Papers fail to inform readers of representatives' vote on DeLay ethics rule change

››› ››› DUNCAN BLACK

On November 17, Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to overturn an ethics rule, in place since 1993, that required any leader or committee chairman who was indicted on a felony charge to step down. Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX) put this change forward for the acknowledged purpose of enabling Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) to retain his position if an ongoing investigation by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle results in an indictment.

This rule change was enacted on a voice vote -- in which members state "yea" or "nay" in unison -- and there is no written record of how individual Republicans voted. However, representatives can still go on the record with their constituents and to members of the media to express whether they did or did not support this change. In addition, as Joshua Micah Marshall has reported November 18 in his Talking Points Memo weblog, there are conflicting stories coming from staffers in congressional offices about the precise form of the vote and the number of Republican members of Congress who opposed it. While many newspapers around the country did take the time to try to contact their Republican representatives and report how they voted, many other papers did not, even as some of them were publishing editorials that condemned the rule change.

Smaller-market newspapers that published editorials condemning the rule change without informing their readers, either in the editorial itself or elsewhere in their paper, of how their local Republican representatives voted or responded to questions about their vote include: the Charleston (WV) Gazette, The Indianapolis Star, The Denver Post, The Roanoke (VA) Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the Springfield (MO) News-Leader.

Several larger newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Baltimore Sun, expressed criticism of the rule change without informing readers of how their respective area representatives voted, much less the overall tally of votes for and against the rule change.

Many papers did make the effort to determine which position local representatives took on this issue. These include the Manchester (NH) Union Leader, the Chicago Tribune, The Hartford Courant, The Arizona Republic (noting that while Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) opposed the rule change, "Arizona's other four Republican members of the House could not be reached for comment"), the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune, The Ledger (Lakeland, FL), and the Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard.

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