So, I sent an e-mail to Gail Collins, editorial page editor of The New York Times requesting corrections earlier this week. My e-mail:
Ms. Collins, in light of your Sunday "Letter from the editor" reflecting your committment to accuracy on the editorial pages, I thought I would bring one error -- committed twice -- to your attention.
On May 21, 2005, in an editorial entitled "On the "Nuclear' Brink," the following statement was made:
This is nothing new. In previous Congresses, Republicans blocked many Democratic judicial nominees, and Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, participated in a filibuster of a Clinton appeals court nominee.
A few weeks later on June 12, 2005, an editorial entitled "The Center Can Hold," repeated the error:
He [Frist] has promoted this so-called 'nuclear option' even though he himself once helped to filibuster a Clinton judicial nominee.
No Clinton nominee was ever filibustered. Before Democrats began using the practice with several of President Bush's appeals court picks, chief justice nominee Abe Fortas was the only judicial nominee to face a filibuster. Frist may have supported a filibuster, but one never occurred, at least according to all the research I've been able to do. It is, of course, possible that I've missed something and you may be able to enlighten me on the date of the failed cloture vote.
I look forward to hearing from you -- and seeing a correction in the Times.
Much to my surprise, I received a response.
Dear Mr. Hoy,
Thank you for your letter. The editorials in question refer to the 1996 nomination of Judge Richard Paez to the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of appeals. The nomination was held up for four years. When a cloture motion was made to move the nomination to a vote, Senator Frist voted against it.
Just for the record, you can find the cloture vote for Paez here. The vote for cloture was 85-14.
Here's my response:
Yes, but the cloture vote succeeded, despite Sen. Frist's vote. That's not a filibuster. You could say that he "attempted a filibuster" or "advocated a filibuster," but that's not what your editorials said. Your editorials said that he "participated in a filibuster" and that he "helped filibuster." For a filibuster to occur, a cloture vote must fail. It did not.
By your definition, every time a single senator votes against cloture, a filibuster has occurred, even if the vote is 99-1 for cloture. In fact, by the definition you're apparently working under, a filibuster is the normal state of the Senate's unlimited debate -- everything is filibustered until a cloture vote occurs and if cloture is successful it was a filibuster and if cloture is unsuccessful it is a filibuster.
If that's the case, then the term "filibuster" is meaningless.
We'll see if I get another response -- and a correction. Frankly, I'll be surprised if I get either.