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Tilting at Windmills

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June 11, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WHO VOTED FOR WHAT?....My offhand comment in the previous post that "the press rarely even bothers to report which party supports which stuff" was prompted by this article in the LA Times on Friday about the vote on Ed Markey's net neutrality amendment. I'm probably late to the party on this (no pun intended), but when did it become standard practice to write stories about legislation without even taking a single sentence to provide the vote count and the party breakdown?

For the record, the net neutrality amendment failed 269-152. Republicans voted against it 211-11 and Democrats voted in favor 140-58. But anyone reading the LAT article would have no idea who to blame or praise for this outcome. It was just "Congress."

I don't get it. We're repeatedly told that we live in the most polarized partisan atmosphere in decades, and yet news reports about legislation routinely refuse to add the dozen or so words it would take to tell you who voted for what. Why is that?

UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan has a more detailed breakdown of the vote. The news is not good for net neutrality supporters, he says.

Kevin Drum 5:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Well, it's been that way for a long time now (the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's AP wire stories on this stuff is a perfect example) and it's disgraceful. Papers of record should report who voted for what, at least in summary. But, newspapers long ago stopped reporting facts and focused instead on bullshit. I haven't bought a newspaper in over ten years and, for what they're worth anymore, I recommend that everyone else stop reading them too.

Posted by: NealB on June 11, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

Because they don't sell news any more. They sell "lifestyle." And if they print the news, it just makes the Republicans spit and scream, and they'd rather avoid the bother.


Posted by: craigie on June 11, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

I wholeheartedly agree with this post. Articles about the merits of a policy can let partisanship take a backseat (i.e., interviewing experts about so-called net neutrality). However, if it's about a bill failing in congress, the writers should include the same "Republicans voted..." and "Democrats voted.." boilerplate language.

Here's my pet theory: Everybody who reads blogs knows that net neutrality is basically a democrat thing, and the FMA is basically a republican thing. Reporters do too. Because they do, they assume their readers know that too, and feel no need to include something so 'basic'. It's like talking to a lawyer who leaves out an important bit of information because-- to him-- it seems really basic.

Posted by: American Hawk on June 11, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

There's an innocuous explanation-- if something passes Congress, the Republicans are assumed responsible. 'Bipartisanship' is rare enough to be news, when it happens.

Posted by: Matt on June 11, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

11 Republicans and 140 Democrats - did one independent make up the 152th vote for it? Incidentally, had the Democrats been united, this would have been close - but alas would have failed. Maybe the real story is those Democrats who voted against this.

Posted by: pgl on June 11, 2006 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

I honestly think a lot of newsrooms are trying to muddle the picture, in order to preserve the status quo. I've given up on more generous explanations. Especially given the recent efforts by some of the more prestigious papers to make it seem like the recent almost-all-GOP corruption epidemic is really bipartisan.

And on that vote - the final vote on the bill was 321-101 in favor of the bill. That means 51 Congresspersons, overwhelmingly Democratic, either didn't realize they were voting against Net Neutrality on the main vote, when they'd just voted for it on the Markey amendment, or they didn't care, or they wanted to be able to score points with both sides - with the netroots by voting for the amendment, and with the telcos by voting for the bill.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who represents my district, was one of those who voted for both. I'd say the last explanation most likely applies in his case.

Posted by: RT on June 11, 2006 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Why should a person have to link/ drill to four sites just to get the actual vote? And it was a not-so-trendy blogger who had the link with the goods. Why are details so hard to dig up these days?


Posted by: jcricket on June 11, 2006 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Journamalism is hard work.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on June 11, 2006 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Why, that might take actual journalism.

Posted by: ChiSox Fan in LA on June 11, 2006 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

If they report the votes, that makes it MUCH much harder next week when they have to write a "Well, Democrats do too!!" piece to try to provide cover for the Republicans.

Posted by: Derelict on June 11, 2006 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

Would that be one of those human-journalist hybrids the Preznit mentioned in his SOTU address?

Posted by: jcricket on June 11, 2006 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Because they want people to imagine it doesn't matter if they vote for a Republican because they're really just all alike, so it's alright to vote for the guy with most greased up testosterone.

Posted by: cld on June 11, 2006 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Just as an aid to my blogging buddies (yeah, trolls too) ; for bookmarking/future reference --

Library of Congress for getting the exact verbiage in all those nifty pieces of legislation:


US Senate:


Clerk of The House of Representatives:

Clerk of House of Rep

Posted by: jcricket on June 11, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

RT has it pegged. Don't hold either party (or their members) responsible, and preserve everyone's ability to feed at the corporate trough.

Kerry got in trouble for saying the real truth: They were against it before they were for it.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR on June 11, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Good question Kevin. Professionalism does not seem to be in vogue. I think conservative republicanism is like a virus that destroys professionalism.

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on June 11, 2006 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

I don't much like it when people use threads to air whatever's on their mind...

but John Edwards won a Des Moines Register Poll, beating Hillary by 4 points. I've been saying saying and saying that people should be taking this guy more seriously. Now, maybe, they will.

Posted by: david mizner on June 11, 2006 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

I like Edwards too.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on June 11, 2006 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

A few weeks ago there were a couple of threads about how average American wages have stagnated since the 70s and how social mobility had atrophied in the US relative to the rest of the civilized world and there were many good suggestions as to why those things have happened.

More recently there was a thread about how Americans continue to distrust Democrats inspite of the cartoonishly corleone scale of corruption throughout everything the Republicans have ever been associated with. I think the answer for why this is is twofold, firstly that, for the most part, the people who have run for office as Democrats have been the kind of people who, in real life, would be voting for Republicans, so they take their ideas of who they are as Democrats from what Republicans say about them.

Secondly, and this is far more important, beginning in the 1970s, coincidental with when wages stagnated and social mobility atrophied, Republicans in positions to hire anyone anywhere have had a policy of never hiring anyone for anything who did not exhibit explicitly Republican-like characterisitcs. Beginning in the 70s you couldn't get hired as a janitor in a decently sized corporation unless you came off as a Republican.

I don't know why no one talks about it, but that's the reason people say they distrust Democrats, why wages have stagnated and why social mobility is atrophied in the US.

Think about all those decades J. Edgar Hoover spent insisting there was no such thing as organized crime. How many Democrats have ever been hired at the FBI? You could count them on the fingers of a pigeon.

Posted by: cld on June 11, 2006 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

Any time somebody tells you "no pun intended", the pun was indeed intended.

Posted by: Robert Earle on June 11, 2006 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

In general, the MSM seems disdainful of the internet, and bloggers in particular. Anything that makes it more difficult to use and peruse the internet for real news and commentary that they don't have is going to be supported by them.
And of course, they're not going to make it easy to identify those who oppose net neutrality and vote against them.

Posted by: Ringo on June 11, 2006 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

Dude. Seriously. Join the rest of us and drop your subscription to the LA Times. The accelerating downward spiral is only superceded by that of the OC Register, which still has a decade on them.

True story: one of my acquaintences has a son who got a job last year working for the Times as a copywriter. His future is bleak. He will be out of a job in about 6 months becase THE LA TIMES IS OUTSOURCING COPYWRITERS TO INDIA!!

Think about that one for a moment. Or two.

Posted by: SoCalAnon on June 11, 2006 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

The Washington Post's Congress Votes Database has congressional voting records going back to 1991.

Posted by: croatoan on June 11, 2006 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

Good bye, USA
Hello, CCCP

Posted by: someOtherClown on June 11, 2006 at 10:24 PM | PERMALINK

And why, in light of the fact that a huge chunk of Americans (something like two in five) don't know who controls Congress, why oh why don't newspapers make this clear in every story they write?

I think it's bizarre that newspapers will put in a line like, "actress Jennifer Aniston," or "OJ Simpson, a football star accused of murdering his wife," as though there are a significant number of Americans who don't know these things. But many Americans don't know congress is Republican-controlled. Why don't newspapers tell us that important piece of information? Why isn't it the "Republican-controlled Senate?"

Posted by: theorajones on June 11, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Net Neutrality? The internets will never be equal. Your internet is a simple opiate for the masses. The internet of the ruling elite is pure ambrosia, doesn't constipate.

Posted by: B on June 12, 2006 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

Absolutely, this should be reported

Kevin, I do this at the local government level with my newspaper, where of course, as in most states' municipalities, councilmembers and school board members are nonpartisan.

Every city council or school board vote with a division, I report who voted how. Some readers keep track of the whole thing for two years until the next council or school board district election.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on June 12, 2006 at 2:43 AM | PERMALINK

My allegedly liberal congresswoman, Eddie Bernice Johnson, voted against Net neutrality. Fortunately, she has a Green opponent this year.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on June 12, 2006 at 2:45 AM | PERMALINK

I'm kind of amazed that net neutrality didn't get every Democratic vote. What the moronic assholes who pass as Democrats and voted against it don't realize, I guess, is that this whole thing has nothing to do with business and everything to do with censorship. Right now, the Republicans control almost every newspaper chain and, given the NYT's Likudnik slant ever since Pinch Sulzberger took over, they might as well control the NYT, too. They also control every TV and radio network except Air America, which isn't really much of a force.

Well, remember what someone once said about freedom of the press: There is freedom of the press in this county for everyone who can afford one. Newspapers, radio staions, TV stations are extremely expensive to buy. It takes a lot of capital. Which it why they tend to be owned by people with a lot of it, who tend to operate them in their own best interests.

The net, however, is easily affordable to anyone who wants to publish something. A net publication doesn't have the force a TV network does, but look how far it has come in the past 2-3 years. It doesn't take much imagination to see where it might be in terms of impact 10 years from now if it is allowed to develop the way it has been. Republicans have that imagination.

Republicans know that their days of controlling all of the discourse would be numbered if the net were allowed to keep developing the way it has been. Republicans know that the single biggest threat to their dominance is allowing the American people to be exposed to the truth. Well, they own all of the other distribution channels, the net is the chink in their armor and they've decided to do something about it. Self-interested, sort-term-thinking Democrats, probably the same ones threatened by the idea of more Howard-Dean-style insurgencies within their own party, have decided to help.

The telecoms will slow down and eventually just block websites with political views they don't like. The Washington Monthly or Dailykos can sue, but they will lose in a right-wing Supreme Court that will say that the telecoms have a right to decide who they allow to use their networks.

Bottom line: Look at how fast the net is developing as an alternative medium, look at where that will be in 10 years if it keeps developing the way it has been, and ask yourself who could possibly be threatened by that.

Posted by: expatjourno on June 12, 2006 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK

I've been watching this trend for years.

I trace it back to two votes in the early '80s (the first may have been late '79, I cannot remember for sure). The subject was the deregulation of the energy industry.

A little background: Prior to 1979, ALL votes on energy legislation were bipartisan. Producer-state Democrats ALWAYS voted with producer-state Republicans. Consumer-state Republicans ALWAYS voted with consumer-state Democrats. A growing consensus had arisen that regulation (the favored policy of the consumer-state politicians) wasn't working. This had even caught on in consumer states. But it was generally agreed that it had to be phased in slowly.

Pres. Carter spent nearly a year carefully shepherding a compromise through Congress. Vote after vote went down producer-state, consumer-state lines. But in the end the president had the votes for his compromise measure.

Suddenly, in the final vote on the president's compromise, a whole bunch of congresscritters changed their votes. Carter's compromise was defeated.

And every single senator, every single representative who switched votes was a Republican. They all had their excuses. The producer-state legislators said the deregulation wasn't going to happen fast enough (a strange thing to say, since it wouldn't happen at all without this legislation). The consumer-state legislators said it would happen too fast for their old people to adjust before winter set in. Now, we could assume that every one of these changes were brought on by an attack of conscience and a desire to do the right thing.

Except for one thing.

A year-and-a-half later the exact same legislation was proposed by Ronald Reagan. And every single excuse-making, vote-switching Republican voted for it this time. The timetable for deregulation was a little faster. But that was more than made up for -- by the delay caused by voting it down when Carter first proposed the legislation.

Both votes reported in the press. The analysis was not heavily reported for the first vote. (It was a little hard to see the perfidy until the second vote. But the vote-switching was noted. And the excuses were noted in the press.)

The voters never punished the switchers. And the Republican Party noticed this.

And, thus, the modern Republican Party was born.

The GOP realized that as long as their partisanship and double-dealing was a little obscure, they could get away with putting the Party's interest before the national interest. Since then, partisan double-dealing has been their credo.

When someone in the press has tried to expose it, Republicans have been quick to claim a bias in the press. And the press has slowly acquiesced until we have reached this point:

When the GOP leadership promotes something which is unpopular (at least with the audience which cares about), the mainstream media won't even report how many Democrats and Republicans voted for and against.

Posted by: scotus on June 12, 2006 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK

I called Senator Feinstein's office this morning to be told that she hadn't decided how she was going to vote on Net Neutrality. This means that she is waiting to see how many people are awake and will notice her 'no' vote.

All Californians should call her office now.

Posted by: PMP on June 12, 2006 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Why I do not like TalkLeft:

We got quite a few visitors this weekend from far right weblogs critical of my Zarqawi and Guantanamo coverage. Commenters from these sites have come over here on the attack. They insult, call other commenters and liberals names and post multiple trashy comments with the intent of dominating the discussion. They also have riled up some of TalkLeft's regular ommenters who have begun to respond in kind. I don't have the time or the interest in playing traffic cop.

Deleting individual comments takes too long. What I've done is delete all comments for Sunday (and some from Saturday) -- both those of the unwelcome visitors and the TL commenters who stepped over the line. The most insulting and chattering of the righties have been banned.

Memo to all commenters: Keep it civil and lose the hostility and the name-calling. This is my site, not yours and it's going to be run on my terms, not yours. And don't lecture me on the First Amendment. I'm not the government.

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