Chronicles of False Equivalence, Chapter 2,817

By James Fallows

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:
SenateFail.png


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.

breakingthefilibuster.jpg
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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/10/chronicles-of-false-equivalence-chapter-2-817/246667/