Win or Lose, Nomination Debates are Dangerous

Justice Breyer has announced his resignation from the Supreme Court and a Biden/Harris pick is expected to win confirmation. The Democrats’ choice is unlikely to shift the court’s balance, we’re told, but the media’s milquetoast reassurance misses the point that when it comes to balance  it’s not just the court, it’s also the public debate that’s shifted dramatically to the right.  And nomination fights have a nasty habit of playing a big role in that.

Under pressure to serve up “balance” in their coverage,  producers and editors look for pundits to attack the most moderate and to defend the most extreme nominees. For years, one  ubiquitous source of those pundits has been  The Independent Women’s Forum and their political arm, Independent Women’s Voice. They were vocal supporters of all of Donald Trump’s  nominations, playing up their gender to attack the women who accused Kavanaugh of abuse, and their “independent” label to defend Neil Gorsuch’s embrace of very partisan Republican de-regulatory politics.

To the media, the IWF offer a convenient bit of “balance”. To the Koch brothers and their network of profit-minded funders, they are an effective, female face of right-wing backlash.

The group got its start as “Women for Judge Thomas”.  In 1991, when the Senate was hearing testimony about Clarence Thomas’s misogyny and worker-abuse,  members of NOW, then a mass membership organization representing hundreds of thousands of dues-paying members, would show up outside the building and talk to reporters. As the story got bigger, and the media attention grew,  a tiny clutch of “Women for Judge Thomas” suddenly appeared too,  and instantly became media darlings.

Seeking “balance” money media gave  IWF equal air time, in spite of the fact that they represented a view held by a tiny minority of women. And with air time, comes opportunity.

Formed in 1992, the IWF’s been spouting anti-government, anti-union, pro-incarceration talking points ever since.  Need women to argue against affirmative action and pay equity; for war and for harsher policing?  Tune in cable news and you were bound to see IWF speakers casting feminist opponents of Amy Coney Barrett’s forced childbearing views as “anti-woman.”  Or most recently, with other dark money groups pushing Trump’s “big Lie” while still claiming to be “non-partisan.”

Right now, the IWF is no doubt casting about for the most media-genic African American conservative to attack whomever President Biden picks. I could name names right now, but that would only do their work for them.

You’d think they’d have a problem not tripping over their own talking points around women who oppose women, but don’t count on it.  In the IWF, the mainstream media long ago found an activist women’s group to love and they’re unlikely to break off the romance now.  At least, if you’re in the media today and must have them on, name IWF’s funders, and don’t let them get away with this “independent” baloney.

For a full dossier of IWF’s positions, funders, and influence, check out the excellent work by True North Research on Substack. And catch my conversation with Beth Richie and Suzanne Pharr who’ve been working together for a multi-racial, cross class, radical abolition feminism, for more than 40 years- with virtually no mainstream media airtime. 


Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media.