Saturday, May 2, 2009

Morning Lines: Papers, Horses, Justices, Poets, Lesbians

The Kentucky Derby is being run today! So I am reminded when I sit down with the papers this morning.

My sister and her husband must be very excited. They love horses, and recently they’ve spent a great deal of time investigating the ways in which horse racing terms have permeated the language. (Click here to buy their book!)

I’m increasingly ambivalent, not least because horses seem to die every time I watch a race. But because I respect their enthusiasm, I do pay attention.

Not surprisingly, the Times and the Post offer nearly identical tables summarizing the field.

The real only difference involves the bookmakers’ odds: the Times names I Want Revenge as the favorite at 3-1, while the Post lists General Quarters at 5-1. (By the time I read them, of course, both sets of odds are long obsolete.)

Similarly, when it comes to the field of nominees to David Souter’s soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Supreme Court seat, the Times and the Post isolate a comparable group of contenders, but on the surface appear to rank them somewhat differently.

Both papers illustrate their reporting with a photo gallery of likely rivals for the job. Maybe the six people chosen don’t represent the papers’ opinions about the true frontrunners, but the packaging certainly makes it seem that way.

Each lineup features five females and one male. Since President Obama is expected to nominate a woman, any male candidate must be considered a dark horse. In the Times, the long-shot man is Deval Patrick; in the Post it’s Harold Koh.

The papers agree on four top women--Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Jennifer Granholm, and Diane P. Wood—but they disagree on a fifth. The Times runs a photo of Leah Ward Sears, chief justice of the Supreme Court in Georgia; the Post depicts Kathleen Sullivan, a constitutional law professor at Stanford.

According to the Post, Sullivan “would be the first openly gay member of the Supreme Court and has filed briefs before the court dealing with gay rights.” The Post rates her a “longer shot,” and I expect her sexuality explains why. Nonetheless, the paper includes Sullivan in its photo gallery.

The Times reporting calls Sullivan is “leading candidate” for the job, but says nothing of her sexuality. For reasons that seem inexplicable as a result, it leaves her out of the picture show.

I feel conflicted. On one hand, I sympathize with the view that Sullivan’s sexual preference has nothing to do with her qualifications as a jurist, but on the other, if I were handicapping her chances to be Obama’s very first nominee to the court, I’d predict that her lesbianism would be an overwhelming obstacle.

Gay marriage is widely expected to come before the court in some form, and it’s easy to imagine that she’d be raked over the confirmatory coals on the issue of bias. It seems to me that Obama has already signaled, with his choice of evangelist Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation, that gay rights is not one of the places where he’s going to risk trial by fire.

Though neither paper says so, Leah Ward Sears, per Wikipedia, is married to a former deputy mayor of New York City under Ed Koch and has two children. It seems reasonable to imagine that the Times took all this into account when it selected her rather than Sullivan for its photo gallery—but it doesn’t say so. So which makes for the better news coverage, telling or not telling?

In other developments, Great Britain has for the first time named a woman, one Carol Ann Duffy, as its poet laureate.

The Post did not see fit to print this news at all, but the Times provides a profile, which includes the information that Ms. Duffy has had at least one significant relationship with a woman.

The Times, undoubtedly rightly, sees no reason to volunteer that the current United States poet laureate, Kay Ryan, is also a lesbian. I don’t know whether to consider this second Sapphic selection a coincidence, a great moment for women (and lesbians), or a sign of how marginalized poetry really is. Whatever the case, I’m not complaining.

I did go looking for links between the two women, and I found one right away. Ryan has written a poem called “The Niagara River,” while Duffy, in a poem about what Rip Van Winkle’s wife did while her husband was asleep, rhymes Niagara with Viagra.

1 comment:

Joan said...

apropos of nothing, Kay Ryan is a colleague of my mom's --teaches (taught) at the same community college.