Blame and How to Give It

That Senate Republicans used the filibuster to kill a Democratic stimulus bill isn’t a surprise – at this point, Republicans have all but announced their plan to keep the economy from significantly improving, and as a result, slash the tires on President Obama’s bid for re-election.

What comes as a surprise is the extent to which the press isn’t playing along. In the past, reporters would describe yesterday's event with “balanced” language that obscured Republican responsibility for the obstruction. For example, here’s how The New York Times described last week’s failed vote on the full American Jobs Act:

In a major setback for President Obama, the Senate on Tuesday blocked consideration of his $447 billion jobs bill, forcing the White House and Congressional Democrats to scramble to salvage parts of the plan, the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s push to revive a listless economy.

The legislation, announced with fanfare by the president at a joint session of Congress last month, fell short of the 60 needed to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate . [Emphasis mine]

A casual reader – someone who isn’t familiar with Senate rules – would have no idea that the 60-vote “requirement” was imposed by Republicans in an effort to block the bill from reaching the floor, much less receiving an up-or-down vote. Reading that, all they see is a Senate that can’t do its job, adding to the public’s growing disdain for Congress. For yesterday’s vote, however, The Times offered an accurate description of what happened to the Democratic plans for federal aid:

This is a simple, straightforward account of yesterday’s vote, and while it isn’t “balanced” – as it assigns blame to one side – it’s accurate and informs more than it obscures.

By contrast, the The Washington Post is still reluctant to place blame where it belongs. “Senate Blocks Money for Teachers, Firefighters”, is the headline for their story on the Republican vote to kill the bill. The Post presents the filibuster as part of the normal order of business, absolving Republicans of their responsibility for obstruction, and obscuring the truth from readers.