After 21 hours and 19 minutes in which he covered everything from The Little Engine That Could to D.C. cocktail parties, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrapped up his marathon speech on the Senate floor against ObamaCare.
Cruz's theatrics drew plenty of sharp quips and terrible puns from journalists. To some observers, that seemed odd given the generally glowing reviews of Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis' (D) filibuster earlier this year to obstruct one of the nation's toughest abortion laws. The discrepancy, they said, was evidence of what conservatives, Fox News, and Sarah Palin have long claimed to be a pernicious fact of American media: Liberal bias.
Gee I wonder why NYT and WaPo and everyone else gave ecstatic coverage to Wendy Davis but not to Ted Cruz. I just can't make sense of it!— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) September 25, 2013
"You can forgive conservatives for being upset," writes Politico's Dylan Byers, because "the mainstream media, generally speaking, don't admire Cruz the way they admired Davis."
More from Byers:
Cruz is portrayed in the media as "aimless and self-destructive" (NYT ed board), elitist (GQ) and likely guided more by presidential aspirations than principles (CNN). Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, had no qualms about coming right out and calling Cruz, his former Princeton colleague, an "arrogant jerk" — and worse.
These portrayals may be accurate or inaccuarate — Cruz certainly has an elitist strain and he certainly has political ambitions. But that's not the point: The point is that the coverage of Cruz has been critical, and in some cases unforgiving, from the outset. At least initially, Davis wasn't viewed through a critical lens at all. Her willingness to stand for 11 hours was evidence of the American dream in action. Period. [Politico]
Indeed, many in the media praised Davis when she talked for hours to run down the clock on Texas' legislative session. Even her pink running shoes became an evocative symbol of women's rights.
So what gives? Why aren't people scarfing down green eggs and ham in solidarity with Cruz?
"The media generally supports legalized abortion," claims the Washington Examiner's Timothy P. Carney, "while the media generally like ObamaCare."
That may be true. Yet it's a reductive way to compare the two speeches, which, aside from both being very long, had very different practical and political implications.
For one, Cruz's speech, unlike Davis', technically was not a filibuster. He spoke during an allotted debate window, and there was no way he could have blocked a scheduled cloture vote. From the outset, his speech was solely about theatrics, not about preventing a vote.
Sure, Davis' speech was a bit of political grandstanding, too. That's largely what a filibuster is: An attempt to not only block legislation, but to spotlight a contentious issue.
But in her case, there was also a practical goal within sight. Davis did, after all, block the abortion bill from passing. Gov. Rick Perry (R) had to later call a highly controversial special session to get that bill through.
Also problematic for the bias claim is that the politics are completely different.
In Davis' case, she blocked a bill uniformly opposed by Democrats. As for Cruz, he championed his position to the chagrin of many in his party, with some implying that he was acting exclusively out of personal political benefit.
Cruz's colleague, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), panned the defund plan as "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of." Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called his stunt an act of "governmental terrorism." One anonymous GOP leadership aide even said, "Wendy Davis has more balls than Ted Cruz."
After Cruz finished speaking, all 100 senators voted for cloture to advance the bill — even Cruz. In other words, that means Cruz spent 21 hours railing against ObamaCare and pleading with his colleagues to block the bill — even comparing those who said it could not be done to Nazi appeasers — only to turn around and do the opposite.
And remember, the bill Cruz theoretically attempted to stall was one he forced the House to take up in the first place.
To recap: Cruz championed a bill defunding ObamaCare, staged a faux-filibuster against it, and then voted to advance it anyway.
"It's reporters' job to portray the facts of a given situation," writes The Atlantic's David A. Graham. In this case, Cruz defended an idea that is "dividing his party and won't overturn the law, so the coverage reflects that."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The Obama era is over. The presidency continues.
- America created the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Meet the ISIS 'truthers'
- What is Molly? Everything you need to know about the party drug
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- How American businessmen are ruining American business — and the U.S. economy
- Russia's giant spy ship was a high-tech disaster waiting to happen
- The constant struggle of running a family farm in 21st century America
- How Harry Houdini escaped death
- How to stop misogynists from terrorizing the world of gamers
- 10 things you need to know today: September 2, 2014
Subscribe to the Week