“Republicans pounce” is a favorite framing used by corporate media to spin newsworthy topics they are forced to cover at Democrats’ expense. Instead of reporting the news, the news becomes the fact that Republicans or “conservative media” are reacting to said news.
Such is the case with the consequential news that Joe Biden said he would not share his stance on court packing until after he was elected, an announcement that sounds more like a hostage situation than a campaign promise.
The Washington Post reported the former vice president’s shocking and unprecedented statement with a masterfully spun tweet Thursday, writing, “Republicans continue attacking Biden, Harris over hypothetical ‘court-packing’ question.”
Republicans continue attacking Biden, Harris over hypothetical ‘court-packing’ question https://t.co/FkwI5wXnR6
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) October 9, 2020
The “Republicans pounce” spin here is threefold. The first is that “Republicans continue attacking Biden, Harris.” This is the classic framing that whatever newsworthy event Democrats have caused is overshadowed by the fact that Republicans are attacking them for it, not that Biden and Harris might have taken an extremely newsworthy stance that voters should absolutely be aware of.
The lede of the article that was tweeted doubles down on this framing. The story is not led by the news of Biden’s statement and question-dodging, but the news that “Joe Biden and running mate Kamala D. Harris are facing growing pressure” to discuss the issue of court-packing.
The second element in the art of the spin here is the description “hypothetical.” The deployment of this adjective might be grammatically correct in that all questions about a future administration’s plans hinge on the hypothetical situation that a candidate wins the election, but it’s used here as a way to downplay or delegitimize the fact that adding more Supreme Court justices is a serious idea that a number of Democrats have actually endorsed.
If by “hypothetical” you mean asking a candidate what he’ll do if he wins, then sure, that’s a hypothetical question. pic.twitter.com/qbMUQgBaKg
— Christopher J. Scalia (@cjscalia) October 9, 2020
Shortly after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey tweeted that “we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told fellow Democrats in a widely reported private conference call last week, “Nothing is off the table.” Rep. Joe Kennedy said Democrats’ response to confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett was simple, “We pack the court. ”
If he holds a vote in 2020, we pack the court in 2021.
It’s that simple.
— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) September 19, 2020
There is nothing “hypothetical” about these statements. We are in the midst of the very situation to which they are referring, and it’s one that would implode one of our foundational three branches of government as we know it, and with no logical stopping point. It is not some far-off, futuristic game theory, but a very plausible plan that Democrats have endorsed.
In fact, court-packing was a popular position held by a number of presidential Democratic candidates including Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, and Harris herself. In 2019, when asked by the New York Times, Harris said she was “absolutely open to” packing the court.
The third angle of spin here is the scare quotes around the word “court-packing,” as if it’s someone else’s quacky phrase and not a legitimate term. The Washington Post is letting readers know that the phrase “court-packing,” as some leftists complain, is an antagonistic framing by conservatives and not, you know, an accurate description of what it looks like for partisans to add more partisan justices to make the court even more of a political body than it already is.
Good job journalisming, WaPo.