Filibusters and the “liberal media”

It has definitely been annoying me lately the way the Post and the Times increasingly underplay Republican obstructionism in the Senate, which is truly at unprecedented levels.  [Ezra Klein reproduces a chart that shows just how absurd and historically unprecedented the level of Republican filibusters is.  Rather than an accurate rendering such as, “Republicans blocked XX with a filibuster,” we instead get the misleading, “Democrats failed to achieve the 60 votes in the Senate needed for passage.”  I decided yesterday to do a little Lexis/Nexis search to see how often the Post and the Times have actually used the term “filibuster” in 2007, compared to how often it was used in the same period in 2005 (I wanted to compare the first year of a new Congress).  Since I didn't have time to blog about my results yesterday, I emailed them to Glenn Greenwald, who had just written a post on the matter much better and more thoroughly than I could ever do.  I'm pretty pleased to say, that I've now been attributed by name in one of my very favorite blogs.  And, of course, in Glenn's blog thousands of people can see the fruits of my research, rather than just the 30 or so here (though, I do desperately appreciate all of you reading this).  Anyway, here's Glenn's post with my contribution:

As Steve Benen detailed yesterday, a new study from the Campaign for America's Future found that Republicans have broken the single-term record for filibusters this year already, with more than a year to go in the session:

The 62nd cloture vote of the session is more than any single session of
Congress since at least 1973, the earliest year cloture votes are
available online from the Senate. Republicans are on pace to force 134
cloture votes to cut off a filibuster, according to the Campaign for
America's Future analysis, more than double the historical average of
the last 35 years…

As I've documented before,
the media — with the filibustering GOP in the minority — now
routinely refers to the “60 votes required to pass a bill in the
Senate,” as though that's the most normal and natural state of affairs
in the Senate, rather than what prevails only when a filibuster is
invoked. It's precisely because Beltway reporters slothfully refer to
the “60-votes required to pass,” rather than making clear that
Republicans are engaged in a filibuster to obstruct legislation, that
such a misleading picture has been created. Thus, they endlessly depict
these filibusters as noting more than a “failure on the part of
Democrats to obtain the 60 votes required to pass.”

Because of that, the public is largely unaware of just how
obstructionist the Republicans have been because most Beltway
journalists haven't reported it. And they haven't reported it because
the rule they follow most religiously is that they never will describe
the facts as they are if those facts reflect poorly on Republicans,
because to do that means that they are “unbalanced” and “biased” and
will be attacked as such. In Beltway journalism circles, misleading
though balanced accounts are always preferred to factually truthful,
“unbalanced” ones. Republicans always have a valid point, their version
is always reasonable and worthy of respect, even when false.

UPDATE: Steven Greene of North Carolina State University's Department of Political Science emails as follows:

A
quick and dirty Lexis/Nexis search reveals that in 2007 the Times had
83 stories with the term “filibuster” and the Post had 187. Over the
same period in 2005 (seemed like the first year of a Congressional
session was the fair comparison), the term “filibuster” appeared in 358
Times stories and 407 Post stories. The data therefore totally back you
up on this.

Those facts are, of course, just “the liberal version.”

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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