The etiology of bias

I'm kind of ashamed to admit how my intellectually sloppy reading left me vulnerable to the affects of intellectually sloppy writing, but sometimes the truth hurts.

A few days ago I read this article about Sonia Sotomayor in The New Republic. I really like The New Republic, and have found the news analysis and commentary there to be generally reliable, insightful and reasonably consonant with mine. These factors probably contributed to my failing to pay more attention to the article's flaws.

Of particular concern was this part:
But despite the praise from some of her former clerks, and warm words from some of her Second Circuit colleagues, there are also many reservations about Sotomayor. Over the past few weeks, I've been talking to a range of people who have worked with her, nearly all of them former law clerks for other judges on the Second Circuit or former federal prosecutors in New York. Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court. Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.
The author, Jeffrey Rosen, then goes on to anonymously quote various sources who question the intellectual quality of Sotomayor's writing.

Another problem was this:
I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor's detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.
The reason that I'm bothering to write about this (instead of holding forth endlessly about gay marriage, as has been my wont of late) is that I read the article without much scrutiny, and from it formed the opinion that Sotomayor was probably not that great a candidate for the Supreme Court. I saw "I've been talking to a range of people who have worked with her" and barely noticed "nearly all of them former law clerks for other judges." My own (admittedly moot) opinion of a woman I had previously heard nothing of was created entirely from reading the one article.

The trouble is that Rosen's piece was promptly and thoroughly criticized for being sloppy and unfair. In particular, he got a lot of (deserved) criticism for relying on anonymous quotes from people who hadn't clerked with Sotomayor herself. This hasn't stopped the meme from Rosen's piece percolating into the conventional wisdom and popular culture. From TPM:
But the coup de grĂ¢ce may have come last night when Sotomayor bashing traveled outside the beltway, and on to the Late Show, where David Letterman portrayed Sotomayor as a Spanish-speaking version of Judge Judy.
Obviously, I expect The New Republic to do better. But I also really should have done better myself. Nobody will be asking my advice about who Obama should appoint to replace Souter. (My knowledge of the law comes exclusively from re-runs of "Law and Order," and considering how I feel about the veracity of medical dramas, is almost certainly a pile of crap.) But I like to consider myself an informed follower of our government's business, and I'm bothered at how quickly I made up my mind based upon a cursory reading of a single article.

In short -- bad Dan! No biscuit.

Update: Rosen responds to critics here.

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