Failure to Report

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Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman

Yes, Scott Peterson is going to meet his maker and Robert Blake is going to party hardy, and the president continues to lose more ground in his quest to destroy Social Security every time he speaks on behalf of his own program, but any number of stories of import continue to slip through the cracks of a media that have ceased to take their public educational role seriously. One such story can be found, rather surprisingly one must admit, in the release of a fascinating and insightful new report by the House Rules Committee minority entitled, "Broken Promises: The Death of Deliberative Democracy."

Released on March 8th to almost no public fanfare whatever, the report pulls no punches in reciting the litany of institutional abuses perpetrated by Republicans during the 108th Congress. Despite the potential for some juicy storylines to be found in the various abuses it outlines, the report has been roundly ignored by the So Called Liberal Media (SCLM). In many ways, the report picks up on – and greatly expands – an excellent series of articles published by the Boston Globe last year, which dealt with Congressional Republicans' overreach at all levels of government. The Globe reporters observed that "longtime Congress-watchers say they have never seen the legislative process so closed to input from minority-party members, the public, and lobbyists whose agenda is unsympathetic to GOP leadership goals."

"Broken Promises" offers up specific after specific to support the Globe's contention. Over and over, the Republican majority has bent or broken rules in order to shut the Democratic minority out of the decision-making process. Sadly, most of the mainstream media (MSM) have found little time to cover these historic shifts in the workings of government.

The Washington Post's Mike Allen has thus far emerged virtually alone among reporters to touch on the report's findings; his lone story ran last Tuesday, buried on page A13. Reading his piece, and a Reuters story filed the same day, one might get the impression that the report is little more than another round of partisan sniping. Would that this were true. The standard response found in the Post and Reuters reports provided yet another example of the tendency of the media false equivalence: to claim that the wholesale changes the Republicans are making are similar to what the Democrats did when they held power.

But as The American Prospect's Sam Rosenfeld notes, this attempt to create a sense of false equivalence does not bear a moment's scrutiny.

"Let's recall just a few things that the Democrats did not do, even during the tenure of their most aggressive and partisan modern speaker, Jim Wright. They did not sic the Capitol police on a group of the minority members attempting to confer in an empty room, as the Republican Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas did in 2003. They did not exclude non-pliant Republicans from negotiations on conference reports, as Republicans now do to them as a matter of course. Their leadership did not make it an explicit rule never to put bills to a vote that lack support from 'a majority of the majority' – that is, a majority of the members of the party in control – as Speaker Dennis Hastert has done. In 1987, Wright kept the floor vote on a budget-reconciliation bill open for 10 minutes after the customary 15 minutes had elapsed so he could coax a Democrat to flip his vote; enraged Republicans clung to that gambit as the crowning example of Democratic tyranny for years afterward. Such abuses of the clock are now routine under Republican rule; during the 2003 vote on the Medicare prescription-drug bill, the leadership kept the voting open for more than three hours."

In their more pensive moments, Republicans – at least when speaking anonymously – cannot help but concur. Earlier this year, the Washington Post quoted a Republican leadership aide as saying, "It took Democrats 40 years to get as arrogant as we have become in 10." While there are plenty of battles currently being fought over Social Security privatization, the budget and the president's judicial nominations, the fight over granting the minority party a voice touches them all. Indeed, it lies at the heart of all of these battles. Too bad, therefore, that virtually all of the media have deemed it unworthy of mention – much less investigation.

Eric Alterman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of six books, most recently, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences.

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Eric Alterman

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