Coverage: GOP flees with underwear, Dems stage 'dramatic walkout.' Plus: Symbolism v. substance

By Gary Abernathy

GOP flees with underwear, Dems stage ‘dramatic walkout’

Once again, the double standard of news coverage is starkly defined in the case of Texas Democrats abandoning their posts at the statehouse in Austin in order to stop passage of a voting reform bill. Here’s how the New York Times reported it:

Democrats in the Texas Legislature staged a dramatic, late-night walkout on Sunday night to force the failure of a sweeping Republican overhaul of state election laws. The move, which deprived the session of the minimum number of lawmakers required for a vote before a midnight deadline, was a stunning setback for state Republicans who had made a new voting law one of their top priorities.

By the way, “stunning” has become the most overused word in the media. Few things are actually stunning when it comes to politics.

Media across the land are generally heralding Democrats as heroes for their stunt, and calling on Congress to pass a bill that would federalize how states run their elections.

But things are different when Republicans use the same tactics. In 2019, GOP lawmakers in Oregon walked out to forestall a vote on environmental legislation and other items. The same New York Times reported it this way:

One by one, Oregon’s 11 Senate Republicans fled their state with little more than spare underwear and their passports. They disappeared into Idaho cabins and motels with canned goods and at least one burner phone. They parked borrowed cars outside hideaways to throw off anyone on their trails.

Slightly different tone, no? Vox accused those same Republicans of “subverting democracy.” The Vox story from February 2020 actually said, “In Oregon right now, a handful of white people from the far right are holding the state government hostage.”

In Oregon, Republicans “fled the state with little more than spare underwear” and “disappeared into Idaho cabins and motels” while “holding the state government hostage.” In Texas, Democrats, by contrast, staged “a dramatic, late-night walkout” delivering “a stunning setback for state Republicans.”

Regardless of the party or the issues involved, walking out because you’re going to lose a vote is like a child who’s losing the game taking the ball and stomping off the playground. It’s not heroic.

Too much symbolism, too little substance

Some people aren’t big on holidays or anniversaries, while others seem to live for them, and there are apparently people in the news business whose job is to track and note anytime the anniversary of a news happening comes along.

USA Today notes the following in a headline today: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs transgender athlete ban on first day of ‘Pride Month.’” Would it have mattered, or drawn less criticism by those opposed to the ban, if he had signed it a day earlier or a day later? It’s one of those vehicles for faux outrage.

Another example: President Joe Biden had asked Congress to pass a police reform bill by the anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25. Several in the media expressed dismay that it didn’t happen. CNBC reported last Monday, “Congress is set to miss President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline to pass a police reform bill as negotiators decide how far the federal government should go to root out law enforcement misconduct and violence against Black Americans. Tuesday will mark one year since 46-year-old Black man George Floyd died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.”

I understand symbolism, and how certain dates can be reminders of either joyous or tragic occasions, both to individuals regarding their personal lives or the nation as a whole when it comes to national events. But we shouldn’t let anniversaries or holidays determine whether or how we pass important pieces of legislation, even if it ruins a good headline or spoils special coverage that would be tied up in a neat bow. Today’s society is too often heavy on symbolism, light on substance.

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