Home Media NY Times Op-Ed on Virginia Redistricting Amendment Filled with Falsehoods, Distortions, Errors

NY Times Op-Ed on Virginia Redistricting Amendment Filled with Falsehoods, Distortions, Errors

7

As a kid, I grew up idolozing the NY Times as the greatest newspaper in the world, the source of truth and enlightment – not to mention a really challenging Sunday crossword puzzle I used to do with my mom! Now, maybe my memory is just hazy, and it never was as great as I thought it was when I was a kid. Or perhaps the paper really *has* deteriorated over the past couple decades, but today, while there’s certainly plenty of good stuff in that paper, there’s also a lot of mediocrity…and worse. Like this, for instance, from August 7, 2019:

Yesterday, The New York Times received intense criticism from journalists, readers, and politicians for its initial front-page headline: “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism.” The article was about the president’s televised address on Monday, after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in which he mentioned the need to “condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy”a stark contrast from his typical “both sides” rhetoric.

Though the story itself examined Trump’s history of spewing divisive language, and questioned his ability to unify the country at this moment, the headline sparked outrage and disappointment. The columnist Connie Schultz called the title a “betrayal.” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that the headline served as “a reminder of how white supremacy is aided by—and often relies upon—the cowardice of mainstream institutions.” A Times spokesperson told me that the paper saw a “higher volume” of subscription cancellations yesterday than normal.

In addition to its front-page headline and story selection, “framing,” etc. problems, the NY Times editorial page has been a hot mess for a long time now. I mean, seriously, how good can a page be that still employs and published the egregiously lame, national laughingstock  Bret “Bedbugs” Stephens. Also note that these are the same geniuses who couldn’t decide who to endorse for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, so they endorsed…two candidates. I know, WTF?

And then there’s David Roberts’ demolition of the Times’ op-ed page, of which he writes that “It wants to challenge its readers, but not with the ugly truth,” and that “it’s not honest about US conservatism.” Plus, as Roberts points out, the NY Times op-ed page employs David Brooks – “His conservatism, of Sam’s Club affectation, fiscal conservatism, tepid social liberalism, and genial trolling of center-leftists at Davos — whom does it speak for in today’s politics, beyond Brooks?”

There’s also the relentless “both-sides-ism,” false equivalence bias of the NY Times, including during the 2016 campaign, when the paper essentially equated the utterly corrupt and dangerous Trump with – “HER EMAILS!” “CLINTON FOUNDATION!” Seriously, go back and check that paper’s 2016 presidential coverage, and you’ll see how they played a significant role in electing Trump.

Given all that, I guess there was no reason to be surprised this morning to see the severely flawed op-ed this morning about Virginia’s redistricting amendment, “A World Without Partisan Gerrymanders? Virginia Democrats Show the Way.” Just a few of the flaws include:

  • First of all, as Del. Mark Levine and others have pointed out, this amendment does NOT get rid of gerrymandering. As Speaker Filler-Corn wrote on March 6: “After the required yearlong review and discussion, I concluded that this Amendment was not ready to move on to the ballot. I could not ignore the fact that the Amendment, as written, fails to prevent politicization of map-drawing and does not sufficiently ensure inclusion of communities of color in the redistricting process. We must be vigilant and adhere to an extraordinarily high standard when proceeding with permanently changing the Constitution. In my opinion, this Amendment fails to meet that standard.” And as Del. Don Scott (D) tweeted on March 6, “The General Assembly just voted to enshrine partisan redistricting into the Va. Constitution. No black people from the House of Delegates participated in the drafting of the document. Read it. It is not independent redistricting. It is 100% partisan at the end of the day. Sad.”  And as Progress VA wrote at the time, “We are disappointed and dismayed at the passage of SJ18, which enshrines the power of partisan legislators to draw district maps in our constitution while failing to protect communities of color. For any further quote, we refer you to the words of Black Delegates on the floor.” I could go on all day, but you get the point.
  • Back to the op-ed; it’s got several flat-out falsehoods in it, such as its claim that “nine Virginia Democrats agreed to put down their partisan swords and join Republicans to support the new amendment.” WTF?!? For the record – and if the author of this piece had done any research at all, which clearly he must not have – nine Virginia *House* Dems voted for the amendment, along with 19 Senate Dems, for a total of 28 Dems who voted for this thing. So claiming “nine Virginia Democrats” voted for it is just false…and sloppy, lazy, etc.
  • This comment is highly questionable: “would require that the state’s district maps be drawn by a bipartisan commission made up of lawmakers and regular citizens.” Not sure exactly what he means by “regular citizens,” but in fact these members are selected “by a panel of five retired Circuit Court judges, from lists submitted by party leadership in the two chambers.” Hmmm…I can’t imagine the types of “regular citizens” folks like House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R) and Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R) might submit on their “lists.” But one thing’s almost certain – they will *not* be just “regular citizens,” whatever that means, nor will they be nonpartisan.
  • Then, this is false and/or misleading in several ways: “At the time [in early 2019], Republicans controlled the Legislature, but polls pointed strongly toward an impending Democratic takeover in last fall’s elections. As soon as that happened, most Democrats withdrew their support from the amendment.” Again, WTF?!? In fact, when the amendment was first passed, it wasn’t clear – although polling certainly indicated the possibility – that Democrats would take back the House of Delegates in November 2019. So the op-ed author’s comment that “polls pointed strongly toward an impending Democratic takeover” is a bit of an overstatement. As for his comment that “as soon as that happened, most Democrats withdrew their support from the amendment,” that is just flat-out false. In fact, heading into the 2020 Virginia General Assembly, everything I was hearing indicated that the redistricting amendment would pass overwhelmingly, including with large majorities of Democrats. Other than Del. Mark Levine and maybe a couple others, it’s hard to even think of *any* Virginia House of Senate Democrats who had come out publicly against the amendment as of December 2019 or even January 2020. So…yeah, no clue what this dude is talking about, but if anyone can point to any evidence that “most Democrats withdrew their support” for the amendment as soon as they won the the November 2019 elections, I’d love to see it. Good luck finding it.
  • The paragraph about the legislature having “passed laws that would ensure racial and ethnic diversity on the commission and would require the State Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority, to appoint a special master to draw the maps using the same criteria as the commission” is also highly questionable. Other than reminding everyone that every single African-American member of the Virginia House of Delegates voted against the amendment, with many speaking passionately against it, the main question is whether the legislature can “bind” the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, as Del. Mark Levine has explained, “a criteria bill will not bind the very partisan Republican State Supreme Court.” Also see here, as Del. Levine explains why “enabling legislation” will NOT fix this fatally flawed amendment: “I asked the question of the patron of the bill, I said when law is inconsistent with the Constitution, which prevails? And he answered, rightfully, the Constitution prevails…when a law and the Constitution are inconsistent with each other, the Constitution prevails. We hear of laws all the time being declared unconstitutional; we’ve never heard of a Constitution being declared unlawful, as it doesn’t happen, the Constitution wins.”
  • As for the op-ed’s claim about”requir[ing] the State Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority, to appoint a special master to draw the maps using the same criteria as the commission,” that would be great except…the “special master” language was in the “enabling legislation” – which failed (see the next bullet point). And, of course, there’s the question of whether the legislature can “bind” the Supreme Court, regardless.
  • Finally, note that at the moment, there’s no “enabling legislation,” as it failed to pass the legislature after House and Senate versions couldn’t be reconciled. There *is* Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s SB717, which provides “criteria by which congressional and state legislative districts are to be drawn,” but not true “enabling legislation” like HB758 or SB203. So that’s a big problem, especially given that even 1VA2021 admitted the amendment itself was flawed, but that strong enabling legislation could fix it. Now, we’ve got the flawed redistricting amendment without the fixes. Brilliant, eh? Plus, of course, we’re all trusting an overwhelmingly conservative/right-wing Virginia Supreme Court to do a good job of this, if two House Republicans and/or two Senate Republicans decide they want the commission to fail. Greeeeeaaaat.