Conservative Stories, Liberal Stories: Isn’t a Drunk Senator Just Plain News?

A Youtube video shows Montana Senator Max Baucus (D) giving a rambling rant of a speech from the Senate floor, waving his arms and slurring his speech like Uncle Billy in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as he condemns Republicans for being overly partisan in the run-up to the health care bill vote. Was he drunk? It sure looks like it to me, based on some considerable experience with such things, but no, the real reason he looks drunk to me must be my right-wing political bias, because only conservative blogs and media seem to see anything intoxicated about the good senator’s speech at all.

This isn’t just silly; it is harmful.

I don’t know for certain whether Max Baucus, who has enough ethical problems right now, was drunk or not. I do know that if I gave a presentation like that for a client, I would be in big trouble. I know that if I gave a speech like that in some of my past jobs, I would have been fired, placed on leave, warned or sent to a 30 day rehab. A U.S. Senator appearing drunk on the floor of the Senate is a breach of professional duty and protocol; it is serious, it is rare, and it obviously is news. But the headline on Politico is “Max Baucus’s Speech Under Conservative Fire.” Why conservative fire? Do liberals and moderates really think having a U.S. Senator drunk on the job is hunky-dory? Would that broad-minded attitude apply if, for example, Orin Hatch broke into a spirited rendition of “Show Me the Way to Go Home” on C-Span, or if John McCain started acting like Foster Brooks?

Somehow I doubt it. No, then Politico would be saying that Hatch or McCain were  under liberal fire, while the conservative bloggers would argue that they were just tired, jolly, or having off days.

As I write this, not a single non-conservative website, newspaper or TV news show has shown any interest in the fact that Baucus either was or acted drunk on the Senate floor. Politico sees the news story as being the conservative claim that Baucus was drunk, not Baucus’s possible inebriation itself. The trend in the media and the blogosphere to run events through a various political litmus tests—“Does this help Obama?”  “Does it threaten the Democrats?” “Does it help “our side” in the culture wars?” “Does it embarrass one of “our side’s” allies?”—before deciding whether they are “news” not only hides and obscures matters that the public has a right to know, it taints them, turning facts into Roshomon riddles.

Liberal or conservative, any media outlet and any citizen should be concerned when a White House “czar” turns out to have been a “Truther,” like Van Jones. Right or Left, any citizen should be concerned when the National Endowment for the Arts tries to use its grant-making power to encourage artists to use their talent for agitprop. Democrat or Republican, when ACORN employees show that they would advise a pimp on how to defraud the system, we should want to know about it, and be concerned that such an organization receives government money to spend. These were “conservative stories,” though: the New York Times and CNN and the rest had to be dragged kicking and screaming to cover them, and only did so because they wouldn’t go away.

Once a story is labeled liberal or conservative, you see, two things happen, both unethical: the story is ignored by a large number of news sources that have an ethical  duty to cover it, and the story itself can be discredited, because the only people and news media who believe it is a story can be accused of doing so because they have a political agenda. It isn’t that Max Baucus was drunk as a skunk, you see. It’s all because he was one of the Democratic leaders pushing through the health care bill, and the bad conservatives are out to get him.

Me, I just don’t think professionals should be drunk on the job. Even more than that, however, I think that when a U.S. Senator appears to be drunk on the job, reporting the story is a journalistic obligation, not a partisan statement.

8 thoughts on “Conservative Stories, Liberal Stories: Isn’t a Drunk Senator Just Plain News?

  1. Thank you, pundits and politicians for proving American politics has had no Common Sense since the death of Thomas Paine(spelling?).

  2. Excellent point. Liberal and conservative reporters should report misbehavior on both sides, but that’s only the beginning: Only when each side rejects unethical behavior by its own do we have a chance of changing the disrespectful, harmful, and unethical atmosphere of our politics.

    • I have to tell you, Bob, this issue is beginning to really drive me crazy. It doesn’t matter how reasoned or objective one is in forming an opinion, the opinion itself is automatically taken as proof of bias. You can’t reason under these circumstances; you can’t persuade.

  3. You’re dreaming if you think that the liberal/conservative breach will meld over REAL issues like incompetence, lying, unethical behavior, etc. Our political system is so rife with partisanship that ideas like honor, ethics, and veracity have virtually disappeared.

    It doesn’t matter to Democrats if one of their leaders stands and makes a drunken diatribe against Republicans on the Senate floor. The key words are “diatribe against Republicans” and the unmentionable word is “drunken.” They just don’t care.

    Shame on them. Shame on all of them, frankly. This is not the Republic our Founders envisioned. See also my comment regarding the “qualification” factors that should be required to run for office.

    • WWTRD? (what would the Republicans do?)

      I fear to know the answer.

      It is a shame that we so often allow partisan affiliations to create the cognitive dissonance required overlook something so obviously questionable and newsworthy.

      The Founders, of course, could not have been so naive as to assume that future generations wouldn’t devolve into just this type of thing.

      What else could Ben Franklin have meant when he responded to, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” with, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

      Can we?

  4. I mentioned this incident to someone (an avid C-SPAN viewer) today in an argument about partisan news coverage. He concluded that a drunken Senator speaking on the floor isn’t news. Covering this story goes apparently goes against everything he learned in his journalistic ethics class, and only a biased right-wing source would bring it to anyone’s attention, because there are more pressing issues, such as passing the health care bill and cap-and-trade. Democratic leaders have no duty to say anything either, as a Senator’s drunkenness is his own private business. Lots of Republicans drink too and behave worse on the floor. Besides, anything he might have said, while drunk, about Republicans was probably deserved.

    I wanted to know more about how coverage would violate journalistic ethics, but our conversation veered off into other partisan directions.

    • Are you serious? Was HE serious? A Senator drunk on the Senate floor isn’t news? Gee, how about a President drunk at a podium? Would THAT be news? Has he ever seen a House member or Senate member speaking drunk on C-Span? I sure haven’t. I am certain that would be a violation of Senate and House ethics rules.

      Michelle Obama’s wardrobe and the First Family’s dog are news, but it’s a breach of journalistic ethics to cover an elected official drunk on the job? WHAT??? Is this guy a dementia patient you have befriended? How can he watch C-Span? Why isn’t he watching “Wow Wow Wubsy”?

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