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 Ã¢â‚¬â€ yes, legal residents Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If it hurts the bill, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m for it,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Leadership was desperately needed to stop Republicans from dragging the bill off one of its pillars Ã¢â‚¬â€ the one that would put 12 million people on a path to legal status. It didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t show up. Republicans who should have been holding their party and the deal together Ã¢â‚¬â€ President Bush, minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John Kyl Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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, Ã¢â‚¬Å“because there seemed to be a sense that it couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t end with that vote.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“inverted pyramidÃ¢â‚¬Â style of copywritingÃ¢â‚¬â€which tells reporters to put the important info in the first paragraph and work down to the least important info at the end. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a legacy of newspapers. It makes stories easier to edit for space, or to Ã¢â‚¬Å“jumpÃ¢â‚¬Â 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.