The Senate Filibuster The Media Ignored


On the same day that Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) high profile filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency received widespread media attention, another filibuster that blocked confirmation for one of President Obama's nominees went completely unnoticed by the broadcast networks and cable news channels.

Paul's filibuster, which delved into serious questions about drone policy and national security, touched off a robust debate in the media. Paul's talking filibuster garnered extensive media attention the same day. According to a Nexis search, Paul was featured in at least 20 news segments Wednesday: 9 on CNN, 6 on Fox News, 4 on MSNBC, and 1 on NBC.

By contrast, not a single broadcast network or cable news channel reported on the silent filibuster of Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

President Obama first nominated Halligan to the DC appellate court in September 2010. Senate Republicans blocked her nomination via filibuster in December 2011. Obama renominated Halligan on January 3, but Republicans again blocked her nomination on Wednesday when 40 Senate Republicans rejected a motion that would allow her confirmation to proceed to an up-or-down vote. 

As The Washington Post noted, this GOP obstruction came in the face of widespread support for Halligan in the legal community:

Against the distorted view of Ms. Halligan's record that Republicans have offered stand the endorsements of prominent legal minds both liberal and conservative, a unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association and a storied career in public service and private practice.

While Paul's rare example of a talking filibuster attracted widespread media coverage, silent filibusters have become increasingly common tools to block Obama's nominees.

A November 2012 report from the Alliance for Justice illustrated how Senators' use of the filibuster on judicial nominations has increased drastically during the Obama administration:

The strategy comes amid what the Center for American Progress has described as a judicial vacancy crisis in the federal courts system.

The contrast between the media's extensive coverage of Paul's filibuster and the one used to block Halligan rejection is a testimony to how common the silent filibuster is under the Obama administration, and why it's important for the media not to go quiet.

As The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted:

The very fact that Paul's filibuster (one built on genuine convictions surrounding real issues that were fully aired in public) was treated as so extraordinary is a reminder of the degree to which we've accepted nonstop secret filibustering (which has become nothing more than a tool for partisan across-the-board obstructionism) as entirely ordinary.

And the apparent double standard in how the media approaches filibuster also comes during a larger debate over filibuster reform that could require Senators to air their debates in the public, a point noted by New York Times editor David Firestone:

Keeping the courts and federal agencies functioning properly is more important than preserving the Senate's hoary anti-democratic prerogatives. That's why all 60-vote requirements for presidential nominees have to end, no matter which party holds the White House. If true-believers like Mr. Paul want to delay votes with endless speeches, they are free to do so until they go hoarse. But when the speeches end, the simple-majority votes should begin.

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments, The Senate
Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, ABC News, NBC News
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