REPORT: Who? Media Turns Its Back On Experts Who Blame GOP For Political Gridlock

Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, are well-respected centrist congressional experts who are often cited by the media. But their recent conclusion that Republicans are responsible for political dysfunction -- laid out in an April 29 Washington Post op-ed and their recently released book -- has been largely ignored, with the top five national newspapers writing a total of zero news articles on their thesis.

Congressional Experts: Republicans At “The Core Of The Problem” Of A “Dysfunctional” Washington

Mann And Ornstein: “Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are The Problem.” In their April 29 Washington Post op-ed, the duo lay out the thesis of their latest book, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2012]

Mann And Ornstein Are “A Brand” In Washington And Considered “The Two Most Respected, Committed Scholars” Studying The U.S. Congress. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein wrote in regard to Mann's and Ornstein's recent op-ed:

In Washington, “Mann and Ornstein” are a brand. Mann works at the centrist Brookings Institution, Ornstein at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Over their four-decade partnership, they have established themselves as the two most respected, committed scholars -- and defenders -- of the U.S. Congress. They never tire of pointing out that the way the Founders designed the federal government, Congress came first, and it was intended to have an “institutional identity,” not a partisan identity. It's that institutional identity, they now say, that is under threat, and more from one party than the other. [The Washington Post, 5/11/2012]

U.S. Newspapers Often Cite Mann And Ornstein But Largely Ignored Their Latest Thesis

During The Year Before Publishing Their Op-ed, Mann And Ornstein Were Cited 35 Times By The Top Five Newspapers. A Media Matters review of the top five national newspapers in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, between April 29, 2011 and April 29, 2012 reveals that the congressional experts were either cited by these papers or published articles within these papers 35 times.

A majority of these citations and authored articles -- 63 percent -- were news stories rather than opinion pieces.

But Only Five Articles Have Cited Mann And Ornstein's Thesis, All Authored By Opinion Writers. A Media Matters review of the top five national newspapers found only five mentions of Man's and Ornstein's thesis since the publication of their op-ed, all in opinion pieces.

  • Four Of The Five Articles Mentioning The Experts' Thesis Were Published In The Washington Post, And All Four Were Written By The Paper's Columnists: Walter Pincus, who runs the Fine Print column, for “Don't Expect to Hear Much Truth-telling on Foreign Policy”; Robert G. Kaiser for his review of It's Even Worse Than It Looks titled, “How Partisan Republicans Bring America to Its Knees”; Ezra Klein, a regular Post columnist, for “GOP Elephant in the Room: Themselves”; and blogger Greg Sargent's op-ed “A Topic No Sunday Show Will Tackle,” which criticized the lack of coverage the experts have received.
  • The New York Times' Single Article Was Paul Krugman's Column. Krugman discussed It's Even Worse Than It Looks in his May 3 column.
  • Wall Street Journal Cited Mann's Expertise -- But Not About His Recent Thesis. The Journal published an April 30 article about super political action committees and 501(c) organizations made possible by new court rulings and Federal Election Commission decisions, but it does not reference the book at all (as a consequence, we have excluded this result from the chart below). Instead, it quotes commentary from Mann about these organizations' ability to raise money.

Experts' Thesis Also Ignored By Sunday Shows

Bob Somerby: "[T]he Pair Of Scholars Are Missing." From The Daily Howler on May 14:

Inside Washington, Ornstein and Mann have been famous for decades. (See The Daily Howler, 5/9/12.) Their recent cri de coeur (“cry of heart”) hit a nerve, Klein says.

But now, the pair of scholars are missing--and no one is saying a word about it! Yesterday, for the third straight week since that book appeared, Ornstein failed to turn up on a Sunday news program. Mann was missing too. No one asked them about their book--the book which says that our current decline is the fault of only one party.

For decades, they were the most-quoted experts in Washington. Now, the Sunday programs can't find them! Bob Schieffer can't locate his trusted old friends. David Gregory is mystified too! [The Daily Howler, 5/14/2012]

Kevin Drum: “Norm Ornstein And Thomas Mann Are The Most Quoted Men In Washington.” From Drum's Mother Jones blog on May 14:

Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann are the most quoted men in Washington. They have been for years. A couple of weeks ago they released a new book, and normally this would mean plenty of Sunday chat show bookings. But this book wasn't the usual pox-on-both-your-houses tome. Instead, they came right out and said it: Republicans are the big problem in American politics right now. [Mother Jones, 5/14/2012]

Greg Sargent: "[N]either Man Has Been Invited On To The Sunday Shows." From The Washington Post on May 14:

I ran this thesis by Ornstein himself, and he confirmed that the book's publicity people had tried to get the authors booked on the Sunday shows, with no success.

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven't received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.'

Ornstein also noted another interesting point. Their thesis takes on the media for falling into a false equivalence mindset and maintaining the pretense that both sides are equally to blame. Yet despite the frequent self-obsession of the media, even that angle has failed to generate any interest. What's more, some reporters have privately indicated their frustration with their editorial overlords' apparent deafness to this idea.

”The piece focused on press culpability -- it would be hard to find a more sensitive issue for the media than the question of whether they're doing their job," Ornstein said. “We got tons of emails from some of the biggest reporters in the business, saying, `We've raised this in the newsroom, and editors just brush it aside.'”

Ornstein, while stressing that he wasn't casting any blame, noted that the topic hasn't come up on Howard Kurtz's weekend media show.

This is curious. Is “experts confirm that, yes, one side is more to blame than the other, and journalists should say so” really too hot a topic for the Sunday shows? Is it not relevant or interesting? [The Washington Post, 5/14/2012]

Paul Krugman: Mann And Ornstein "[C]an't Get On TV To Promote Their Book." From The New York Times on May 16:

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two highly respected Congressional analysts with a reputation for being nonpartisan, have a book documenting the fact that our political dysfunction is very one-sided -- it's Republican extremism, not “both sides do it”, that's at fault. Sales of their book have been very good, and there's a lot of public interest. But guess what? They can't get on TV to promote their book. [The New York Times, 5/16/2012]


Media Matters searched articles from the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post in the Nexis and Factiva databases between April 29, 2011 and May 17, 2012 for the following keywords: Thomas E. Mann, Thomas Mann, Norman J. Ornstein, or Norman Ornstein. Only articles that cited Mann or Ornstein or were authored by Mann or Ornstein were included in the analysis. Articles that cited both or were co-authored were only counted once. Mann and Ornstein's April 29, 2012 column, “Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are The Problem,” was not included in the data.