Chronicles of False Equivalence, Chapter 2,817

Yesterday I mentioned that a NYT headline proclaimed that the Obama Administration's jobs bill had "failed" in the Senate, even though more senators voted for the bill than against. What really happened, of course, was that Mitch McConnell's GOP minority threatened (of course) to filibuster to block consideration of the bill, and the Democrats (of course, with 53 Dem + Independent votes) could not amass a 60-vote supermajority to break the filibuster.

Today there was a more startling illustration of faux "even-handed" reporting. It was in the Washington Post, it was by two veteran reporters, and this was its headline both in print and online:

Here's the reality behind the (undoubted) Senate failure-to-function that the story concerns:

In the past four-plus years, since the Democrats took control of the Senate, Mitch McConnell's Republican minority has used -- and abused -- the filibuster to a degree unprecedented in modern history. You don't have to believe me. You can go to (ahem, the Washington Post's) Ezra Klein, who has hammered at this issue in the past two years. Here's one of his charts, covering the period from World War I until now. The blue line shows just some of the filibuster threats that McConnell's minority has used to block consideration of even routine legislation and appointments.

To make it clear: requiring 60 votes for everything is new, and it is overwhelmingly a Republican tactic.

Unfortunately you would get no hint of that from today's WaPo story. Every line in it was in keeping with the implication of the photo: partisanship and extremism "on both sides" was bogging the Senate down. I could quote any paragraph from it at random (and you can check for yourself), but here is a typical one:
The Senate's top two leaders [Reid and McConnell] have spent the past nine months trying to trick, trap, embarrass and out-maneuver each other. Each is hoping to force the other into a mistake that will burden him and his party with a greater share of the public blame.
On Tuesday, as usual, it was hard to tell whether anyone was winning.
No, it is not hard to tell. Since Scott Brown's victory over Martha Coakley and the end of the Democrats' 60-vote majority, Mitch McConnell has flat-out won, and (in my view) the prospects of doing even routine public business have lost, by making the requirement for 60 votes for anything seem normal rather than exceptional. And by eventually leading our major media to present this situation as an "everyone's to blame" unfortunate and inexplicable snafu, rather than an intended exercise of political power by one side.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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