Skip to comments.False Reporting on the Medicare Vote
Posted on 11/23/2003 6:56:29 PM PST by Congressman Billybob
This weekend the entire national media reported that due to "arm-twisting" on Republicans in the House, the Medicare bill passed in the House after an unprecedented three-hour delay between the original vote and when the vote was gaveled to a close.
If everyone is saying this, it must be true, right?
Wrong. You cannot necessarily trust what you read in the papers, or see on network TV.
At 3 a.m., the original voting time on the bill, the tote board on C-SPAN showed that the bill would lose, 216-218. In that tally, which was not final until the gavel fell, 204 Republicans voted for the bill, but 25 voted against. At 5:53 a.m. when the vote was gaveled to an end, the bill passed, 220-215, with 204 Republicans voting aye and 25 voting nay. Contrary to the entire national press coverage on this issue, there was NO NET GAIN among Republicans in the House.
As the record revealed, to anyone who cared to watch the C-SPAN coverage of the event live, the entire change that ultimately passed this bill occurred on the DEMOCRAT side of the aisle. Three Democrats who originally voted against the bill changed their positions (as all Members can do before any vote becomes final) and voted aye. In addition, one Democrat, David Wu (Ore.) who had not voted in the preliminary tally, decided to vote aye.
How could the entire American press get the story wrong, when it occurred in public, in front of God and everybody? The blame belongs initially to one reporter for the Associated Press, Mark Sherman, who got the story wrong initially and in his follow-ups. Most of the 426 major print media stories on this subject (according to GoogleNews) simply picked up and reprinted the Associated Press story. So Sherman's erroneous statements became their erroneous statements.
Some news outlets went further than just the inaccurate AP story. Cable News Network reported repeatedly that "arm-twisting among Republicans" had produced the passage of the bill. David Broder in the Washington Post provided a breathless account of Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson "jawboning members on the floor," and of urgent phone calls from President Bush in the wee hours of the morning.
He also concluded that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert "switched two of the conservative [Republican] Members of the House," Representatives C.L. Otter of Idaho and Trent Franks of Arizona. The record of the vote itself shows that if any Republican votes were gained during the nearly three-hour wait for the final gavel, an equal number of Republican votes were lost. I don't need a calculator to realize that 204 votes aye at the beginning is the same as 204 votes aye when the vote became final.
There are indications in his article that Broder was aware of the truth, that this victory was due entirely to Democrat switches. At the beginning of his lengthy piece he is careful to identify all players by their names and party affiliations. But deep in his article he shies away from this. He refers to a "group of conservative Members" who were approached on the floor. He doesn't name them. He doesn't give their party affiliation. But it's clear from the vote changes themselves that these were not Republicans. They were Democrats.
Mr. Broder does not get caught up in the initial inaccurate reporting from the Associated Press. He does his own inaccurate reporting, by naming two Republicans who voted for the bill "despite their misgivings"as if this had anything to do with the final result. And right after that, he refers to the Democrat Representatives whose changed votes WERE dispositive, without either naming them or stating that they are Democrats.
In all honesty, as I watched the unchanging vote on the C-SPAN broadcast, hour after hour, I thought that arm-twisting to change the votes of at least two of the 25 nay votes among the Republicans would determine the outcome. Arm-twisting on floor votes that any Administration really wants has existed since the Administration of George Washington. It is literally as American as apple pie.
But the truth did not match the assumption. This vote wasn't a triumph of arm-twisting in the House. Instead, it marked the failure of arm-twisting in the House.
In the Democrat House Caucus before this critical vote was held, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned the Democrats that they should expect "negative consequences" if they did not vote with their leadership on this bill. I assure every reader that Nancy Pelosi understands hardball politics, and retaliation for those who do not maintain loyalty to their leaders.
Pelosi is a scion of the D'Alesandro family in Baltimore. Two D'Alesandros, Tommy Jr., and Tommy III, served as Mayors of that City. They wrote the book on hardball politics. They were able to shut down two criminal investigations, one for rape against Tommy III, and the other for corruption against both Tommy III and a close ally, Councilman Mimi DiPietro of East Baltimore. (In the latter case, the key witness simply disappeared, and reappeared in a Las Vegas casino with mob ties, right after the charges were dismissed for "lack of evidence." In case you're wondering why I am up on the D'Alesandro story, they were neighbors of mine, a long, long time ago.)
This was the political environment in which Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi grew up. She understands arm-twisting. But on this Medicare bill, her tactics failed.
On the initial tally of the votes, 12 Democrats broke ranks and voted for the bill. On the final tally, 16 Democrats voted aye.
Were there "arm-twisting," "strong-arm tactics," and "pursuit of Republican holdouts" as the various news accounts report? Absolutely. (Also, were such tactics used on the Democrat side of the aisle to hold Members in line? Absolutely.)
But were such tactics by the Republicans the cause of the passage of the Medicare bill? Absolutely not.
The numbers don't lie. Four more Democrats voted for this legislation at 5:53 a.m. than had voted for it at 3 a.m. That was the only net change.
How did the Associated Press and various networks, and various "leading" newspapers like the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post, blow the story so badly?
It would seem to me that any major, competent news organization print or broadcast would assign a couple of flunkies to watch the two C-SPAN channels whenever the House or Senate are in session. Admittedly, this would be a screechingly dull assignment. It would be similar to how I describe whitewater rafting: "hours of boredom relieved by moments of stark terror."
Still, there are only two ways to cover an actual vote in either House. One way is to be at the Capitol; the other is to watch it on C-SPAN. Either way, the watcher should have a book to read, or some other productive activity, while waiting for something to occur. When something does happen, the C-SPAN watcher should punch the TiVo button, and capture and transcribe what just took place.
This is plain as the nose on my face to this country lawyer, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It ought to be equally obvious to the editors at the Associated Press, CNN, the Washington Post, etc. If those editors had done that, they would have reported this important story honestly and accurately. Because those did not do that, they are ultimately responsible for thousands of news stories that offered lies to the American public as if those lies were true.
How hard is it to watch television, and then write down on a piece of paper what you've just seen? Apparently for the American press on the Medicare vote story in the House, this was an impossible task.
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About the Author: John Armor is an author and columnist on politics and history. He currently has an Exploratory Committee to run for Congress.
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(C) 2003, Congressman Billybob & John Armor. All rights reserved.
GASP! No, tell me it isn't so!
How about you cannot trust anything you read in the papers or see on network TV.
I wonder if the 16 Democrats might change parties, not that we would know the difference anymore. Dino or Rino their both the same.
I used to think people were nuts for thinking that. The operative words are "used to".
Nope, I didn't fax this to AP. I did, however, submit it to my sometime editor at UPI. Fat chance he will run it, but I'm sure he will enjoy it.
To the others,
Please take a look-see at this. If you find it worthwhile, please ping it out to your various lists. Thanks.
John / Billybob
If you want on the new list, FReepmail me. This IS a high-volume PING list...
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