Some faulty memes get repeated so often they get burned in the media's collective memory as fact, even though they are myth. Perhaps the most notable example of that in 2009 was the myth that the New York 23rd congressional district had been solidly Republican since the Civil War until Doug Hoffman's third-party challenge of the liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava ensured a Democrat's victory in a special election. We've a lot of 2010 left to go, but perhaps history will record the greatest political myth of this year as Jim Bunning's "filibuster" that was anything but.
Hot Air's Ed Morrissey took on the media's Bunning filibuster meme yesterday, noting that even inside-the-Beltway publications like Roll Call tagged Bunning's objection to unanimous consent a filibuster even though it "should know better" (emphasis mine):
This is not a filibuster, which is a specific procedure in which Senators force debate to continue indefinitely as a means to block a final vote, denying “cloture” to the majority party. Alternatively, and now somewhat archaically, it also describes an effort by one Senator to just continue talking to stall action. Bunning is using another mechanism altogether, one that won’t block a final vote, although it will delay it:
The deficit for last year was 1.4 trillion dollars. The deficit rose as a share of the gross domestic product from 3.1 percent in 2008 to 9.9 percent in 2009, the highest deficit as a share of GDP since 1945. The projected deficit for the fiscal year that ends in September is another $1.3 trillion.
So much for all that fiscal sanity blather from Team Obama in ‘08. How dishonest. Even worse, there’s a good reason to stay pessimistic about deficits as far as the eye can see. It’s called the "news" media.
Legislators who want to get re-elected will clearly want to avoid any spending decision that will create bad national publicity, and our news media, the manufacturers of bad national publicity, will send crying victims down the assembly line at the slightest thought of a social spending cut or freeze.
"Campbell Brown . . . the only non-partisan cable news anchor at 8 pm." -- CNN description of Campbell Brown"Non-partisan": right. The hit that Brown, with help from reporter Dana Bash, put on Jim Bunning this evening was worthy of that hyper-partisan guy over at MSNBC in the 8 PM ET slot.
Bash first narrated a classic of the liberal media genre: an anecdotal story of someone allegedly hurt by hard-hearted Republican policies. Bash claimed that "in the real world," Bunning's position is having a "devastating effect" on people like single mother Madonna Alvarez.
It got worse . . .
Sawyer thundered in teasing her top story: “Tonight on World News, the 'Politics of No.' For the second straight day, one Senator stymies Congress, unemployed Americans struggle and we track that Senator down again.” Sawyer led:
Good evening. Even his fellow Republicans have asked him to stop, but Republican Senator Jim Bunning still has Congress under blockade. For another day, he's kept thousands of unemployed workers from getting their benefits and forced some highway construction projects to stop.Karl treated the Senator as a child (“Jim Bunning was at it again today”) before he showcased an “unemployed microbiologist in Texas” who, Karl ludicrously relayed -- just two weekdays after unemployment benefits were stopped -- “says no unemployment check will mean she will have to move out of her house” while “Bret Ingersoll of Denver is an unemployed forklift operator, who has already lost his apartment.” So, “today even fellow Republicans were asking Senator Bunning to relent.” That would be Maine's Susan Collins.
The unsigned entry on the AC360 blog, which was posted on Tuesday afternoon, first recapped how Democrats attacked Bunning for blocking the unanimous consent of the measure. In the last sentence of the entry, the unnamed author asked readers of CNN.com to reply for their sob stories:
"Jim Bunning is doing all of us a favor," Time's Joe Klein tells his Swampland blog readers in a post published last night.
Gee, Joe, is that because his stand is exposing the hypocrisy of Democrats who often preach the virtue of pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budget rules?
Of course not. Instead, Klein sees a potential anti-GOP blowback as Republicans show themselves to be positively out of touch with the times, even indecent "reactionary" anti-government radicals:
In a later report, White House correspondent Chip Reid continued to assail Bunning: "The White House is pointing its finger at a single Republican senator who they say is standing in the way of federal aid for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans....he is single-handedly holding up a routine piece of legislation." Rather than address Bunning's spending concerns, Reid declared: "Because of his objection, 2,000 federal transportation workers had to be furloughed without pay. 400,000 Americans risk losing their unemployment benefits over the next seven to ten days. And Medicare fees for doctors suddenly slashed by 21%."
Reid briefly noted: "Bunning wants the Democrats to come up with a way to pay the $10 billion price tag." A couple clips were played of the Kentucky Senator voicing his opposition: "And I'm going to object every time because you won't pay for this....We cannot keep adding to the debt."
Teasing World News, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer stressed how he’s “denying” people unemployment benefits so ABC decided to “confront” him: “One man's stand. A single Senator stops the whole Congress, denying thousands of people unemployment benefits. We confront him to ask why.” Sawyer framed the story around how Bunning is blocking “life support for the unemployed.”
Reporter Jon Karl concentrated on victims as he played video of himself confronting Bunning by an elevator: “We wanted to ask the Senator why he is blocking a vote that would extend unemployment benefits to more than 340,000 Americas, including Brenda Wood, a teacher in Austin, Texas who has been out of work for two years.” That’s not all: “Bunning is also blocking money for highway construction. So across the country today, 41 construction projects ground to a halt, thousands of workers furloughed without pay.”
New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich specializes in spunky profiles of politicians -- hostile profiles of conservatives, flattering ones of liberals.
His latest, on controversial Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, "Republicans Looking for a Reliever in Kentucky," fell safely into the former category, crammed with personal attacks ("questions about his mental fitness") and colorful insults (Bunning's "a bit of a screwball"). The headline is a reference to Bunning's former fame as a baseball pitcher.
Leibovich's latest is similar in tone to his profile of another conservative Republican, former Rep. James Sensenbrenner ("commonly described as 'prickly,' 'cantankerous' and 'unpleasant'"). By contrast, Leibovich has been quite kind to liberals like Al Gore (a "compelling" "pop-culture icon") and Sen. Chris Dodd (a "happy warrior" in a "joyous orbit").