Trading Press Events for Votes: What Should Press Do?

By David Swanson

On Tuesday my local newspaper reported on an event here in town on Monday. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had come down to Charlottesville and spoken publicly with local Congressman Tom Perriello, generating a story and big color photo on page 1 of the Charlottesville Daily Progress. The headline was “In UVa visit, Democrats call deficit reckless.”

The newspaper reported on Congressman Perriello warning that he could not vote for healthcare without a way to pay for it. There was no mention of the fact that the previous week, the day before Hoyer introduced his bill to fight deficits, both of these gentlemen had voted to spend another $97 billion on wars and to loan $100 billion to European bankers through the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nobody in Washington had even hinted at where any of that money would come from, and apparently Hoyer and Perriello didn’t care.

The article did include a quote from a Republican blaming Democrats for deficits. But that’s doubly bad reporting. Republicans have pushed deficits up far more than Democrats, and just getting a haphazard (and inaccurate) quote from “the other side” misses the relevant context of the war supplemental vote. Here’s the patently false quote from Congressman Eric Cantor:

“We’ve amassed more debt over the last five months than this country has amassed in the last 200 years.”

Also on Tuesday in Charlottesville, two top environmental officials from the White House, Van Jones and Nancy Sutley, staged a press conference with Congressman Perriello. Oddly, there was no particular news to announce at the press conference. Predictably, all the media outlets were there to trumpet the story anyway.

Awfully nice of Hoyer, Jones, and Sutley to make the trip down from Washington, wouldn’t you say? Three big shots in two days, with — for all I know — more to come. (I’m predicting an event in the southern part of the district with a top military official, but that’s just my prediction.)

The local media in Virginia’s Fifth District reports on these press events as ordinary press events, which is a far more serious problem than just the shoddy reporting style.

It had been widely reported in Washington last week that the House Democratic leadership and the White House were offering all variety of favors and threats to Congress members to win their votes for the war/IMF bill. This fact was not mentioned in any of the local reporting on the PR stunts.

Perriello claims to have opposed the IMF section of the war supplemental bill despite voting for the bill as a whole. Why, then, did he vote for it rather than joining all the Republicans in the House in voting against it (five of them changed their votes to Yes once the bill had passed)? Among the Democrats, 32 voted No, and 39 would have been needed to defeat the legislation. Why was Perriello willing to set himself up for the television ads that will likely air a year from now accusing him of giving $100 billion to foreigners and possibly terrorists (a crazy accusation, but not one the Daily Progress can be expected to fact check)? Was it just the $1 million the Democratic party in Washington gave his campaign in advertsing at the last minute to elect him by a fraction of a percentage point (and the promise of providing that funding again)? Or were there other things traded?

I don’t know what, if any, favors Perriello was offered for his vote. I support cutting deficits and creating green jobs. But isn’t it the job of the press to at least ASK whether our representative in Congress is representing us or the leaders of a political party? And if deals go down in Washington in which press events are traded for votes, should members of the press play along?

If you were a reporter and suspected that the PR stunt you were “reporting” on was very likely part of a deal to win a vote for war and bank bailouts, would you mention that circumstance? Would you perhaps refuse to cover the “event” at all? Would you choose to cover the deficit and green jobs events but report separately on the vote-whipping and partisan corruption? Or would you simply sit back and allow yourself to be played like a cheap ukelele?

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