NY Times somehow outdoes itself in its awful coverage of the Wisconsin GOP’s antidemocratic power grab

NY Times somehow outdoes itself in its awful coverage of the Wisconsin GOP’s antidemocratic power grab

Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

Wisconsin Republican legislators perverted representative democracy by passing sweeping legislation that strips powers from incoming Gov. Tony Evers solely because he is a Democrat. Outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signaled he will sign the bills into law. The New York Times reported on this development with an article that ran with the title “Wisconsin Republicans Defiantly ‘Stand Like Bedrock’ in Face of Democratic Wins,” after first being published under the much more accurate headline “Wisconsin Republicans Approve Bills Stripping Power From Incoming Democratic Governor.”

Defiance, at least to me, is speaking truth to power and not giving up no matter the odds against you. It doesn’t mean advancing anti-democratic laws and getting away with it because you know voters have a slim chance of holding you accountable since you rigged the system through gerrymandering. A better descriptor for that might be “cowardice.” (Even though Democratic candidates received 54 percent of votes in the 2018 midterm elections, they will hold just 36 percent of the state’s legislative seats, meaning they can’t simply reverse the power grab.)

I live in Madison, WI, and I was at the capitol on Monday when the legislative package was first considered. I saw defiance there, but not the type the Times reported on. Defiance was the 1,426 Wisconsinites who spoke out against the bills -- compared to one person speaking in their favor -- as Republicans attempted to limit public comments. Defiance was the people who could not make it into the hearing room chanting so loud outside that it echoed throughout the capitol. Defiance was the crowds causing legislative staff to delay the hearing as staff members scrambled to open up multiple overflow rooms for the citizens who wanted to see how the power grab would play out. Defiance was also a local pizza shop giving out free food to sustain the protesters as they waited long hours to speak their minds. Defiance was the hundreds of people who showed up outside the capitol later that evening -- in the bitter cold -- to protest the bills.

A natural question to ask regarding the New York Times headline (which has since been slightly modified to “Wisconsin Republicans Defiantly Move to Limit the Power of Incoming Democrats”) is where the “stand like bedrock” quote came from. It was Wisconsin Republican Speaker Robin Vos -- the racist, power-hungry architect of the package -- who laughably said after Wisconsin Republicans were trounced in the midterm elections, “We are going to stand like bedrock to guarantee that Wisconsin does not go back.” While Vos’ comment is petulant and antidemocratic to the point that it is newsworthy, the partial quote cited in the Times headline made it seem as if Republicans in Wisconsin were taking some sort of noble stand. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer noted:

Instead of getting his words splashed credulously in a Times headline, Vos should be the subject of extreme media scrutiny and righteous outrage. Shortly before Republicans passed the power-grab bills, Vos attempted to justify the move on Twitter by saying, “We have allowed far too much authority to move to the executive branch.” The state legislature -- presumably the “we” in Vos’ statement -- has been controlled by Republicans for the past eight years, coinciding with Walker’s governorship. But it is only now that Vos suddenly realized that the governorship is too powerful and the separation of powers in the Wisconsin government need to be radically changed.

Other tweets by Vos in defense of the legislation have sparked an angry backlash; for example, he attempted to explain the power grab by arguing on Twitter, “The basic fundamental part of our democracy is compromise and negotiation.” (There was, of course, no compromise, as the Republicans control the legislature and can pass whatever law they want regardless of the views of their Democratic colleagues.) While “the ratio” of negative to positive responses to this tweet currently stands at around 100-to-1 on Twitter, it pales in comparison to the 1,462-1 ratio of Wisconsinites speaking against versus in favor of the power grab.

Beyond the headline, the text of the Times article also fell short, characterizing moves by Republican legislators as merely “hardball” politics and describing Vos’ comment that incoming Gov. Evers’s agenda is not “evil” as “conciliatory.”

The most recent Times coverage of Wisconsin follows another misstep from the newspaper, which in a previous article framed the power grab as a typical partisan dispute between Republicans and Democrats.

The Times also covered the the Wisconsin GOP power grab in its podcast The Daily. While the podcast did provide fairly detailed background on what is happening, it fell far short in its framing of the issues. One part of the podcast focused on people protesting Walker as he lit the Christmas tree that stands in the capitol rotunda during the holiday season. Times reporter Mitch Smith said, “All these protesters -- people who did not come for the Christmas tree lighting -- start booing. And these poor kids, this high school choir -- they start singing these Christmas carols and this group of singing protesters drowns them out from the floor above, bellowing these kind of anti-Walker tunes of their own.” Obviously, no one was booing the kids. I’m sorry if the kids in the choir did actually feel bad, but the subversion of democracy that’s going on warrants some noise. I hope the ruckus made their visit more interesting and served as a lesson on how people can peacefully dissent against their elected officials.

Posted In
Elections, Justice & Civil Liberties
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