Saturday, November 19, 2005

Pounding the AP

E-mail to AP-

Your editor failed his/her reporter in the below story, just as the reporter failed his/her public. Let me count the ways.
"Republicans seek vote on Iraq withdrawal proposal
"Friday, November 18, 2005; Posted: 3:29 p.m. EST (20:29 GMT)

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans sought a showdown Friday with Democrats on a proposal by one of their most senior members to force an end to the U.S. deployment of troops in Iraq.

"Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, offered the resolution demanding a pullout. The GOP-run House was expected to reject it -- and make a prominent statement about where Congress stands on Iraq -- as the chamber scurried toward a Thanksgiving break.

"'We'll let the members debate it and then let them vote on it,' said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, the acting majority leader."
Your first sentence has the actors reversed. The proper order would be to say that "House Democrats were denied a showdown Friday with Republicans on a proposal by a senior Democratic member to force an end to the U. S deployment of troops in Iraq." But then, in order to describe the actual parliamentary situation as known at 3:00 PM or so, you would need to add, "Republican leaders balked at letting the chamber vote on the Democrat's wording and instead substituted their own resolution."

Your second paragraph leads with a true statement about Murtha. But the second sentence incorrectly says that "The GOP-run House was expected to reject it...." Rather, it should read that "The GOP-run House was not expected to be allowed to vote on it." This is a crucial distinction, elided by your reporter, in that legislative bodies cannot reject a measure they do not vote on. Therefore the same sentence's parenthetical clause about Congress "mak[ing an Iraq war] statement" with this vote is blunted and ought to be taken out entirely. Redolent of rodentia as it is, "scurried" is a good term to describe Congress leaving town, so the final phrase can stand.

While I do not dispute the accuracy of the Blunt quote in the third paragraph, it should have been preceded by a sentence noting that "Unlike the Murtha text, the Republican substitute resolution called for an 'immediate' troop withdrawal." When followed by the Blunt quote, this sentence would make it clear that the "debate it" and "vote on it" of which Blunt spoke applied to the Republicans' own resolution, not the Murtha resolution.

Doubtless the most that can be expected is that you will just kill the story (which was still up eight hours after it was posted, and four hours after the procedural vote was completed that set up the later vote on the spurious text.) But I suggest to you that an actual correction is in order. The AP is where most people get their news, and it is disheartening when it cannot be trusted on one of the simplest, most straightforward parliamentary dodges in the books. When the leadership won't let a resolution come to a vote, but instead substitutes its own version, anyone with legislative experience knows there's been dirty work at the crossroads.

Clearly it was haste that did your reporter in, not animus or incompetence. But the good faith of the error does not expunge its ill effects. Yes, the Republican leadership spent the day dithering about how to get back at Murtha and the Democrats. Even though they only came up with their own resolution at the last minute, it was clear from the start that they were not going to allow a vote on Murtha's language. Your reporter should have both known and reported that.


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