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James Fallows: the GOP Pulled Off an Institutional Coup With the Help of Enablers in the Media

"There’s always been partisan division, but not the idea that the only thing that mattered was blocking whoever had won the last election."

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Over the past year or so, when he wasn't working on his new book, China Airborne, James Fallows, a veteran political reporter for the  Atlantic, has been taking his colleagues to task for giving cover to an increasingly extreme GOP by constantly referring to the inability to get legislation through the Senate as generic “dysfunction” or “gridlock.”

The reality is that since Obama came into office, Senate Republicans have blocked an unprecedented number of measures that had majority support, and failed to confirm dozens of appointees. It is not simply a generic matter of “dysfunction.”

As Jean Edward Smith noted in the New York Times, “the routine use of the filibuster as a matter of everyday politics has transformed the Senate’s legislative process from majority rule into minority tyranny.”

Leaving party affiliation aside, it is now possible for the senators representing the 34 million people who live in the 21 least populous states — a little more than 11 percent of the nation’s population — to nullify the wishes of the representatives of the remaining 88 percent of Americans.

Fallows joined Joshua Holland on this week's AlterNet Radio Hour to discuss this, and to chat about his book. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion. (You can listen to the whole show here.)

Joshua Holland: Jim, let me first get your take on the state of fact-checking. These independent fact-checking organizations have grown like mushrooms in recent years, and the big papers have their own in house fact checkers -- these ombudsmen.

Mitt Romney had a truly awful week last week. One of the stories had to do with when he actually left Bain Capital. He has long said he left in 1999, but in SEC filings and in sworn testimony before the Massachusetts State Ballot Commission it shows him as the Chairman and CEO of Bain through 2002. On Friday, the Washington Post ombudsmen, Glenn Kessler, gave this story three Pinocchios. The grounds for that were highly technical. He didn’t really debunk the story so much as he pondered the meaning of being in charge. What does “it” mean?

That kind of reminded me of this infamous case in which Politifact named Democrats’ claim that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget would bring Medicare to an end as its lie of the year. That statement would be 100 percent accurate if they said Ryan’s plan would end Medicare as we know it, but they didn’t give it a half-true rating, or a mostly true rating. They gave it the lie of the year. The two previous lies of the year were Republican claims. One that Obamacare has death panels and one that it’s a government takeover of our healthcare system. So it seemed to me that they were going out of their way to find a Democratic claim.

You’ve written a lot about political reporters’ tendencies to push false equivalencies -- this notion that both sides do it. What do you make of this fact-checking phenomenon? Is it just an outgrowth of our he-said/ she-said reporting model?

James Fallows: I think it is. I think when you look back on this election cycle -- or even the last years of Obama’s term so far -- we’ll end up thinking that these so-called fact checking organizations did more harm than good in really understanding what’s going on. As you say, there is such a powerful impulse in the mainstream reporting that you have to balance every criticism of “one side” with the other side. If, for example, the Republican minority in the Senate is filibustering at a record rate, you have to find some way to say there’s a symmetrical Republican and Democratic responsibility for things not going through the Congress.

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