FMA Fails to Win 2/3 Vote in House

September 30, 2004 | 29 comments
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The House of Representatives today voted on a Federal Marriage Amendment. A large majority of representatives voted in favor of the amendment, but it did not receive the 2/3 majority necessary to amend the Constitution.

In a textbook example of media bias, the AP story on the vote begins, “The House emphatically rejected a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.” Later they note that the vote was 227-186, but they never point out that the vote was 227 in favor, and 186 against. Only someone determined to obscure the truth could say a measure that gets 22% more votes for it than against it was “emphatically rejected.” The House didn’t reject the amendment at all — they supported the amendment — the House merely failed to pass the amendment.

Count me among those happy to witness the mainstream press dying a slow death.

29 Responses to FMA Fails to Win 2/3 Vote in House

  1. a random John on September 30, 2004 at 10:25 pm

    22% more, right?

  2. Matt Evans on September 30, 2004 at 11:07 pm

    Thanks for pointing that out John, you’re right. I’ll correct the entry. I wrote 10% because the vote was 55% for, 45% against, but that means that 22% more representatives voted for it than against it.

  3. Kaimi on October 1, 2004 at 12:00 am

    Matt,

    They were a full 49 votes short of what was needed to pass the amendment. That’s a rejection. And it can plausibly be called an emphatic rejection. It wasn’t a close call. A 49 vote gap isn’t close. It’s a rejection, and a pretty solid one.

    They were over 10% short of the goal. (Or 22%, if we’re using your percent-of-one-side math). That’s a landslide loss, no two ways about it.

  4. Kaimi on October 1, 2004 at 12:05 am

    Matt,

    This story, including the “emphatically rejected” language, is running on the Fox News website.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,134134,00.html

    The Fox News front page blurbs the story as “Gay Marriage Ban Defeated
    GOP-controlled House emphatically defeats constitutional amendment”

    Is Fox News part of the vast liberal media conspiracy?

    Rather than being a textbook example of media bias, this looks to me like a textbook example of the recent conservative tendency to see bias where there’s none there.

  5. Kaimi on October 1, 2004 at 12:17 am

    Just a few quick follow up points:

    1. I just checked CNN.com and NYTimes.com. Nary of mention of it on either site. If the vast-liberal-media were really, um, real, don’t you think that these sites would have been trumpeting the rejection as well?

    Or is their silence to be read as part of their participation in the vast-liberal-media?) If you do that, you run the risk of sounding like the gunner on Full Metal Jacket (or was it Apocalypse Now?) who has the famous line about how you tell VC from civilians. “If they run, they’re VC. If they don’t run, they’re well-trained VC.”

    2. NYTimes does link to Reuters and AP stories. The Reuters story doesn’t have a word about rejection. In fact, their discussion (see http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/politics/politics-rights-gay-congress.html?oref=login ) goes as follows:

    “The U.S. House of Representatives failed on Thursday to muster the two-thirds majority needed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment backed by President Bush to ban gay marriage. The largely party-line vote in the Republican-led House was 227-186, 49 votes short of what was required for approval.”

    Umm, is that proof that Reuters _isn’t_ biased? (And they’re French! Go figure).

  6. Matt Evans on October 1, 2004 at 12:30 am

    Kaimi, you’ll notice that FoxNews is simply running the biased AP story. Many of the main news organizations use AP news feeds.

    As for the bias itself, it’s impossible for a democratic body to emphatically reject a measure the majority of the members support. To reject something is to do something affirmative, and the House didn’t affirmatively reject the amendment. The amendment simply failed to get the necessary votes despite the House’s collective support for the amendment.

  7. Matt Evans on October 1, 2004 at 12:34 am

    Kaimi, you’ll notice that I didn’t assert that there was a left-wing conspiracy, but that the language of the story was a textbook example of media bias. The author, whether deliberately or unconciously, used language that misrepresented the facts. That’s all. No conspiracy theories, just garden-variety media bias.

    I like the language in your Reuter’s citation; it accurately represents the facts.

  8. CB on October 1, 2004 at 7:33 am

    It looks like this thread is going to be more about perceptions of media bias than FMA.

    I’d be interested to know what the bloggernacle thinks of this statement by Evan Thomas, assistant manager of Newsweek:

    “There’s one other base here, the media. Let’s talk a little media bias here. The media, I think, wants Kerry to win and I think they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards I’m talking about the establishment media, not Fox. They’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and there’s going to be this glow about them, collective glow, the two of them, that’s going to be worth maybe 15 points.”

    Is Thomas a) right, b) wrong, or c) pulling our leg?

  9. CB on October 1, 2004 at 7:37 am

    Make that assistant managing editor.

    I think 15 points is a stretch.

  10. Bill on October 1, 2004 at 9:26 am

    Reuters is a British company

  11. Kaimi on October 1, 2004 at 10:23 am

    Matt,

    I’m surprised by your refification of majority approval. Majority approval means very little — what matters in a political vote is whether or not the threshold was reached for approval.

    Would it be fair to say that California voters did not approve of Arnold as governor, because he received less than half of the vote? A majority of California voters voted _against_ him.

    Or take this example. Suppose that T & S bloggers have a rule about guest bloggers. Anyone may propose a guest blogger, but the group must consent unanimously.

    Suppose that Nate nominates Cody Judy as a guest blogger. He gets support from Kaimi, Kris, Gordon, Jim, and Russell. The proposal is opposed by Matt, Adam, Greg and Julie.

    With the 6-4 vote, it dies, and Mr. Judy is not accepted as a guest blogger.

    Would it be inaccurate to state that the T & S group rejected Nate’s proposal of Judy as a guest blogger?

    It seems to me that you’re playing semantic games here (“it’s not reject, it’s fail to pass”) and then taking umbrage at the fact that others don’t play semantic games the same way you do. Yes, it’s a reasonable position to say that “fail to pass” is better than “reject.” It’s also reasonable to say that they’re equally accurate. The AP story takes a reasonable position, which is not equivalent to Matt Evans’ reasonable position. That difference does not make the AP position unreasonable.

  12. Matt Evans on October 1, 2004 at 10:40 am

    Kaimi,

    If more Californians vote against Arnold than vote for him, it would be inaccurate to say that California “emphatically supported” him. It would be similiarly inaccurate to say, about your guest-blogging hypo, that T&S “emphatically rejected” Cody Judy if 60% of T&S in fact voted for him. This isn’t a semantic game; reject and fail to pass have distinct meanings.

  13. ed on October 1, 2004 at 10:47 am

    I don’t know if the original story was “biased,” but can’t we at least agree that the wording was poor and potentially misleading?

  14. Geoff B on October 1, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    As a former journalist, I can attest that there is clearly a liberal bias in the MSM. If the recent CBS scandal doesn’t prove that to the doubters, nothing will. As for this particular story, journalists do this all the time. The story is trying to say that compared to the expectations for passage the FMA was emphatically rejected, and this is technically true. Still, if I were the editor I would have changed the wording to say, “the majority of the House of Reps supported the FMA, but the measure failed to gather the two-thirds majority needed for passage.” This would have been more factually correct and less partisan, no doubt about it.

    Fewer and fewer unbiased editors are left in the MSM to make those kinds of judgment calls. The types of people who choose to work in the MSM are liberals in college and continue their liberalism once they get into the media. I met literally hundreds of journalists when I was a full-time journalist, and I can only remember one — one! — who was religious at all (a Baptist). I never met a single Republican. Overwhelmingly Democrats, but a smattering of real socialists and Libertarians.

    Kaimi is correct to note that we conservatives are anxious to find conspiracies where they sometimes don’t exist. But in the vast majority of cases, the bias clearly shows through. Anybody who is unwilling to admit this bias simply doesn’t have a grasp of reality.

  15. Ivan Wolfe on October 1, 2004 at 4:26 pm

    I do not believe there is a conspiracy in the MSM, but I find it funny that whenever I try to prove bias in *one* particular story, I get accused of seeing conspiracies everywhere.

    Basically, many liberals have constructed a straw man, and when conservatives say “here, look, this one article/story has bias” what these liberals seem to hear is “the MSM is evil!!!! They are out to get the right wing! They are controlled by the Illuminati!!!!” or something.

    It is rather frustrating – it makes it impossible to have a dialogue when one side seems incapable of actually hearing what one is saying.

  16. Chad Too on October 2, 2004 at 12:47 am

    My experience in newsrooms is very different than what Geoff portrays. I have found in the four states where I have committed journalism that the newsroom as a whole generally reflects the political climate of the area where it resides. I’ve been in very Republican newsrooms, and very Democrat heavy ones. I have, in the course of the same newscast, had our newsroom accused of bias towards the Republican Candidate, the Democratic challenger, and the independent grandfatherly curmudgeon (anyone else remember Perot?) by different viewers calling to vent their spleens. I suppose if all groups think we’re against them, then we must be doing something right.

    As to the AP article Matt’s frothing about, I personally would have chosen a less value-laden term than ‘emphatically’ but as has been pointed out, it’s not entirely inaccurate. I also think that because Matt’s upset that the FMA didn’t pass the House vote he’s projecting his anger onto the messenger. Take the word ‘emphatically’ out and the result is still the same: the votes were insufficient. Taking David Espo to task for his word choice won’t change that.

    And FWIW, none of the editors at the Deseret News nor the Provo Daily Herald found the word objectionable enough nor inaccurate enough to remove it from their pages. AP copy is changed by editors for content all the time. I can’t imagine anyone would include those two papers as part of any vast left-wing conspiracy.

  17. Jack on October 2, 2004 at 1:11 am

    Can’t accuse lefties of conspiracy if they’re born that way.

  18. Adam Greenwood on October 2, 2004 at 10:39 am

    Would you have chosen a less value-laden term than ‘frothing’?

  19. Chad Too on October 2, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    Adam: Nope.

  20. CB on October 2, 2004 at 11:32 pm

    Chad Too,

    “it’s not entirely inaccurate”.

    That cannot possible be a standard to be proud of, or a position anyone but Dan Rather would want to defend.

    Perhaps you misspoke?

  21. Chad Too on October 3, 2004 at 12:08 am

    CB, to clarify, I’ve already joined in saying that I wouldn’t have used that word if I were the writer. Not because it’s inaccurate –a measure failing by 49 votes in the House is a measure soundly defeated –but because the adverb ‘emphatically’ implies a value judgment on the part of the writer that didn’t need to be there. Hence, my objection isn’t that the term is inaccurate, but rather that there are other adverbs (I used ‘soundly’ a moment ago, I think it fits much better) that would have been my personal choice. True purists would make the argument that no extra adverb was needed at all in that sentence.

  22. CB on October 3, 2004 at 2:54 am

    Thank you clarifying.

  23. Matt Evans on October 6, 2004 at 6:47 pm

    Chad, it’s grossly inaccurate to say a measure that was supported by a majority of a group was “emphatically rejected” by the group. It’s similarly inaccurate to say it was “soundly rejected” by the group. Media bias results from these kind of imprecise statements that expose the perspective of the journalist. Imprecise language does not happen randomly; as people are instantly aware of imprecise language that contradicts their world view. A California journalist who despises Arnold Schwartzenegger, for example, would never say that Arnold was “emphatically supported by California” if Arnold had only won 30% of the vote. Only someone who is prone to look favorably on Arnold could make such a mistake, because only such a person could read that statement and, due to cognitive dissonance, not immediately recognize the imprecision.

    In the same way, only a journalist who did not like the FMA would make the mistake of that it was “emphatically rejected” by a group where most of the members supported it.

    Finally, to offer some friendly guidance about injecting bias into your own writing, the preferred term of derision is “wild-eyed,” not “frothing.” For example, you should have written “Wild-eyed conservative Matt was again pointing out media bias.” If you want to make it in the media big leagues, you’ve got to master the lexicon.

  24. Matt Evans on October 7, 2004 at 9:54 am

    On the broader question of media bias generally, this new quantitative study compared headlines of economic news and found that headlines for equal economic news were reported more favorably when a Democrat was president than when a Republican was. The researchers believe economic news is a a good place to look for objective accounts of media bias because the facts underlying the story can be compared across time, and because headlines usually make a judgment about the data — saying things are getting better, getting worse or staying the same.

    The researchers found that Democrats received 10-20% more favorable headlines than did Republicans, even when the underlying economic news was the same.

    Importantly, they also found that public attitudes about the economy were effected more by news stories than by the economic data. (For example, did you know that over the past 12-months the economy grew at almost the exact same rate as the best12-month period under President Clinton?)

    The study can be accessed in it’s entirety here.

  25. CB on October 7, 2004 at 10:20 am

    Funnier than Letterman, Seinfeld, or The Simpsons, funnier than The Daily Show, funnier even that watching president Bush trying to enunciate multi-syllabic words, is watching news anchors claim that they simply report the news, without fear or favor – they are but humble seekers after truth.

    It has been asserted earlier in this thread that newsrooms lean left or right, depending on the place they are located. I think that is true, and that is the whole point, isn’t it? Major media outlets are located in large urban areas. Large urban areas lean left. Voila, media bias.

    This isn’t to say that sometimes people on the right see bias where there is none. But, the existence of a leftward tilt in major media outlets is undeniable.

  26. Chad Too on October 7, 2004 at 10:26 am

    Now you’re getting into semantics, and not in a good way. The bill had a constitutionally higher standard than regular bills do, 2/3 rather than 1/2. Given the higher threshold necessary for the bill to be passed, being 49 votes short is indeed a failure, and a marked one at that. Saying it wasn’t “rejected” because a majority voted for it is disingenous because, in this case, “majority” has a different, more strict definition than usual. All parties involved knew that going in, no surprises here. Did more than 50-percent support the FMA? Yes. Did the bill reach the 2/3 majority defined and demanded by the Constitution? No. Does the bill fail? Yes. That more than 50-percent wanted it is irrelevant in this case.

    I’m still willing to give that “emphatically rejected” was a poor choice in terms, but the fact remains that given the higher standard demanded by the Constitution, the bill was soundly-markedly-definitely (or no adverb at all) defeated.

  27. Matt Evans on October 7, 2004 at 11:56 am

    Chad,

    Besides the adverb emphatically, the verb rejected is also imprecise. (Perhaps that’s why you used defeated in your correction instead. Your sentence also eliminates another source of the bias from the original story by changing the subject of the sentence to the bill, rather than the House.)

    More importantly, my objection to the original article was the attempt to describe the act of the House as affirmatively rejecting something. It’s disengenuous to interpret the will of a collective body as being contrary to the wishes of the majority of its members. The fact that 2/3 of the House needs to support the bill is immaterial to the description of House’s attitude toward the bill.

    To make a mirror argument: suppose there were nearly 200 candidates for California governor, all of whom are Democrats except for the lone Republican Arnold Schwartzenegger. Imagine each of the Democrats received one-half of one-percent of the vote, but Arnold received 5%. Even though the California constitution requires only that the winner receive one more vote than any other candidate, Arnold got 1000% more votes than his nearest rival, and 950% more votes than required by the Constitution. (By comparison, Nixon and Reagan received only about 30% more votes in their enormous landslides.) By the standard you and Kaimi have used — the relevant baseline is the number of votes needed to win, not what the majority says — then the newspapers should print headlines like “Arnold Wins Election By Largest Margin In History,” “California Gives Arnold a Thunderous Mandate, ” and “Arnold Wins Emphatic Support of California.”

    I do not think these headlines would be accurate, however, even though Arnold far surpassed the necessary number of votes. That’s because the headlines suggest that the collective body of California supports Arnold, when the majority of Californians didn’t choose him. It would be accurate to write “California Elects Arnold” but inaccurate to say that “California Soundly Supports Arnold.”

  28. Jeremiah J. on October 13, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    Matt, I’m very disappointed to hear another intelligent person witness the decline of the American institution of journalism with glee. The fact is that the news media is as a whole, probably to the left of most of America on the issue of gay marriage, and further to the left of my own view of the issue. Sometimes this perspective manifests itself in the tone of a news article. After all, every article can be said to have some ‘tone’, and it will probably be a tone that could influence someone to believe something different from what they currently believe, whether that ‘tone’ is right, left, or centrist. But to admit this is very far from admitting that this situation is easily avoidable, or morally disgusting or that citizens are commonly manipulated by tone. Indeed on the last issue, political science has found quite the opposite.

    Good, investigative journalism, which takes seriously its mission to inform a democratic electorate and holds itself to high, generally recognized standards of ethics and evidence, doesn’t just happen. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon in American life, one which followed an era of mostly partisan print media. The way to solve the problems in journalism is not to begin calling everything good journalism (which is precisely what is happening on the heels of the “slow death” of the “mainstream media”). Bill O’Reilly is not Mike Wallace, “Unfit for Command” is not the equivalent of Bob Woodward’s series on Watergate, and the Drudge Report is not the Washington Post. Surely you must see this. Simply because the media changes its ‘tone’ to fit our own views on the issue of gay marriage, does not mean it is doing a better job of serving us as citizens.

  29. lyle on October 13, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    Jeremiah:

    Perhaps you meant O’Reilly is not Dan Rather?

    or given today’s news…O”Reilly is not Bill Clinton?