Can we have a little talk about sexism?

Let's be honest here.

Sometimes presidents pick women, or minorities, because they can't continually nominate white males. That doesn't mean those chosen aren't superbly qualified, but it does mean that another factor was taken into consideration. You can call that affirmative action, or you can call it common-sense diversity, but no president today could get away with an all-male Cabinet, or a Supreme Court that would be chronicled in a book called "The Brethren."

Recent reports indicate that George W. Bush was looking for a woman for his second nominee to the high court. Fine. He had a lot more choices available than when Ronald Reagan picked Sandra Day O'Connor, in an era when there weren't that many women as appellate judges or senior law partners.

Now, with the president arguing that Harriet Miers is the single most qualified person in the United States to sit on the Supreme Court, Ed Gillespie, Laura Bush and others are saying her critics may be sexist.

Translation: I can consider gender factors in making my choice, but anyone who raises questions about whether this non-judge is qualified to sit on the nation's highest bench is doing so because she's a woman.

Does that smack of a double standard? Would conservative pundits really be praising a man with the same lack of judicial experience or intellectual writing?

In fact, I would argue that resorting to the old you're-attacking-her-because-she's-a-woman argument is itself a bit sexist, because you're asking potential critics to hold Miers to a different standard because she is a woman. (And don't believe politicians don't think about this. Some Republicans were salivating at the prospect that the Democrats might have to oppose Janice Rogers Brown, a black woman, and tick off two constituencies.)

There is one point where I would grant that gender may be a factor in the Miers coverage. That's in the snickering over the starry-eyed devotion that an unmarried woman gave to Bush, pronouncing him "great" and "cool" and all of that. This plays into a certain stereotype, since it's hard to imagine a man building his life around a male boss.

Otherwise, the profiles noting that Miers even ordered the rewriting of the White House Christmas card really don't turn on gender. They reflect that she has no other paper trail.

The whole approach, as my Post colleague Ruth Marcus | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/12/AR2005101201565.html puts it, reinforces the suspicion that there is an inevitable trade-off between quality and diversity. . . . The Miers nomination feels less like the natural result of women's progress and more like bean-counting tokenism:

By the way, the Smoking Gun | http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/1012055miers1.html has many of Miers's mash notes to Bush and other correspondence.

Slate's John Dickerson | http://slate.msn.com/id/2127923/nav/tap2/ tackles the gender issue from a slightly different angle:

"Dr. James Dobson, who got a special early briefing from Karl Rove on the pick, has confirmed what we already knew: The White House limited the field of potential choices to women. In ordinary English, that is called a quota.

"This admission of truth, which Bush's father never made about Clarence Thomas, makes it hard for the president to rebut criticism that Miers is not the most qualified person for the job. We know for a fact that half of humanity -- and a good deal more than half of the federal bench -- was deemed ineligible to be chosen at the outset. I thought conservatives like the president believed that women could withstand open competition? Instead, Bush has subjected Miers to what he calls the soft bigotry of low expectations.

"Isn't the pounding Miers is taking proof that her accusers are treating her like one of the boys? Questioning her scant record isn't code for worries about her toughness or brainpower. Arguing that she's a crony isn't the same as saying she should have taken up a more traditionally feminine career or distinguished herself as a wife and mother. Wondering whether she's really the best nonjudge lawyer in the land isn't a dodge at all, given how little looking the White House seems to have done for any such alternative of any gender."

Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com makes a related point about religion:

"If we are to construe that part of the rationale for the Miers nomination is her religious faith, then the nomination does indeed appear to be unconstitutional. An added irony is that the woman she would replace would be among the most opposed to such a test."

David Brooks has looked at Miers's writing as head of the Texas bar and seems stunned that "the quality of thought and writing doesn't even rise to the level of pedestrian." Examples:

"More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems."

"We must end collective acceptance of inappropriate conduct and increase education in professionalism."

"When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved."

Zzzzzz.

But the L.A. Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-bar14oct14,0,6929851.story?coll=la-home-headlines finds what it calls a "glint of liberalism":

"Miers fought them by choosing a path that could safely be described as politically moderate and, at times, liberal -- by Texas standards anyway. "She called for increased funding for legal services for the poor and suggested that taxes might have to be raised to achieve the notion of 'justice for all.'

"She praised the benefits of diversity, called for measures that would send more minority students to law schools, and said that just because a woman was the head of the state bar did not mean that 'all unfair barriers for women have been eradicated.' She was upset that although poverty was rising in Texas, impoverished families received a disproportionately small share of welfare and Medicaid benefits."

Now Karl Rove is lobbying Hugh Hewitt | http://hughhewitt.com/archives/2005/10/09-week/index.php#a000357 on Miers.

Not all conservatives, needless to say, are opposing Miers. Fred Barnes | http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2005/10/12/spec_mlr.html sounds disappointed in some of his ideological allies:

"The president has insisted that in naming Miers, his White House counsel, he's picked a judicial conservative, though one without a track record on constitutional issues.

"How should Bush's followers have responded? I don't think they have an obligation to give the president the benefit of the doubt. But, given his impressive record of naming judicial conservatives to the appeals courts and John Roberts to be chief justice of the Supreme Court, they owe Bush and Miers a reasonable chance to make a case for her as a judicial conservative, or a constitutionalist. The opportunity for that will come when she testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee in a few weeks. However, many Bush supporters and allies, particularly a large number of prominent conservatives, have not waited for her testimony.

"They're free, I believe, to complain that it would have better for Bush to have chosen a nominee--Judge Michael Luttig of the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals, for instance--whose past performance strongly indicates that person would be a reliable judicial conservative on the Supreme Court. (In truth, Luttig would have been my choice.) And Bush's followers are free to object to the White House's lame effort to stir up support by revealing that Miers is pro-life and an evangelical Christian. . . .

"My conclusion is: Bush supporters who were angry over Miers should have waited."

Too late now.

Marty Kaplan | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marty-kaplan/sweet-schadenfreude_b_8743.html of the USC Annenberg School for Communication finds "delicious" the spectacle of Republicans in trouble, and smites the press:

"Frist, Delay, Blunt, Ney and the rest of Jack Abramoff's butt-boys could actually be in their last throes, and we're not talking Cheney-like wishful thinking here.

"It's really possible that right now, before our eyes, unfolding in slow motion, is a sordid, jaw-dropping story that connects everything from Bolton to Dobson, GannonGuckert to HannityO'Reilly, Florida in 2000 to Ohio in 2004, Enron to Halliburton, lies about the Texas Air National Guard to lies about WMDs.

"Twenty minutes ago, to hear the media tell it, Rove & Co were geniuses, presiding over a generational shift to the right. Now, they're lawyering themselves to the gills, and beltway speculation centers on whether the GOP could lose both the House and the Senate in 2006. Yesterday, you had to be some tinfoil hat-wearing Michael Moore type to connect the dots; tomorrow, conceivably, exposing the grand conspiracy will be a recipe for a Pulitzer.

"Much as the mainstream media pretend to be disinterested, or even skeptical, the narrative they've spun until now has been fawning. They love power, and they love to be loved by the powerful. But Valerie, Terri, Cindy, Katrina and Harriet have finally forced the chattering class to unstrap its kneepads and radically rewrite the story."

Unstrap its kneepads? I know Marty's an old Mondale Democrat, but that seems way over the top.

The Judy Miller mystery continues to consume the news biz, and NYU prof and blogger Jay Rosen | http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2005/10/12/spec_mlr.html--while emphasizing that he's speculating--has some thoughts worth quoting at length:

"At this point Judith Miller is a deeply unpopular figure in the [NYT] newsroom, even with the sacrifice of her freedom for 85 days, an act which most Times-people identified with and respected at first. It is painful to learn that their instinct to side with Miller when she was jailed and defiant -- a form of loyalty -- may blow up in their faces. They wonder how the Times got itself into a situation where Judy Miller and her attorneys seem to be calling the shots for the newspaper-at-large.

"Judith Miller is a Washington journalist for the Times, but she isn't really under the control of the Times Washington bureau -- or a 'member.' The bureau ('We've been left out of this story') feels isolated; it has been ignored and de-fanged by the confounding logic of this case. Anything new it might dig up could complicate Judy Miller's trials, or undermine the positions (and prior statements) of the people in charge of the newspaper.

"What the reporters in the DC bureau cannot do is report on the Judy Miller story without fear or favor. It's killing them. But what recourse do they have . . . complain to the publisher? He bet the First Amendment house on Judy Miller...

"Officially, everything has to wait until the moment when Judy 'can be expected to tell what happened,' as [Deputy Managing Editor Jon] Landman so carefully put it. When it comes and she still refuses the hierarchy will turn a whiter shade of pale. Key people will then know their investment in Miller went terribly wrong. That is when telling the truth to readers will be the only option. . . .

"Thus the team of Jonathan Landman, Don Van Natta, Adam Liptak and Janny Scott will have to tell Miller's story without Miller's help -- and in a sense 'against' her. No one had planned for this, and it is part of the reason for the sputtering and the delay. Especially as her story crumbles, Miller has no interest in helping the Times reporters investigate her...

"Jeralyn Merritt | http://talkleft.com/new_archives/012685.html refined one scenario: 'when Fitzgerald's investigation is over, and it becomes clear that Judith Miller didn't go to jail because she is Saint Judy, protecting the First Amendment rights of journalists everywhere, but to protect her own career and sources, so no one would learn just how embedded she is with the Bush Administration.'

"And if something like that happened, it's going to mean the Times was far too 'embedded' with the administration."

Times ombudsman Byron Calame | http://forums.nytimes.com/top/opinion/readersopinions/forums/thepubliceditor/publiceditorswebjournal/index.html has finally signaled his impatience with the paper:

"The lifting of the contempt order against Judith Miller of The New York Times in connection with the Valerie Wilson leak investigation leaves no reason for the paper to avoid providing a full explanation of the situation. Now. As public editor, I have been asking some basic questions of the key players at The Times since July 12. But they declined to fully respond to my fundamental questions because, they said, of the legal entanglements of Ms. Miller and the paper. With Ms. Miller in jail and the legal situation unclear, I felt it would be unfair to publicly castigate them for their caution.

"At the same time, I decided my lack of information made it impossible to fairly evaluate for readers Ms. Miller's refusal to identify confidential sources and how The Times was handling the matter . . .

"Now I look forward to assessing the full explanation that Bill Keller, the executive editor, has promised the paper will deliver to readers. . . . I certainly will expect The Times's explanation to address these fundamental questions that I first posed to the key players at the paper in July:

" -- Was Ms. Miller's contact with the source she is protecting initiated and conducted in genuine pursuit of a news article for Times readers?

" -- Why didn't she write an article?

" -- What kinds of notes are there and who has them?

" -- Why wasn't she exploring a voluntary waiver from the source?"

All excellent questions.

Is the right melting down? Newswek's Howard Fineman | http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9651882/, is in end-of-an-era mode:

"President George W. Bush may have no military exit strategy for Iraq, but the 'neocons' who convinced him to go to war there have developed one of their own -- a political one: Blame the Administration.

"Their neo-Wilsonian theory is correct, they insist, but the execution was botched by a Bush team that has turned out to be incompetent, crony-filled, corrupt, unimaginative and weak over a wide range of issues.

"The flight of the neocons -- just read a recent Weekly Standard to see what I am talking about -- is one of only many indications that the long-predicted 'conservative crackup' is at hand.

"The 'movement' -- that began 50 years ago with the founding of Bill Buckley's National Review; that had its coming of age in the Reagan Years; that reached its zenith with Bush's victory in 2000 -- is falling apart at the seams."

Vaughn Ververs | http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2005/10/10/publiceye/entry931681.shtml must shock easily, but here's a candid post:

"I can honestly tell you I was shocked to see a story on CBSNews.com headlined, 'McCain Eyes '08 White House Run.' Shocked not from the revelation but from the fact someone actually thought it to be 'news.' I don't blame the Web site and I don't blame the New York Daily News scribe who originally reported it or the AP writer who picked it up. I blame an overall media culture steeped in hype and a paint-by-the-numbers approach to political coverage.

"This just in: John McCain is considering a presidential bid -- in other news, smoking still considered bad for your health. I seriously doubt there are many people who even remotely pay attention to politics who couldn't have reported that tidbit. Next someone's going to tell me that Hillary Clinton might run for the White House too! LOL, you can't make this stuff up!

"Unfortunately, it's not all that funny after awhile. Take the two pieces of 'news' in the story -- a) McCain is 'seriously' thinking about running for president and, b) he isn't interested in being anybody's vice presidential nomination. Um, OK, what exactly is news there? He's said for months that he's thinking about running for president and will wait until after the 2006 elections to decided (at least publicly). Maybe it was the humorous way he addressed the VP question, saying, 'I spent all those years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, kept in the dark, fed scraps, why the hell would I want to do that all over again?' Maybe that was worth running the story? But alas, it's a line he's used for a long time, dating back at least to the last presidential election. Here's what he said on NBC's 'Late Night' in May of 2004 when he was being discussed as a possible running mate for John Kerry . . .

"Are we really going to have to sit through two more years of constant repetition? McCain is 'considering,' Clinton is 'planning,' Allen is 'preparing,' Biden is 'exploring.' By the time I've read those headlines for the thirtieth time, it's going to make even a political junkie like me tune out."

Finally, one of the haunting religious questions of our time, as posed by Media Bistro's Fishbowl NY | http://mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/:

"Does 'no work on Yom Kippur' include blogging?

"A learned Talmudic scholar says yes, but carves out an exception if that is the only way to keep from eating."

Personal News: Some of you--all right, a few of you--have been asking in online chats and e-mails about what's happening with my show, which has been bouncing around the CNN schedule. Beginning Sunday, "Reliable Sources" expands to one hour and moves to 10 a.m. eastern, which will give us more time to probe the inner recesses of the media, or at least yak a lot more.