Mainstream media outlets both-sides the debate over D.C. statehood

An argument about voting rights and equal citizenship is turned into just another partisan squabble

The House Oversight Committee held a hearing Monday on a bill to grant statehood for the District of Columbia. But many mainstream outlets depicted it as simply a partisan fight between Democrats and Republicans, overshadowing the core issue of voting rights for the city’s more than 700,000 residents.

Washington, D.C. has a larger population than two states, Vermont and Wyoming, and if admitted as a state it would have the highest proportion of Black residents out of what would then be all 51 states. Its residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of statehood in 2016.

ABC News ran what was in many ways a positive article, discussing both the disenfranchisement of District residents and the city’s security concerns in the wake of the January 6 attack upon the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Mayor Muriel Bowser did not have the authority to call up the city’s National Guard to assist Capitol Police, and the guard had to wait three hours before finally receiving federal approval to protect the Capitol.

However, ABC ruined it with the headline choice: “Why Democrats want to make Washington, DC, the 51st state.” The fact is, most people do not click past headlines, and this one serves only to elevate the Republican framing of the debate as a strictly partisan one, rather than a discussion involving real principles of democracy and representation.

The NBC News write-up indicates in its third paragraph that Republicans “voiced their staunch opposition to the effort, claiming that the legislation violates the Constitution.” It then takes until the eight paragraph for readers to learn the real reason: “Many GOP lawmakers have expressed opposition to D.C. statehood given that any congressional representation would almost certainly be Democratic.”

NBC’s headline also phrased the question as simply a partisan squabble: “Democrats, Republicans clash over D.C. statehood effort.”

The New York Times’ article carried the headline “House Democrats make the case for D.C. statehood, reflecting new momentum behind the movement.” This headline was meant to reflect the journey that the “long-suffering movement” had made “from the political fringe to the mainstream liberal agenda” and the fact that it has gained the full support of Democratic leaders.

Still, though, the Times took Republicans’ stated objections at face value, rather than scrutinizing their opposition to D.C. residents having voting representation in Congress:

The bill faces an uphill climb in Congress. Republicans are uniformly opposed to the idea, questioning its constitutional merits and accusing Democrats of backing it in an attempt to bolster their majorities in the House and the Senate.

Atlantic staff writer Edward-Isaac Dovere also mocked the whole idea that national political leaders could even care in a sincere manner about the small-d democratic principles involved:

Dovere went on to dismiss the supposed Republican objections — calling them “an argument for giving people more or less rights as citizens based on what jobs they do.” And then over an hour and a half after first beginning his thread, he acknowledged something else that undermined his original point: National Democratic leaders have not, in fact, championed DC statehood for very long — in comparison to the local political leaders in D.C. itself.

So maybe, just maybe, national leaders are acknowledging an idea whose time has come — and after much urging from citizens on the grounds who have actually been affected by it.