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Kagan Hearings, Day 1: Evening Newscasts Downplay; NBC Offers Just 24 Seconds

All three network evening newscasts on Monday downplayed the start of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings, with NBC Nightly News squeezing in just 24 seconds for Kagan at the tail end of a story about the Supreme Court's ruling in favor the 2nd Amendment.

For their part, CBS and ABC offered full stories outlining Kagan's first day before the Judiciary committee after packages devoted to the gun rights' ruling. Only CBS's Jan Crawford suggested the hearings were more than a ritual leading to Kagan's inevitable confirmation: "When President Obama nominated her in May, her confirmation was considered a sure bet. But Republicans are emboldened by what they see as a weakened president and sense that support for Kagan in the country has dropped."

Both Crawford and ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl included Republican criticisms of Kagan's lack of experience and the hostility to the military she displayed at the Harvard Law School. As for NBC, they mentioned none of those issues, and only included a brief soundbite of Kagan promising to be "impartial."

Here's the entirety of NBC's brief discussion of Monday's hearing:

PETE WILLIAMS: This was the last day on the bench for John Paul Stevens after 34 1/2 years. He told the court, "If I've overstayed my welcome it's because this is such a unique and wonderful job." In tribute, many in the courtroom wore bowties, his neck wear of choice. And across the street the Senate began confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, nominated to replace him.

ELENA KAGAN: I will do my best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle and in accordance with law.

PETE WILLIAMS: And the senators begin asking their questions tomorrow. Brian:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Pete Williams with all the news from the Supreme Court in Washington tonight. Pete, thanks.

Compare and contrast that with ABC's World News (transcribed by MRC intern Rachel Burnett) and the CBS Evening News (anchored by Harry Smith from the Gulf Coast):

# ABC World News:

DIANE SAWYER, after discussion of Steven's last day on the bench: And, speaking of Justice Stevens, that other drama playing out nearby was the new nominee for the court, Elena Kagan. Walking into the arena to be questioned about her qualifications to replace him, qualifications of the job, and John Karl is on Capitol Hill tonight. Jon?

JON KARL: Diane, right from the start, it was crystal clear that Kagan faces a Senate deeply divided over her nomination, with Democrats overwhelmingly supporting her and Republicans, for the most part, on the attack. After weeks of the silence imposed on all Supreme Court nominees, Elena Kagan at last had a chance to speak, promising that if confirmed -

ELENA KAGAN: I will work hard, and I will do my best to consider every case impartially.

KARL: Kagan once criticized past nominees for turning hearings into 'a vapid and hollow charade' by refusing to say anything specific. But now, as the nominee, she stuck to generalities.

KAGAN: The court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people.

KARL: Kagan had to sit through more than three hours of opening statements, trying to keep a poker face. But it didn't work. Just watch her expression as Republicans call her a political partisan, or when Democrats praise her real-world experience.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: She is the right person at the right time.

KARL: The top Republican on the committee suggested she is unqualified.

SENATOR SESSIONS: Miss Kagan has less real legal experience of any nominee in at least 50 years.

KARL: And condemned her decision as Dean of Harvard Law school to ban the military from the campus career office.

SESSIONS: Her actions punished the military and demeaned our soldiers as they were courageously fighting for our country in two wars overseas.

KARL: But Republican Lindsey Graham said he believes Kagan is qualified and offered her some advice:

SENATOR GRAHAM: Good luck. Be as candid as possible. And it's okay to disagree with us up here.

KARL: There will be some fireworks tomorrow as the Senators get a chance to question Kagan. But Democrats are even more confident she will be confirmed than they were with the Sotomayor nomination last year, and that she may actually get fewer votes, Diane, because all but a handful of Republicans are already poised to oppose her nomination.

# CBS Evening News:

HARRY SMITH: It didn't take long for today's gun decision to come up at Elena Kagan's confirmation hearing in the Senate. She's been nominated to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Let's go back now to Jan Crawford. Jan?

JAN CRAWFORD: Harry, Elena Kagan has spent the past two months getting ready for these hearings, but it was just a matter of minutes before the ranking Republican brought up today's gun ruling.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): The personal right of every American to own a gun hangs by a single vote.

CRAWFORD: Elena Kagan sat stoically while Sessions and other Republicans began describing her as a liberal activist. But after hours of opening statements, she was sworn in -

ELENA KAGAN: I do.

CRAWFORD: - and finally answered back.

KAGAN: I will do by best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle and in accordance with law.

CRAWFORD: When President Obama nominated her in May, her confirmation was considered a sure bet. But Republicans are emboldened by what they see as a weakened president and sense that support for Kagan in the country has dropped. Today, they outlined their attack. They seized on her lack of judicial and courtroom experience.

SESSIONS: Miss Kagan has less real legal experience of any nominee in at least 50 years.

CRAWFORD: And her decision while Dean at Harvard Law School to limit military recruiting because of the Pentagon's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy.

SENATOR JON KYL (R-AZ): A surprising number of things in her relatively thin body of work do raise substantive concerns.

CRAWFORD: The battle lines drawn, Democrats painted a starkly different picture. They praised Kagan's intellect and took shots at the conservative Roberts' court.

SENATOR SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Things are looking good for your confirmation.

CRAWFORD: The Republican worry is that Kagan could serve a generation on a court that often divides 5-4 on key social issues. Harry?

SMITH: Jan Crawford, thanks for all your help tonight.

-Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.