The New York Times marked the death early Monday morning of veteran Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who served a record 51 years in the U.S. Senate, with an online obituary by former Times reporter Adam Clymer. While acknowledging Byrd's Klan past and his pork-barrel prodigiousness, Clymer's lead also emphasized Byrd's proud fight as the keeper of Congressional prerogatives. The obituary headline was hagiographic: "Robert Byrd, Respected Voice of the Senate, Dies at 92."
While Clymer's opening statement on Byrd wasn't exactly laudatory, it did not match the paper's hostile treatment of the passing of two veteran Republican senators accused of racial prejudice: Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Clymer's lead paragraph:
Robert C. Byrd, who used his record tenure as a United States senator to fight for the primacy of the legislative branch of government and to build a modern West Virginia with vast amounts of federal money, died at about 3 a.m. Monday, his office said. He was 92.The bulk of Clymer's obituary for Byrd may have been written some time ago, as is customary. Clymer retired from the Times in 2003, after a career of bashing President Bush and prominent conservatives, while defending old-guard Democrats like Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Clymer acknowledged what he called Byrd's changing perspective, moving from conservative to liberal over the years, and in the 16th paragraph brought up Byrd's membership in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s and his filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The AP correspondent led his article, titled “Kennedy’s Catholicism source of comfort, conflict,” with some glowing language, but at least portrayed how the deceased senator was not always a faithful believer: “Sen. Edward Kennedy was raised from birth to cherish his Catholicism, and it became both a source of comfort and conflict throughout his life. The son of the country’s most famous Catholic family defied church teachings when he divorced his first wife, then was granted an annulment only after he admitted he wasn’t being honest when he promised her he’d be faithful. His most significant and public break with the church came with his support for abortion rights.”
Lindsay followed this summary about the Democrats’s “significant and public break” with Church teaching by countering that “Kennedy also advocated for signature Catholic causes, such as help for the poor, health care and immigration reform, and opposition to the Iraq war.” While the Church does do significant work on those three issues, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI voiced their opposition to the Iraq war, they do not raise to the same moral importance as abortion and the sanctity of marriage, contrary to what many Catholic dissenters might say.