Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) got what they set out to achieve in their performances during Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings Wednesday: airtime on Fox News.
The four hectored her, with raised voices and constant interruptions, on her record of sentencing people in possession of child pornography. Their theatrical intent was clear at the time: many repeatedly asked questions that she’d already answered, and cut her off when she tried to explain the complicated process of sentencing those crimes.
Hawley asked repeatedly if Jackson “regrets” her sentences, picking out lines from a handful of cases he thought sounded damning for her. Graham slapped the dias, and dramatically stormed from the chamber when his time concluded. Cruz appeared to check his mentions on Twitter after shouting at Jackson and trying to prevent the next questioner, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), from taking over.
The core of their argument, that Jackson has been unacceptably lenient with those in possession of child pornography, has been debunked by nearly every large news outlet. Representatives from the American Bar Association, after interviewing hundreds of people, said they found “no evidence,” including from prosecutors, that Jackson downgraded sentences for those kinds of crimes.
But, of course, these senators weren’t seeking clarity to questions about her record. Nearly all are known to have designs on higher office, and know how the right-wing media ecosystem works — a theatrical performance, rooted in an exceptionally dark fixation of the right wing of the party, made to smear and humiliate a Black woman, rates clicks and eyeballs. And it worked.
All four got booked on Fox News Wednesday, the chyrons often furthering the senators’ defamation campaigns. “GOP Exposes Judge Jackson’s Radicalism,” blazed the screen beneath Cotton’s interview with host Laura Ingraham.
Ingraham played clips of Cotton’s performance on her show, and hyped Cotton’s various accusations.
“Judge Jackson, like so many far left activists, thinks that mandatory minimums for drug crimes are too harsh, just like she apparently thinks that mandatory minimums for child pornography are too harsh,” Cotton said. “She consistently sentences on the lowest end of the sentencing guidelines or even deviates downward from the sentencing guidelines. That’s what we’ve seen over the last few two days examining her record — she is a far left activist who always — almost always — finds a way to sympathize with the criminals, not with the victims.”
Far from fact-checking his demonstrably false statements, Ingraham expressed her incredulity about Jackson’s decision in a separate immigration case.
Hawley got his performance showcased on Hannity, where he could spew the debunked claims without fear of a fact-check.
“I think her record is pretty clear — when it comes to crime and especially crimes against children, this is somebody who apologizes to the criminals,” Hawley said.
“She was extraordinarily lenient in almost every case,” Hannity cheered in response. “I didn’t see a case where she wasn’t.”
Hawley, who spearheaded this line of attack, has been basing his arguments on a handful of cases, and has attempted to winnow away their context.
Cruz went on Jesse Watters Primetime saying much of the same, adding in some stomach-churning details from the child pornography cases the senators have cherry-picked. Graham, also on Hannity, said that he knows “why Demand Justice saw her in such a favorable light after two days of these hearings,” referring to a progressive legal advocacy group that’s a special villain for the far-right.
These kinds of performances, clearly made to enhance these men’s standing on the right, is more than the “jackassery” in service of fame that Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) dismissed on Wednesday. It’s a key part in turning a smear into a full-fledged disinformation campaign. Fox News amplifies the lies, and Democrats often give them attention they don’t deserve — Durbin made a statement during the hearing Wednesday about Republicans’ attempts to get pre-sentencing reports in the child ponography cases, potentially exposing details of violence to underage victims in the service of an attack line that’s a total distortion.
Now, in its natural progression, figures on the right are trying to turn the fabricated smear into a full-on campaign to knock down Jackson’s confirmation. Those like the head of Judicial Watch and Donald Trump Jr. are urging Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Democrats known to buck the party on important issues in public settings, to turn against Jackson on the basis of the baseless allegations.
There’s no indication as of yet that the campaign is succeeding. Early this week, Manchin dismissed the accusations.
“It’s Hawley, right? Take that for what it’s worth,” he told reporters.