Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another Washington Post Edition)

Josh Micah Marshall says that he is confused about the state of Bush's torture bill:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: September 17, 2006 - September 23, 2006 Archives: I've been on Justin Rood's case to find me more information about the state of the negotiations over the president's torture bill. But the Times piece left me inclined to cut him some slack since the Times reporters don't seem to have any idea what's going on either... couldn't get much sense of how much the president has conceded... or whether the events of the last 36 hours makes a compromise more or less likely.

The Post, on the other hand, paints a decidely bleaker picture... portrays a legislative clock rapidly running out on the president's plan to ram through torture and tribunal legislation to bludgeon the Democrats with in time for the November election. "Yesterday's actions significantly dimmed prospects that Congress can complete its national security agenda before adjournment."... The Post piece even includes the telling and somehow touchingly feeble threat from Bill Frist that he, the Senate Majority Leader, may lead a filibuster against the Warner-McCain-Graham bill in the Senate...

I think Josh accurately characterizes the Times story: Kate Zernike tells us what she knows, and tells us she doesn't know that much. It's a useful story--except for stray garbage quotes from majority leader Boehner. She's on the whitelist.

The Post story, on the other hand--well, I have long puzzled over just what business Washington Post reporters Charles Babbington and Jonathan Weisman think they are in. They don't just "include," they headline and lead with Frist's filibuster threat:

Dissidents' Detainee Bill May Face Filibuster - washingtonpost.com: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist signaled yesterday that he and other White House allies will filibuster a bill dealing with the interrogation and prosecution of detainees if they cannot persuade a rival group of Republicans to rewrite key provisions opposed by President Bush. Frist's chief of staff, Eric M. Ueland, called the dissidents' bill "dead"...

But they then provide little context and no explanation.

Are there 40 Republican senators inclined to support the Bush torture bill rather than McCain-Warner? Of those 40, how many would be willing to risk nothing passing rather than McCain-Warner? Of those, how many will think that they have to live in the same Capitol as Warner and McCain next year--while Bill Frist will be gone? These are the immediate questions readers are asking themselves after reading Babbington and Weisman's lead. And they make no effort to answer them.

A news story that leads with a filibuster threat has a whip count--or various senators', staffers', and observers' thoughts about what a whip count would show--in paragraph two. Babbington's and Weisman's doesn't.

Four paragraphs down they do write:

Frist (R-Tenn.) acknowledged that a majority of the 100 senators back the rival group on military commissions but that there are not enough to block a filibuster, which requires a super-majority of 60...

But that's "Frist acknowledged." Is he right? Babbington and Weisman don't lift a finger to give us a clue. That's not a whip count. They don't have one.

Why not? I don't know. But it is clear that what they are doing isn't news-as-we-know-it. It's something else. And Josh is, I think, making a mistake in putting Babbington's and Weisman's article on the same plane as Zernike's. She's interested in informing us readers. I don't think that's the game that Babbington and Weisman are playing.

As one Washington hand put it, "It seems as if nearly everyone in the Washington Post newsroom has forgotten why they became journalists in the first place." I give it a decade.

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