Media Receives Backlash for Smearing Trump's Judicial Nominee

Menashi criticized over pro-Israel, anti-political correctness articles

Television host Rachel Maddow arrives for a lunch hosted in honor of Prime Minister David Cameron at the State Department on March 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
August 27, 2019

President Donald Trump's judicial nominee for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has been subject to a media smear campaign which has distorted his past writings and labeled him a white nationalist, provoking backlash from experts.

Earlier this month, MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow attacked Steven Menashi, Trump's nominee for the open seat on the circuit court, for a 2010 law review article he wrote. Maddow characterized the article, titled "Ethnonationalism and Liberal Democracy," as a "high-brow argument for racial purity" arguing that democratic nations couldn't function unless they were unified by race.

"Are you talking about what I think you're talking about? Oh yes you are," Maddow said. She added that the article "ends with this sort of war cry about how a country can't work, how definitely democracy can’t work unless the country is defined by a unifying race."

Ed Whelan in National Review explains that Menashi's argument was about national identity and not about "racial purity." Menashi argued, quoting John Stuart Mill, that national identity requires a people "united among themselves by common sympathies which do not exist between them and any others, which make them cooperate with each other more willingly than with other people, [and] desire to be under the same government."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board slammed Maddow for her smears of Menashi.

"Nation states often have an ethnic, linguistic and cultural basis. But Ms. Maddow said Mr. Menashi is on the 'fringe of racial thinking.' If Senators take her seriously, they will confirm how far they have drifted to the anti-Israel fringe," the editorial board writes.

But Maddow wasn't alone in distorting Menashi's past writings. CNN published an article titled, "Trump court pick denounced feminists, gay-rights groups and diversity efforts in 1990s, 2000s editorials."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board continued on how CNN took Menashi's college writings out of context.

Next came the spelunkers at CNN, which is outraged by Mr. Menashi's writings as a college student. He was editor of the Dartmouth Review and wrote for the paper regularly. A centerpiece of the hit is that Mr. Menashi in 2001 "accus[ed] a major LGBTQ group of exploiting the brutal murder of a gay student for political ends."

CNN doesn't mention that Mr. Menashi was building on the argument of Andrew Sullivan, the gay-marriage advocate, who had recently argued in the New Republic that the Human Rights Campaign was emphasizing the Matthew Shepard murder in its campaign for a federal hate-crimes law while ignoring a comparable slaying by two gay men in 1999. Mr. Menashi said identity politics leads to a tendency to place a differential value on human lives that should be resisted. He was right.

CNN further assails Mr. Menashi for having "defended a fraternity that threw a 'ghetto party,' widely seen as racist" in 1998. Mr. Menashi is not accused of participating in the party, but rather for arguing that campus liberal monoculture pressures students to exaggerate harm from offensive speech.

Fox News also hit CNN for insinuating that Menashi defended sexual assault when he denounced the "Take Back the Night" marches.

Menashi's college article that discussed the women's "Take Back the Night" march did not defend sexual assault; rather, it cited the march as an example of instances on the Dartmouth campus that he said employ negative generalizations of men. In discussing how a magazine included Dartmouth among the "ten most antimale schools," Menashi claimed that the marches "charge the majority of male students with complicity in rape and sexual violence."

Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, denounced the misleading attacks on Menashi in a series of tweets.

"First the Democrats and their media allies smeared Steve Menashi with an anti-Semitic mischaracterization of his past scholarship, and now they are purposely distorting his college newspaper articles...the common theme of which is an intellectual and forceful indictment of political correctness and identity politics as divisive and destructive forces that are pulling the country apart," Severino tweeted. "These are the same types of smears Democrats have thrown at many highly qualified people nominated by the President to serve as federal judges including Amy Barrett, Neomi Rao, Brian Buescher, Ken Lee and, of course, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh - all of whom were confirmed."

Menashi is currently special assistant and associate counsel to President Trump. He previously worked in the Department of Education and taught law at George Mason University. His paternal grandparents were Iraqi Jews who lived in Baghdad and Tehran before moving to Israel.