Fox Helps GOP Implement The “Williamsburg Accord” With Dishonest Shutdown Coverage

Fox News is aiding the Republican agenda to govern by crisis by attempting to shift blame to Democrats for the government shutdown.

As House Republicans threatened a government shutdown by proposing a series of budgets that defunded or delayed portions of the Affordable Care Act, Jonathan Chait reported in New York magazine that their actions were the result of the “Williamsburg Accord,” a legislative strategy formulated by the GOP in January  2013 that “took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.” Chait noted that the accord explained “why Republicans are careening toward a potential government shutdown.”   

After the House failed to produce a budget compromise that was not tied to defunding or delaying the ACA, Fox News responded by shifting blame to Democrats and portraying the GOP as willing to compromise. On the October 1 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade described the budget negotiation by claiming that “one thing is clear: Democrats didn't budge and the Republicans did.” Co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck added that “the American people did not want Obamacare, did not want a shutdown, and Republicans were compromising to bring the American people what they wanted. Not well received, clearly.”

But as Chait explained, the shutdown is the result of the GOP's agreement not to compromise on Obama's legislative agenda and to use crises such as funding the government and raising the debt ceiling in order to force concessions:

But the decision House Republicans made in January has set the party on the course it has followed since. If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.


The history is important because much of the news coverage and centrist commentary has leaned heavily on the idea that the crises in Washington have come about because of some nebulous failure of bipartisanship. The Washington Post editorial page implores both sides to compromise, without explaining why only one party should have to offer policy concessions to keep the government running. Mark Halperin neatly implies that the two sides share the blame in equal measure.


 The analytic error here is the assumption by professional pox-on-both-housers that they can take an advocacy position on the government shutdown without siding with one of the parties. If you want to land on the conclusion that both sides are to blame, you need to equivocate on the underlying moral question of whether a shutdown is really a bad thing. If, on the other hand, you want to take a stance against crisis governance, you need to be honest about the fact that one party is pursuing this as a conscious strategy.

Dan Froomkin wrote in the Huffington Post that attempts to blame both sides for the shutdown or shift blame away from the GOP ignores the fact that threatening to shut down the government in order to repeal duly-passed legislation is a “dramatic break from the past.” Froomkin quoted several congressional experts and historians and summarized their conclusions by saying “Even compared to the famous government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, the current GOP bargaining position is unprecedented in its political extremism” :

“It's unheard of to shut the government down because you want to repeal a law,” said Tiefer.

“That seems quite beyond the pale,” said George Washington University political science professor Sarah Binder.

Former Congressional Research Service and the Library of Congress official Louis Fisher said he was shocked when he saw what he now recognizes as a foreshadowing of today's crisis, when Republican senators refused for two years to confirm Richard Cordray -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless President Obama agreed to change the bureau's structure.

“That is really amazing, to say you're not going to confirm unless the underlying statute is rewritten,” Fisher said. “That was breathtaking to me.”


“The Republican Party is caught between politics and its responsibility, as a majority party of the House of Representatives, for governance,” said [University of Maryland professor of government and politics the Frances] Lee. “Governance always requires disappointing your base.”

It's easier when you're in the minority, she said. “The party out of power can take advantage of its lack of responsibility for governing.”

Today's GOP “wants to behave like a party that has no power at all, but unfortunately for it, it does,” she said. “The politics of defunding Obamacare are great with its base, but it has an institutional role which it cannot evade.”