JONATHAN COHN OCTOBER 14, 2011
Another day, another mild-mannered journalist is having a tizzy. As well he should.
The journalist is James Fallows of the Atlantic. Look up the word "fair" in the dictionary and you'll find his picture there. The author of countless, award-winning books and articles, he's long had a particular interest in the media -- and its tendency to fall into lazy reporting that misrepresents political reality.
Lately that has drawn his attention to reporting about Congress and, in particular, the U.S. Senate. And this week he can barely contain himself over coverage of the vote on President Obama's job bill.
A majority of senators voted to end debate on the proposal, so that it could come to a vote, and it's likely a majority (or at least 50, with Vice President breaking the tie) would vote to pass the bill with a little more tweaking and/or lobbying. But nobody is tweaking and nobody is lobbying because the entire Republican caucus, joined by two Democrats, have filibustered it. In other words, they are blocking the bill from coming to a vote.
As you can see above in the chart from Ezra Klein, which Fallows cites, use of the filibuster has become standard operating procedure in this Congress, so that it now takes 60 votes to conduct even routine business. It is not at all what the country's founders intended when they set up the constitutions' system of checks and balances -- and it's the single biggest reason Obama and the Democrats haven't gotten more done in the last three years.
But you'd never know it from the media. As an example, Fallows highlights the headline from Thursday's Washington Post, "Senate Has Become a Chamber of Failure," and then this passage (words bolded by Fallows):
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.
To which Fallows responds:
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.