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Major Garrett Distorts History of The Filibuster And Bob Dole's Opinion

Reported by Ellen - April 28, 2005

In a FOXNews.com article called Filibuster Fight Extends Beyond Senate, which is almost a literal transcription of the video report by Major Garrett on the same page, Garrett once again spins the truth to support GOP talking points. Today's propaganda has it that Bob Dole is in favor of the "nuclear option" of preventing the Democratic invention of judicial filibusters. Conveniently, Garrett ignored some facts that add shade and nuance to Dole's opinion and other facts that directly contradict GOP allegations.

With regard to Senator Dole, Garrett reports "Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole set aside earlier misgivings and endorsed a move to abolish judicial filibusters. Dole said he preferred a negotiated settlement but concluded that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had the right to end what he called unconstitutional Democratic obstructionism. 'I hope changing the Senate's rules won't be necessary, but Senator Frist will be fully justified in doing so if he believes he has exhausted every effort at compromise,' Dole wrote in an editorial that appeared in Wednesday's New York Times."

News flash for Garrett: Dole still has his misgivings and the thrust of his argument is that there should be a compromise and avoid changing the rule. For example, Dole's second paragraph in the New York Times editorial reads:

I have publicly urged caution in this matter. Amending the Senate rules over the objection of a substantial minority should be the option of last resort. I still hold out hope that the two Senate leaders will find a way to ensure that senators have the opportunity to fulfill their constitutional duty to offer "advice and consent" on the president's judicial nominees while protecting minority rights. Time has not yet run out.

Dole made his thoughts even clearer last night on The Alan Colmes Show, a FOX News radio program. Dole told Colmes, "I never held up a judge... I'd vote for cloture then vote against the nominee... But we didn't hold it up. THE BOTTOM LINE IS, I HOPE IT DOESN'T COME TO THAT (eliminating the filibuster) (my emphasis). You've got to be very, very careful when you start tinkering with the Senate rules."

Colmes: Should we keep the filibuster?

Dole: No, well I think as a last resort you should. But I think... Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, and Senator Bill Frist the Republican leader ought to spend all night the next week or however long it takes to work out a compromise." Dole then suggested that Bush do his part by renominating some of the Clinton nominees that the Senate blocked. He added, "I guess that probably won't fly in the senate.. but I think they just have to keep working at it. I wouldn't give up if I were there and I'm sure Bill Frist and Senator Reid are not gonna give up."

Sounds to me like Dole thinks that what should really happen is that Frist should work with Reid on a compromise. Garrett somehow missed this news, especially relevant to his reporting that compromise is something Frist has refused to do. Garrett said, "In an interview on 'The Tony Snow Show' on FOX News Radio, Frist dismissed Democratic offers to confirm one or two filibustered Bush nominees. 'The offers that have been floated yesterday, the sort of spin-the-bottle, Russian roulette approach to judges is not, I think, respectful of the institution and what we are expected to do,' Frist said."

Comment: Interesting how Garrett managed to report what Frist said on The Tony Snow Show yet missed Dole's comments on The Alan Colmes Show.

Moving on from Dole, Garrett reported without rebuttal the false Republican accusation that judicial filibusters are a Democratic invention. Garrett said, "Republicans point to the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 as proof the judicial filibuster is a recent Democratic invention. The democratically controlled Senate at the time did not use the filibuster and narrowly confirmed Thomas, even though most Democrats and party activists opposed him far more aggressively and bitterly than any of President Bush's judicial nominees blocked so far."

Garrett ignored easily found information that contradicts this view, such as the Republican filibuster in 1968 of Abe Fortas, the "first filibuster in Senate history on a Supreme Court nomination," according to a US Senate Historical Minute Essay. (Many thanks to mediamatters.org for bringing this to public attention.)

Garrett ignored other instances of Republican filibustering and obstruction of judicial nominees as well. For example, mediamatters.org also reports that:

In addition, cloture votes were necessary to obtain floor votes on Clinton judicial nominees Richard A. Paez and Marsha L. Berzon in 2000, as the Los Angeles Times reported on November 13, 2003. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), who is leading the Republican opposition to Democratic filibusters, voted against cloture for the Paez nomination. And in October 1994, Republicans attempted to filibuster the nomination of U.S. district judge H. Lee Sarokin to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Moreover, the Republican-controlled Senate prevented approximately 60 of former President Clinton's nominees from even reaching the Senate floor for consideration. And despite Democratic opposition to a handful of Bush's nominees, "confirmation of Bush nominees exceeds in most cases the first-term experience of presidents dating to Ronald Reagan," The Washington Post reported.

Roger Ailes and other FOX News execs love to say that there is no bias in FOX News reporting. In an April 6, 2005 article in USA Today, reporter Peter Johnson wrote: Ailes said Fox News has no agenda. His charge to his reporters and anchors is simple: "If you make a mistake, get on the air as fast as you can and admit it. ... Do your homework. Make sure you reach out to a point of view you don't agree with to be sure you have some balance in your piece."

In more than a year of following Garrett's distorted reports, I have yet to hear him make a correction. I suspect it boils down to the fact that spinning GOP talking points is not a "mistake" on FNC and that "some balance" is enough. Like strong seasoning, Garrett and FOX News seem to think that a little Democratic perspective goes a long way and, apparently, reporters are careful not to use too much.

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