Double Huh: NYT Headline Says GOP's Cali Win Means 'Fall Problems' for Party

Republican Brian Bilbray won the special election in California's 50th Congressional District to replace Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, beating Democrat Francine Busby by four points. Yet just as he did in yesterday’s online filing, chief political reporter Adam Nagourney’s off-lead story on Thursday’s front page hails the result as a victory…for the Democrats.

“Narrow Victory by G.O.P. Signals Fall Problems” begins:

“The victory that Republicans squeezed out in a high-profile race to fill a Congressional vacancy here eased party anxieties Wednesday but signaled future difficulties as they confront tougher Democratic challenges in increasingly contested districts this fall.”

Nagourney again emphasized the moral victory aspect of Busby’s loss.

“Mr. Bilbray's failure to break 50 percent was striking. The Republican Party had poured workers and millions of dollars into avoiding defeat in a district where Republicans have a sizable registration advantage and where President Bush won by 10 percentage points in 2004.”

 Get a load of this subhead to Nagourney’s front-page story: “Republican Short of 50% Despite a Big Effort -- Democrats Stymied.”

 Of course, Bill Clinton never broke 50% in the popular vote, but that didn’t stop the media declaring he had a mandate.

With a day to reflect, Nagourney at least puts some context in to the hard-copy version of his story:

“But if the outcome was worrisome to Republicans as they battle to hold control of the House, it was also a clear disappointment for Democrats. Despite a favorable set of local circumstances -- Mr. Cunningham's guilty plea, a rift among Republicans over how to handle illegal immigration and a divided field -- Ms. Busby failed to give her party the lift it was looking for in what had been the most watched race of the year.”

“Although she did better than when she ran in 2004 -- and in a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by 44 percent to 29 percent -- her percentage of the vote was about the same as Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts received in the district in the presidential race two years ago.”

In other words, in a two-person race, it’s conceivable that Bilbray could have nearly matched Bush’s 10-point win over Kerry in 2004. Busby’s 45% is just one point more than Kerry’s share of the vote in 2004. If these count as headline-making “problems” for the G.O.P, the party is probably willing to accept them.

The Times finally mentions (without actually using Busby’s devastating quote):

“Analysts said Mr. Bilbray was also helped by a tough anti-immigrant message that resonated here on the Mexican border, all the more so after Ms. Busby was quoted in the final hours of the race as apparently countenancing the support of her campaign by illegal immigrants.”

What Busby told a group of mostly Hispanic senior citizens the week before the election was a bit more stark than Nagourney's summary: “You don't need papers for voting.”

Nagourney does eventually let the GOP have a say:

“Republicans called the outcome a much-needed success during a difficult stretch. They noted that Mr. Bilbray won despite Democratic efforts to make corruption a central issue and also a sour environment for Mr. Bush, Congress and Republicans.”

For more examples of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.