Milbank ignored polling in presenting impeachment advocates as fringe element, overstated margin of Alito filibuster loss

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank depicted advocates of impeachment as a fringe element of the Democratic Party, while ignoring polling that shows that a majority of Americans believe Congress should consider impeaching Bush over his authorization of warrantless domestic surveillance. Milbank also falsely reported that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA) "got only 25 of the 60 needed votes" to mount a filibuster against President Bush's nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. In fact, it was Alito's supporters who "needed" the 60 votes to end debate on the nomination.

The Washington Post continued to ignore polling that shows that a majority of Americans believe Congress should consider impeaching President Bush. In his January 31 column, Post columnist Dana Milbank depicted advocates of impeachment as a fringe element of the Democratic Party -- which he said is in one of its "periodic splits between pragmatism and symbolism" -- while ignoring polling that shows that a majority of Americans believe Congress should consider impeaching Bush over his authorization of warrantless domestic surveillance. Milbank also falsely reported that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA) "got only 25 of the 60 needed votes" to mount a filibuster against President Bush's nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. In fact, it was Alito's supporters who "needed" the 60 votes to invoke "cloture," or end debate on the nomination and proceed to a floor vote; filibuster supporters needed 41 votes. (The version of Milbank's column on the Post's website has corrected the claim; the article now states that "Kerry got only 25 votes.")

Milbank devoted the bulk of his column to dismissive coverage of a forum on "The Impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney" held in Washington, D.C., on January 30. Milbank described the speakers at the event as a "Bill O'Reilly fantasy" and noted that they "did not disappoint." He reported that the chance of a Republican-controlled Congress "moving to impeach Bush is close to zero" and quoted a commenter on an unnamed website arguing that such efforts provide "a cartoon image of the old pinko commie left, and fair game for the wingnuts at Fox." But Milbank failed to mention polling that shows that a majority of Americans believe Congress should consider impeachment. As Media Matters previously noted, the Post ignored the results of a November 2005 Zogby International poll commissioned by members of AfterDowningStreet.org that found that 53 percent of Americans thought that Congress should consider impeachment "[i]f President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq." (Post polling director Richard Morin later offered the dubious explanation that the paper does not itself poll on the topic because "it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion.") More recently, another Zogby poll, commissioned by the same organization and released on January 16, found that a majority of Americans think Congress should consider impeachment -- though not over the Iraq war, as speakers at the forum apparently advocated, but, rather, "[i]f President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge."

In addition, Milbank apparently confused the numbers required to defeat and sustain a filibuster. From Milbank's January 31 "Washington Sketch" column headlined "Tasting Victory, Liberals Instead Have a Food Fight," as it originally appeared in the Post:

Elected Democrats and their liberal base are in one of their periodic splits between pragmatism and symbolism. Under pressure from blogs and liberal groups, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) yesterday attempted an obviously doomed filibuster against the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito -- and Kerry got only 25 of the 60 needed votes.

In fact, it was the opponents of the filibuster who needed, and obtained, 60 votes to cut off debate. Milbank's construction suggested that Kerry's effort failed by a much wider margin than was actually the case. Had 41 senators -- not 60 -- voted against the cloture motion, debate would have continued.

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Stories/Interests
Supreme Court Nominations, Alito Nomination
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