Clift: Blame Congress For Republican Media Bashing genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The recent efforts of Republicans to attack the New York Times and other media outlets for disclosing that the government has been reviewing banking and other financial information in its efforts to thwart terrorist activity are viewed by many as political spin. Eleanor Clift has an interesting article in Newsweek in which she makes the point that the fault should actually rests with congress and its inability or unwillingness to perform its oversight of the executive branch. Read the full article here.

June 30, 2006 - You have to go back to the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s to find Congress so outrageously trying to stifle dissent. Signed by President John Adams to quash newspapers aligned with rival Thomas Jefferson, some 25 people were arrested and 10 editors and publishers convicted under these laws. This time around, at least, the resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday condemning news organizations for publishing classified information has no force of law. It’s pure political theater.

Most of the administration's ire has been focused on The New York Times, the paper they view as exhibit A of the liberal media elite. The Times did break the story, but others were close behind, including The Wall Street Journal, an administration favorite. [...] Still, 17 Democrats joined the GOP to inoculate themselves against a 30-second television spot labeling them soft on terrorism. “They might as well vote for it," says Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow with the centrist Democratic Leadership Conference. “It’s meaningless anyway and will soon be forgotten." Fair-minded people can disagree on whether the Times made the right call on the need to publish. These editorial decisions are not made lightly, but whichever side you take in the debate, this is not treason. The administration doth protest too much.

The larger point is that journalists have taken up the task of holding this administration accountable. Congress has done nothing. A new book, “The Broken Branch," by congressional scholars Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, makes the point that the Republicans who vaulted into the majority in 1994 are either crusaders, for whom the institution is incidental, or opportunists, getting rich at the expense of the institution.

Ornstein and Mann offer some practical solutions in “The Broken Branch," among them that no vote should last longer than 20 minutes. The Republicans held open the vote on the Medicare prescription-drug bill for three hours, from 3 a.m. until 6 a.m., until they won passage by a single vote. When the Democrats were in control, they once stretched the vote for 15 minutes on an important budget resolution. The Republicans, led by then House Whip Dick Cheney, went ballistic. Cheney called Democratic Speaker Jim Wright “a heavy-handed S.O.B." That was in 1988. In the years since, Cheney’s language has remained consistent, and he and his fellow Republicans have developed their own heavy hands. It took the Democrats 40 years in power to develop their sense of entitlement. “The Republicans have a much shorter learning curve," says Ornstein.

The failure of Congress to exercise its authority has amplified the efforts of the Bush administration to expand the power of the executive branch. The fact that the Republicans hold a majority in both the House and the Senate has made it difficult for Democrats to enable hearings or investigations to expose abuses or keep the executive branch in check. Thought Theater has previously reported on the implications of this problem here.

Daniel DiRito | June 30, 2006 | 12:45 PM
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