Senator James Jeffords of Vermont seemed to have the media world at
his feet when he announced his departure from the Republican Party,
thereby handing control of the Senate to the Democrats.
By all accounts, little has rivaled Jeffords' decision to become an
independent in terms of its impact on national politics.
Editorials from newspapers across the country weighed in with their take
on the significance of the move. Coverage most often addressed the
impact Jeffords' decision would have on the country, rather than what
the change of party meant to Jeffords personally. Overall editorial
coverage was positive, depicting the change as good news for America,
trumpeting the benefits of checks and balances in government.
However, the tone of the coverage varied from newspaper to
The Buffalo News (May 25) offered a fairly even-handed forecast: "The
likely outcome, indeed, will be a more centrist Senate and more centrist
legislative policies." In contrast, the St. Petersburg Times (May 25)
took a bit of a jab at the GOP as it wrote, "You can bet bipartisanship
will be more than lip service to the Bush administration now."
More than half of the editorials analyzed believed that the Bush
administration had not been flexible in promoting bipartisan legislation
while Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of
The San Francisco Chronicle (May 24) criticized Bush for not following
through on his promise to be a "uniter, not a divider." "As much as he
talked about bipartisanship and outreach, President Bush has governed
decidedly from the right since taking office in January." The Denver
Post (May 25) agreed, "Since the election, the moderate (Bush) has
morphed into a prisoner of the party's right wing."
As far as coverage about Jeffords himself, the media were sympathetic to
his case that he was forced out of the GOP, as his moderate views became
increasingly at odds with the conservative Republican initiatives.
Coverage recounted tales of various incidents of "backstabbing" (USA
Today, May 24) Jeffords had suffered at the hands of Republicans for not
being in lockstep with his party. From the point of view of the
Republican Party, the defection was a PR disaster. The New York Times
(May 24) viewed Jeffords' actions as "an embarrassing lesson on how not
to take someone for granted," especially given the even split in the
Senate and the absolute need for every Republican vote it could get.
Other newspapers viewed the news from Bush's point of view and wrote
that "the upshot of all this is that the president and his party lose
significant power to advance their legislative agenda" (Omaha
World-Herald, May 24).
Only a handful of editorials addressed their discontent with the timing
of Jeffords' decision to change parties. These papers felt that Jeffords
should have made his views known before the November elections. The
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) (May 25) lamented, "We wish this
transfer of power had occurred through the ballot box."
If media coverage is any indication, politics is set to become more
moderate and bipartisan.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found