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Deeply, deeply shallow

Every time a president sends the name of a nominee to the Supreme Court up the Hill to the Senate, we can be confident that Our Nation’s Journalism will reduce the matter to some trivial cliche.

Robert Bork was the old-school Martini Drinker. David Souter was the Yankee Bachelor. I suppose it is inevitable that we wind up with this sort of trifling to “humanize” the nominees—particularly now that they all keep their mouths shut ever since Judge Bork was injudicious enough to express what he actually thinks about the Law.

Recently we have been treated to uninformed speculation that Solicitor General Elena Kagan might like girls better than boys. Frankly, I’d just as soon not have to visualize what anyone on the Supreme Court is like in the sack. Please stop.

But over the weekend The Washington Post sounded new depths of shallowness in an article by Style columnist Robin Givhan saying that Ms. Kagan doesn’t sit like a girl: “She sat with her legs ajar.” Expanding on this observation: “In the photographs of Kagan sitting and chatting in various Capitol Hill offices, she doesn't appear to ever cross her legs. Her posture stands out because for so many women, when they sit, they cross.”

I am not making this up.

Today the Columbia Journalism Review posts photographs of Ms. Kagan with her legs crossed in quite the conventional manner. Hard to imagine that CJR has better access to photo archives than The Post.

At this point I confess to a failure of imagination. I cannot come up with a sillier way to write about a Supreme Court nominee, and a shiver passes up and down my spine as I reflect that daily newspaper journalism has carried us to a point beyond the reach of satire.

Posted by John McIntyre at 4:48 PM | | Comments (11)


I believe you mean "Pulitzer Prize-winning Style columnist Robin Givhan."

They really will give that award to anybody.

I didn't even know "legs ajar" was a description in use, though I've seen "legs akimbo" (also strange). OED limits it to windows and doors; I wonder how long it's been applied to limbs.

Givhan is the stealth missile of the Post. When people object, they can say, "but she's in the style section"!

Pure horse manure.

In fact the more appropriate and attractive way for a woman to sit is with her legs crossed at the ankles, particularly when she is wearing a skirt.In front of a camera, and especially with a head-on shot, short skirts with legs crossed at the knee can be an extremely unpleasant sight.

What a ridiculous commentary by Givhan. If he wants to make a homophobic point he should just come out and do it. Then we could all say in one voice, "Who cares?" What we are seeking is a good justice who will bring intelligence and compassion to the bench. She fills the bill for me.

When I read this on WaPo's site, I became confused, wondering why I would need to know - must less think about - such things.

Also, WaPo picture caption reads, Most women, including Sen. Amy Klobucher... Am I misinterpreting this, or are the honorable Ms. Klobucher's sitting skills also being disparaged?

Finally, I quote my mother, (a Tennessean, McI) "A Lady" (emphasis Mama's) "never crosses her legs!"

I recall seeing "legs ajar" in a Steve Martin piece some years ago, where it was written for humorous effect--largely because it's a silly construction.

But John's problem is not any newer than "legs ajar": Calvin Trillin first drew attention to the difficulty faced by humorists when the Exxon executive responsible for overseeing the operations of the Exxon Valdez, having left that post, was given a job in charge of harbor safety at the New York Port Authority. Trillin called this and its ever-increasing spawn "ironies beyond the capacity of a writer to invent."

Mr Givhan - of whom I am happily innocent - is incorrect. The Nominee doesn't sit like a lady. And why is a man writing for the Style section?.Wasn't that Sally Quinn's fiefdom once upon a time? (In any case, if that is the way Miss Kagan usually sits, thank heaven for the long black robes: they evidently cover a multitude of sins, and bad posture.) And I'm certain the courts don't and shouldn't require "compassion" as a characteristic of a nominee to a bench. The laws are not intended to consider individual feelings: that is the province of therapists. I'd rather not have a court full of "feeling" justices. Imagine the arguments - not to say the Kleenex.

P the T, Sally Quinn appears to be running "Faith" at WaPo these days.

Miss Quinn - a.k.a.Mrs Benjamin Bradlee - strikes me as one of the emptiest heads in D.C. And that's saying something.

Robin Givhan is a woman.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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