True or False?

Fact-Checking the Sunday Shows: March 20

Have Democrats really never held up a Supreme Court nominee, as Republicans are doing now? And did Donald Trump really get $1.8 billion in free media, while John Kasich got none?

03.20.16 11:27 PM ET

By Katie Sanders, Lauren Carroll and Joshua Gillin

Congressional leaders took on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court during the Sunday political shows, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defending his call not to hold any hearings for Garland’s confirmation until a new president is installed on ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

“Look, George, the American people are in the middle of choosing who the next president is going to be,” McConnell said. “And that next president ought to have this appointment, which will affect the Supreme Court, for probably a quarter of a century.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid preached just the opposite message on NBC’s Meet the Press, even when host Chuck Todd pointed out his party’s own record of obstructing Republican president’s nominations.

Todd asked, “What has changed, other than the political party affiliation of the White House?”

“What has changed is, you have to look at what has happened. We have never held up a Supreme Court nomination,” Reid said. “Since 1900 in a lame-duck session, there have been six that have all been approved.”

Todd had some qualms about Reid saying the Democrats “never held up” a nomination, so we wanted to look into his statement.

Reid’s statement rates Mostly True.

In recent history, Democrats have not vowed to not even consider a Republican president’s nominee for the Supreme Court. But Reid steps a little too far in saying Democrats “have never held up” a nomination.

Since the 1960s, the Senate has held a hearing for nearly every Supreme Court nominee, the exception being Harriet Miers, a 2005 George W. Bush nominee who faced opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike.

So when McConnell vowed, within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, not even to consider the yet-to-be-named replacement, it was an unprecedented degree of opposition. And, no, there’s no tradition of not nominating a justice during a presidential election year.

It’s generally accepted, though, that the modern political battle over Supreme Court seats started with Democratic opposition to Robert Bork, a Ronald Reagan nominee, in 1988. Democrats launched a massive public assault on Bork’s conservative judicial philosophy and record.

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Bork did get a hearing and a Senate vote, which he lost, but his confirmation process made the rules of the game more contentious.

“The rules have been changed for the battle over this particular seat on the court,” an internal Reagan administration memo read, according to Roll Call. “Maybe they have been changed for all time. We must convince the nomination handlers that the opposition has invented the tank, and we have to get out of the trenches and take the offensive.”

More recently, several Senate Democrats—including Reid and then-Sen. Obama—attempted a filibuster against conservative Bush nominee Samuel Alito. The filibuster, though, was largely symbolic, as not enough senators participated to delay or block the vote, which resulted in Alito’s confirmation.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said comparing Democratic opposition to Republican nominees with the current Republican tactics amounted to a false equivalence.

Referring to the Alito filibuster, Jentleson said, “No layperson could possibly consider this to be on the same planet as what Republicans are doing to Garland.”

Unearned air time

Ohio Gov. John Kasich may trail frontrunner Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz in delegates, but he told Todd that he doesn’t intend to end his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and make it a two-man race before the July convention.

“They should be thanking me for staying in,” said Kasich, who won his home state’s primary. “Because if Trump did win Ohio, it would be over.”

Kasich told Todd that grassroots Republicans are only now beginning to hear his message through the Trump-saturated press coverage.

“Now, they didn't get it because, frankly, you put me on the tube a lot, but Trump got, you know, $1.8 billion worth of free media,” Kasich said. “I got, like, none. OK?”

Sadly for Kasich, he’s only slightly exaggerating. The comparison rates Mostly True.

Kasich’s campaign confirmed to PunditFact that he was referring to analysis by mediaQuant, a Portland, Oregon-based media firm that in part tracks political coverage. The metrics were highlighted in a March 15 story by The New York Times that pointed out mediaQuant said Trump topped all presidential candidates with $1.898 billion worth of “earned media” coverage over the last 12 months.

Earned media is coverage that candidates don’t have to pay for, such as newspaper and magazine stories, social media posts, and TV broadcasts. That’s different from paid media, which are mostly those campaign ads that blanket markets in an attempt to sway voters, and cost campaigns or super PACS or special interest groups.

MediaQuant tracks these mentions and then assigns a dollar value to them depending on the outlet and the quality of the coverage. That includes weighing whether coverage was positive, negative, or neutral. Trump scored about 79 percent positive coverage, which is a big difference from, say, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 40 percent positive coverage.

When it comes to Trump, even bad press seems to be good press.

“Negative coverage can keep a candidate from expanding his or her coalition, but it rarely affects the core backers—especially when the support is intense, as it is for Trump,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The company didn’t respond to PunditFact by our deadline, but mediaQuant chief analytics officer Paul Senatori told The New York Times that Trump “has no weakness in any of the media segments.” We checked mediaQuant’s figures for ourselves and found the billionaire does lead other candidates on every measured type of coverage, including more than $436 million worth of coverage in February alone.

Kasich has not suffered from no coverage, but it’s close to nothing by comparison. In the same measurements, mediaQuant said Kasich has received about $37.7 million in coverage over the last year. As the GOP field has winnowed, he’s moved up from 14th on mediaQuant’s coverage rankings in January to eighth in February. (On the Democratic side, mediaQuant said Hillary Clinton has gotten $746 million in earned media, while challenger Bernie Sanders got $321 million.)

These figures contrast heavily to the paid coverage both Trump and Kasich have bought. The two candidates have spent $10 million and $14 million, respectively, over roughly the same time frame, the Times noted.

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