Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Congressional earmarks going through with little coverage, Novak says

Conservative political columnist Robert Novak writes in the latest Evans-Novak Political Report that the professed transparency of House Democrats when it comes to earmarks on appropriations bills is "a sham" because they routinely vote to approve each other's earmarks and that isn't being covered by the news media.

"Amendments to strike transparent earmarks are brought up for a floor vote, they are overwhelmingly defeated and the news media completely ignore the story," Novak writes. "Searches of Lexis-Nexis and Google News suggest that no one -- and we mean absolutely no one -- has picked up on the story of Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and the embarrassing fight he lost to keep an earmark in his district." We suppose Novak does not include in his definition of "news media", which reported June 28 and July 3 on the removal of McHenry's earmark for the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree in Spruce Pine, N.C.

McHenry blamed the 249-174 vote against his $129,000 earmark on his outspoken criticism of Democrats. "Since his election in 2004, McHenry has become one of the Democrats' most vocal critics on the House floor," reported July 3. The earlier story noted that the vote marked the first time that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has succeeded in removing an earmark. For the latest story, click here. It notes, "Interestingly, four members of McHenry's own state delegation — usually tight-knit groupings — voted against him: Republicans Howard Coble, Robin Hayes and Sue Myrick and Democrat Brad Miller."

Novak may be more on point when it comes to traditional and local coverage. We checked the archives of the Morganton News-Herald, the daily newspaper closest to Spruce Pine, and the latest story on the matter was a June 21 report from Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press, which prominently noted McHenry's earnark, called him a "burr in the side of Democrats running the House" and said an unnamed "senior GOP member of the Appropriations Committee pointed McHenry's earmark out to reporters, calling it 'interesting.'" Sounds like the Democrats wanted at least one earmark they could defeat on the floor. (Read more)

We found nothing on the matter in the archives of the Asheville Citizen-Times, a larger paper almost as close to Spruce Pine but not in McHenry's 10th District. The Hickory Daily Record, largest paper in the 10th, noted the committee action in an editorial critical of earmarking but we found nothing in its archives on the floor vote. Both papers are owned by chains that have Washington reporters. But reporters don't have to be in Washington to write about such matters; there's plenty of information on the Web. Use it!

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