Monday, June 25, 2007

Some Insights 

I spoke via email this weekend with a national reporter at a highly prestigious publication that understands the workings of our government probably better than any other publication out there. I asked her why there has been nothing on the GAO report that shows there is some effect behind the President's signing statements on the executive branch agencies. She told me:

1) She and her publication aren't really paying any attention to the report because of all the other things going on with the presidency (the VP/National Archives controversy, the numerous Justice Department investigations) and because there are a lot of "better examples of executive muscle being followed in other ways." That is only because no one is looking at the signing statement as part of the larger picture of executive power, instead studying it in isolation from what makes it so effective..

2) There is nothing new about the signing statements since they have "been around a long time, through many presidents." And yet despite being around a long time, she nor anyone else have taken the time to write about it. And, since when does "being around a long time" disqualify something from being examined? This is precisely what presidents hope for when they use something like the signing statement over a prolonged period of time. If it passes from president to president, it becomes a precedent for behavior because "it has been around a long time."

3) The 2006 coverage--including the awarding of the Pulitzer--"was way overblown if you ask me. Other reporters feel the same way." I get the sense of sour grapes among many national reporters. Rather than investigate an unusual and unique device, ignore it so that the Pulitzer doesn't come knocking this year or the next. This is what competition among reporters has given us in the United States. She tells me that a report last year found no effect of the signing statement. That is true. The GAO reports find some effect. That tells us two things. First, the Bush administration has followed through its challenges somewhere between 0 and 1,149. Shouldn't we find out what that number is? Second, the Bush administration is very involved in certain policy areas and not so involved in others. Figure out the areas where it is intensely focused and you will find challenges that have been seen through. Shouldn't that pique the attention of national reporters? Seems to me that it would.

We all are left in the dark on the signing statement because other reporters have bruised feelings about who was awarded the Pulitzer this past year. What would the champions of the First Amendment Free Press think of this? My guess is they are doing the mariachi in their graves.

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