June 9, 2007

A Failure of Journalism (Or: Who is Sen. Volatile?) [Karl]

The Politico reports that some Senators are trying to bring back the immigration bill that stalled in the Senate this week.  While I had not planned to post anything on the immigration debate, the New York Times editorial thereon raises some broader issues that make it worth a fisk.

In “A Failure of Leadership,” the Editorial Board charges the foes of the immigration bill with “thwarting bipartisanship”:

Republican amendments, designed to shred the compromise, happened.

Jeff Sessions wanted to deprive legalized immigrants — yes, legal residents — of the earned income tax credit, a path out of poverty for millions.

John Cornyn wanted to strip confidentiality protections for immigrants who apply for legal status, making them too frightened to leave the shadows.

Jim DeMint just wanted to kill the bill, so he voted for a volatile amendment whose substance he disagreed with. “If it hurts the bill, I’m for it,” he said.

Leadership was desperately needed to stop Republicans from dragging the bill off one of its pillars — the one that would put 12 million people on a path to legal status. It didn’t show up. Republicans who should have been holding their party and the deal together — President Bush, minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John Kyl — failed utterly.

The reality is (to use a a pet phrase of NYC’s former Mayor) something quite different.

The Sessions and Cornyn amendments did not kill the immigration bill.  According to the New York Times, the bill was moving right along last Wednesday.  Indeed, according to no less an authority than the New York Times, the Sessions and Cornyn amendments were bumps on the path to citizenship at best:

Outgunned on the floor against some of the most skilled legislators of both parties, the opponents have suffered a steady string of defeats in trying to reshape the bill, most recently on Wednesday as the bipartisan coalition behind the measure beat back a series of conservative amendments. Late in the evening, Mr. Sessions finally won a victory with approval of his proposal to limit income tax benefits for illegal immigrants who qualify for residency, and Mr. Cornyn scored a victory as well. But even as they lose most of the bigger fights, the opponents say they are exposing fundamental problems with the measure and building a broader case against it.

And the NYT was not the only paper that reported the story this way.  For example, the Chicago Tribune reported:

The Senate did approve amendments Wednesday to prevent immigrants from claiming earned income tax credits until they have obtained green cards, and to permit law-enforcement agencies to access the application materials of immigrants who are denied Z visa status, which would put the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. on the path to citizenship. The Z visa would be a new class of four-year visas that immigrants already in the country would have to purchase.


But amendments feared as “killer” proposals were narrowly rejected as senators opted for less dramatic substitutes.

Thus, it was that third “volatile” amendment that stalled the bill.  Unfortunately for the NYT, there is no Sen. Volatile—at least not literally.

There is however, a Sen. Byron Dorgan—a Democrat from North Dakota —who offered the “killer” amendment.  As reported by the Associated Press:

Proponents in both parties were trying to find a way of reversing a blow their compromise sustained when the Senate voted to phase out the bill’s temporary worker program after five years.

The 49-48 vote just after midnighWednesday on making the temporary worker program itself temporary came two weeks after the Senate, also by a one-vote margin, rejected an earlier attempt by Sen. Byron Dorgan to end the program after five years. The North Dakota Democrat says immigrants take many jobs Americans could fill.

The Bush administration, along with business interests and their congressional allies, were already angry that the temporary worker program had been cut in half from its original 400,000-person-a-year target.

A five-year sunset, they said, could knock the legs from the precarious bipartisan coalition. The change “is a tremendous problem, but it’s correctable,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Until the Dorgan vote was tallied, Specter and other architects of the compromise had succeeded in maneuvering through a minefield of major challenges.

So it was not a Republican amendment that “shredded” the immigration bill; it was a Democratic amendment.  In fact, the roll call vote shows that Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NE), Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senate Pres. Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-WV) voted for the Dorgan amendment.  So the NYT’s claim that there was a failure of leadership here omits the entire majority leadership—who just happen to be Democrats.  And it ignores that 37 of the 49 votes for the Dorgan amendment were Democrats, 38 including Socialist Bernie Sanders.

Instead, the paper points a finger at Pres. Bush, even though (as the AP reports) Sen. Trent Lott—the assistant leader for the GOP and supporter of the bill who voted against the Dorgan amendment—was quoted as saying he hoped the president would keep his mouth shut, because his prior comments supporting the bill so offended its opponents.

The NYT’s view through the looking-glass coverage extended to it’s ostensibly straight news stories as well.  In “Kennedy Plea Was Last Gasp for Immigration Bill,” the paper reports the following:

Although they rarely publicly voiced their opposition, the muscle of organized labor worked vigorously behind the scenes to defeat the measure. A key concern was the guest worker program.

Although dozens of amendments from senators were never called, Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, had three chances to offer amendments to eliminate or set an end date on guest workers, because the leadership wanted to balance the scales after the Republicans had won major changes.

The proposal to end the guest worker program after five years passed just after midnight on Thursday morning.


The outcome left many lawmakers frustrated. Mr. Kyl noted that senators mingled on the floor for more than an hour after the decision, “because there seemed to be a sense that it couldn’t end with that vote.”

The NYT buried these revelations at the very end of its two-page story.  As I have noted before:

One thing taught in Journalism 101 is the “inverted pyramid” style of copywriting—which tells reporters to put the important info in the first paragraph and work down to the least important info at the end.  It’s a legacy of newspapers.  It makes stories easier to edit for space, or to “jump” to a later page.

The inference to be drawn is that the NYT did not think it very important that its readers know that: labor unions were devoted to killing the bill behind the scenes; the Dorgan amendment was given preferential treatment by the Democrats running the Senate; and this was what stalled the bill.  After all, had the NYT made these facts the lede of the story, anyone reading it would quickly recognize how misleading the paper’s editorial is.

Of course, this is not the first time that the NYT has juggled its coverage to keep as many of them in the dark as possible, nor is it the worst example

But this example is worse than it might seem at first blush.  In its zeal to push Sen. Reid’s spin that the bill stalling is the fault of Pres. Bush and the GOP (even as Reid voted for the “killer” amendment), the paper claims the three amendments were “thwarting bipartisanship.” Yet, as can be seen, there was bipartisan support for the Dorgan amendment.  For that matter the votes on the Sessions and Cornyn amendments were bipartisan, with each attracting about a dozen Democrats.

So the “bipartisanship” the NYT extols here was the bipartisanship of a small number of Senators who came up with the supposed “grand bargain” in a backroom deal somewhere.  The “thwarting” the NYT condemns was a bipartisan reaction to that backroom deal in public, on the floor of the Senate, according to its rules and the Constitution.

Thus, it would seem that the Editorial Board of the New York Times has about as much respect for our Constitutional political process as it does for its readers.

Posted by Karl @ 12:59am

Comments (23)

  1. Ace has similar thoughts about the NYT here.

    It’s like they’re not even trying to hide the bias anymore.

  2. Or shorter, more concise…

    “Conservatives are SO racist.  And isn’t Jeff Sessions from Alabama.  They still don’t let black folks go to school with white folks in Alabama, from what I hear…”

  3. Republican amendments, designed to shred the compromise, happened.

    Republican amendments happen.

    Leadership was desperately needed to stop Republicans from dragging the bill off one of its pillars — the one that would put 12 million people on a path to legal status. It didn’t show up.

    Leadership doesn’t materialize.

    Crap writing occurs.

  4. Karl;

    Excellent as usual. I always look forward to your posts (OK, OK, you too, Dan, stop snivling!)

    It’s clear to me that the immigration kerfuffle has become a special interests potpourri of vision. What other issue could illicit opinions from the NYT and the WSJ supporting the same bill for entirely different reasons?

    While some pander to the potentially huge voter base, others wink/nudge organised labor while still others scream human rights and civil liberties (the line in the NYT opinion about illegals “risking death” is especially over-the-top) the majority of the American people have a crisp focus. We would like to see real border security and effective, aggressive detainment and deportation of those with criminal backgrounds. The problem is that few believe this bill or, quite frankly, this Congress has any credibility or determination with regards to enforcement and security.

    I would love to see a bill that addresses these concerns in a way that allows me to believe in its ultimate effectiveness. The NYT can bloviate all it wants on obstructionist Republicans but it’s clear that plenty of Democrats understand the sectioned nature of this issue.

    But, as with almost any issue today, the opportunity to drop an editorial MOAB on Republicans is simply business as usual for the gray, senile lady.

  5. Failure of leadership ? Isn’t Dirty Harry running the show nowadays?

    Of course, it is easier to rail against strawman positions, just like the WSJ demonstrated, than to actually discuss the merits.

  6. The NYT is just half a tick above the North Korean News Service anymore.  Absolutely nothing it prints can be trusted.

  7. Rasmussen points out that Senators were amazingly out of touch with their constituencies, a majority of which opposed the bill.  That is the real reason it failed.

    As for the NYT take, as Rush Limbaugh has pointed out, that is the template: it’s Bush’s bill and Reid wanted it to fail once it cleared the secret committee that cobbled it together.  “Bush couldn’t get it passed.  This presidency is finished.  We need a Democrat in the WH in 2008 to get thing done!”

    The problem is, a large majority of voting Americans wanted no bill at all.  They want law – as it is now – enforced first.  Secure the borders, then deal with illegals.  The NYT is out of touch with the majority of Americans intentionally, of course, since that elitist rag wants to set policy, not report facts. 

    As for other good outcomes: political free-speech hater John McCain, a major supporter of illegal immigration and amnesty, has now dropped to fourth in the extended race for 2008.

  8. Geezer

    The Senate knows something the general public does not.

    They know that the laws are screwed up and contradictory.

    They know that enforcement is uneven and biased.

    Well, the general public senses this, but the Senators know the specifics and the Senators know that a quick easy fix like: build a wall, crackdown on employers and kick all 12 million out is out of reach…. for reasons of law. (and reasons of economics)

    Americans are overwhelmingly for stopping illegal immigration.

    The are solidly in favor of sending 12 million illegals home if the question is phrased that way.

    But if the question asked includes automatic, precipitous deportation the illegal parents of US citizen minors, the answer changes…. and the law steps in. What rights do US citizen minors with illegal parents have under the Constitution?

    What legal obligations under the laws of the land do the Federal, State and Local governments have to these minors?

    Then the question is: Is it cheaper to just let the parents stay?

    I think that answer is yes. Yes if they have a job, if they are not a felon, if they have been paying taxes.

    Is this unfair to those in the rest of the world who wants to immigrate here?

    Yes, but life is unfair in that the overseas immigrants got screwed by fate and got born overseas and they need to travel by air or boat which tend to land in organized points of entry.

    Mexicans need less than $100 bus fare to the border, and money $1000-5000 for a coyote.

    Two gallons of water and some good sturdy well broken in shoes

    The coyote money is usually put up or at least handled by relatives who are already in the USA.

    So it isn’t fair… it is geography.

    On a side note, the illegals with the easiest time are any whites. I’ve seen lots of Aussies, English, Irish, Kiwis and eevn Ukranians work the visa system

  9. “a quick easy fix”

    Ha ha ha ha ha!

    Oh, that is a funny one! Thanks for the laugh.

    So – we should let the Mexicans just come on through because Mexico is right next door, their country’s screwed up, and they’re going to come anyway? Excellent argument.

    Remember, the NYT serves the “reality-based community” – which does not necessarily have anything to do with reality.

  10. kick all 12 million out is out of reach

    Why are you writing like a failed poet, like e.e. cummings?

    I did not say we should kick out all illegals.  I said we should secure the borders and then debate about a solution for the illegals.  It is doable.  Only those who want citizenship to become worthless want things otherwise.  American citizenship is worth something.  It should not be set up to be stolen by those who are sneaking into the country illegally.  My parents had to have sponsors when they came here in 1939.  They didn’t sneak in and start demanding things from legitimate citizens.  And they certainly didn’t preach sedition like La Raza does.


  11. The Senate knows something the general public does not.

    They know that the laws are screwed up and contradictory.

    They know that enforcement is uneven and biased.

    Well, the general public senses this, but the Senators know the specifics and the Senators know that a quick easy fix like: build a wall, crackdown on employers and kick all 12 million out is out of reach…. for reasons of law. (and reasons of economics)

    No, the general public knows that the laws are screwed up and not enforced.  Moreover, they know that, for example, employer sanctions are never enforced because businesses and special interest groups get Senators and Congressmen to keep INS (now ICE) from doing so. The fact that the US Gov’t will not even fully fund a partial fence is another example.  I’ll grant SteveG that economics is part of it (though much immigrant labor could be mechanized more cheaply over the medium-term), but there’s no law problem with building a fence or enforcing employer sanctions; it’s a matter of politics.

    As Jeff has written here, there were/are plenty of people who would go along with a “path to citizenship,” and even higher numbers for legal immigration, but for the fact that the US Gov’t has showed no interest in enforcing the current law, which leads to a lack of trust that it would enforce the proposed reforms.

    Moreover, the bit about kicking out the 12 million already here is largely a strawman.  Not even Tancredo pushes that; he argues that enforcement of employer sanctions, etc. would cause attrition over time.  And a lot of opponents of the bill are less hardcore about it than Tancredo.

    I think the political reality is that it’s going to be very tough to pass any reform until the US Gov’t earns the trust of the majority by doing things that reduce illegal immigration first.  I’m sure that’s why the Bush Admin. did some high-profile raids and such already.  But the public is not so dumb as to be fooled by transitory PR on this.  Build the fence—at least the partial fence already passed into law (though filling the tunnels would help, too).  Enforce employer sanctions.  Deport criminals.  Don’t just hire more Border agents; increase the number of arrests and returns at the border.  If the gov’t did those things, they would find much less opposition to passing a reform bill.

    None of which was really the point of the initial post.  Rather, it is that the depths to which the NYT (and others) are willing to sink to portray the immigration bill as a partisan issue, when it is so clearly not.  Indeed, one of the NYT stories pursued the fave NYT theme of “divided Republicans,” even though the issue also divided Democrats.  The real story here is that organized labor stopped the bill as business abandoned it, but the NYT buried that in its reportage and misrepresented it in its editorial, presumably because they don’t want to disrupt Democratic Party politics by noting the tension between Labor and Latino groups the bill creates.

  12. Great post!  I have links up to both the Minutmen and the Border Fence Project on my homepage.  Both organizations are actively building fences to protect the Southwest USA.  Minutemen have 11 miles up so far and BFP has 3.0 miles up.  Stop by and donate!


  13. I’m a bit frosted that the NYT, WSJ and SteveG think the real reason I oppose this bill is “cultural.”

    Um, no.

    My grandaprents were Portuguese immigrants who came legally to this country in the early 1900’s. Managing illegal immigration is all about the rule of law and political will, not cultural issues. Mainstream Latinos should be telling La Raza and Reconquista to STFU. The vast majority of Americans are not going to accept the shoulder shrug that is Steveg’s contention that border security and deporting criminal illegals is just a useless exercise, a “speed bump,” not when so many of our country’s enemies wish to exploit this weakness to do us great harm.

    Why should it be?

    The best place to start in providing incentives to legal immigration and assimilation is to make it so damn hard to enter that alternatives will look more cheerful. This would also make it less likely that entire gangs of criminals would seek to relocate to our greener pastures.

    It could be worse. We could establish a reciprocity standard with Mexico regarding immigration policy. Something to consider the next time the NYT or some other commentator shows up and whines about the “injustice” of being born next door to a wealthier country with more opportunity. I, for one, am sick and tired of assuming responsibility for Mexico’s economic stagnation and rampant corruption.

    Enforce the law, secure the borders, deport criminal illegals and then sit down and work up a plan for guesdt workers and the like, with a gradual plan for citizenship. Minimally disruptive, maximally effective.

  14. I have links up to both the Minutmen and the Border Fence Project on my homepage.  Both organizations are actively building fences to protect the Southwest USA.  Minutemen have 11 miles up so far and BFP has 3.0 miles up.

    From the Border Patrol Fence Project site:

    Proposal: To patch and extend U.S.-Mexico border fence along all 1952 miles of southern border, adding high-tech TV cameras, microphones, lighting, motion and other electronic sensors, with civilian labor, donations, and maintenance teams, for less than $5 per foot…

    Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever contracted out a chain link fence in your backyard or whatever, but that seems a bit on the low side to me, especially since elsewhere on the site they explain the remote TV cameras are going to cost at least $6K/mile.  Don’t really know the going rate for the motion and seismic detectors they are also planning on, but I suspect maintenance costs would push the $5/foot number.

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