The WaPo: Anatomy of a Story

By September 24, 2006General

It’s not often we get the chance to track a story from its genesis to fruition, but we were given that opportunity this week by the WaPo.

On Tuesday at 12:45 p..m, we received an e-mail from WaPo reporter Jeff Birnbaum that said in relevant part:

“I’m writing an end of session piece. I would be happy to talk to [NAM President John] Engler or to you about the subject, and the issues that have unfortunately been left on the table.” (Emphasis ours.)

OK, so this isn’t a story about what Congress has accomplished, we got that. There have been many things left on the table this session, to be sure. But so much has died in the Senate because we’ve fallen short of the ridiculous 60 votes needed to cut off debate in that august body. On asbestos and death tax, we fell only a vote or two short — enough votes to pass the bill by a wide margin in each case, but less than 60.

And so we replied at 4:10 p.m.:

“Gov. Engler’s out of town the rest of the week, so you’re stuck with me. What I’d say for the record is, ‘We have three issues we need to get done this session: reform of the death tax, renewing and strengthening the R&D tax credit and — most importantly — an energy bill that lets us tap our own domestic supplies of energy.’

‘As for what’s left on the table, were it not for Harry Reid and his manipulation of the 60-vote rule in the Senate, we’d have accomplished this and much more. Anything ‘left on the table’ is owing largely to him.’

This likely won’t fit with where your story is headed, but it’s what I’ve got to say.

Thanks for the oppty to comment.”

Here’s a link to the story that ran today entitled, “Lobbyists’ Power Wanes as Election Day Nears.” In fairness, the reporter doesn’t write the headline. So here’s the first paragraph:

“Many pressure groups that have grown accustomed to getting their way on Capitol Hill have found their initiatives shelved this year as lawmakers focus on security-related matters and rush to leave town to campaign for reelection.”

As we indicated in our reply e-mail, we had a funny feeling where this story might be headed. It kinda morphed from a “what didn’t get done” piece to one with a different — and we’d dare say, more partisan — bent. Also, to be fair, there’s no shortage of quotes in the piece from fellow association execs, all of whom apparently responded to the question as posed.

Seems to us a more informative piece would have been about why things didn’t get done. It’s not because they ran out of time. It’s because so much of the agenda was frustrated by opponents of issues that are critically important to manufacturers. You can see it all by checking out their NAM vote ratings.

It also seems to us that the question as originally posed was looking for a quote that was going to get wrapped in a very different context.