About that anti-Republican bias in the Texas Monthly Bum Steer Awards

Dear Disgruntled Texas Monthly readers:

Several of you have written to complain that the 2014 Texas Monthly Bum Steer Awards reflect an anti-Republican bias, pointing out, correctly, that items featuring Republican officeholders vastly outnumber items mentioning Democrats.

I would like to assure you that there is NO political bias in the selection of the Bum Steers. None. Zero. I’ve been contributing to the piece for over 10 years and in that time we have never rejected an item solely because it was critical of a Democrat, or included an item solely because it was critical of a Republican. It does not matter what party a politician belongs to; if he or she does or says something we think would make a good Bum Steer, we include it on our list, assuming we are aware of it.

That is where readers like you can play a part. Throughout the year, Texas Monthly readers submit ideas for Bum Steer items. Texas Monthly staff members suggest items also. Around the beginning of October, TM hands a big pile of those prospective items to me—this year it was well over 200 items—and I select the ones I think are worthy and will work in the Bum Steer format. But if I don’t know about it, I can’t include it.

So, why do the Bum Steers include so many more Republican officeholders than Democratic ones? One reason and one reason only: because the Republican party is the predominant party in our state. How many of our members in the U.S. House of Representatives are Republicans? Two thirds of them, 66%. How many Senators? All of them, 100%. How many statewide elected officials? Again, all of them, 100%. How many members of Texas’s two highest courts? All of them, 100%. Which party has a controlling majority in both houses of the state legislature? The Republican party. Finally, how many of the readers who have written to criticize Texas Monthly for anti-Republican bias in the 2014 Bum Steer Awards have pointed out a specific item about a Texas Democrat that we failed to include? Based on the emails that Texas Monthly has forwarded to me, that number is zero.

If throughout the year you see a news item about a Democratic officeholder or candidate doing or saying something stupid, offensive, silly or buffoonish, please submit it! But keep in mind that just because you disagree with something a Democrat does or says doesn’t qualify it as a Texas Monthly Bum Steer.

Let me point out a prominent example. Nationally, Senator Ted Cruz received a lot of negative press attention during the government shutdown for his conspicuous campaign to convince his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives to hold fast to their bargaining position. Every day one could find editorials and opinion pieces ripping Senator Cruz for those activities, many portraying his actions as crass opportunism, futile grandstanding—or worse. Did we award him a Bum Steer for that? No. Why not? Because whether one agreed or disagreed with him was largely a partisan call. What did we award him a Bum Steer for? Reading a Dr. Seuss book during his 21-hour mock filibuster. Not for the mock filibuster itself—a tactic which was harshly criticized by many, many conservative pundits, by the way—but for reading a silly children’s book from the floor of the Senate.

The item featuring actress Molly Ringwald is another example. She didn’t get a Bum Steer Award simply because she supports Democrat Wendy Davis for governor; she got a Bum Steer because she tweeted that she supported Wendy Davis for governor—of Houston.

Folks, Republicans are the majority at every level of government in our state. Unless that changes, they are going to earn more mentions in the Texas Monthly Bum Steers. Did you bother to go back to look at old issues of the Bum Steer Awards from when Texas was a solidly Democratic state? Guess what? Mentions of Democrats predominated, simply because Democratic officeholders predominated.

In closing, I’d like to stress that there are two things you can do to try to change the preponderance of Republican mentions in the Bum Steer Awards: One, submit news items about Democrats that you think are Bum Steer-worthy, keeping in mind that partisan positions in an of themselves do not qualify; there must be some dumb, silly or buffoonish behavior that elevates the item to Bum Steer status. Second, elect more Texas Democrats to office. The latter, more than anything, will redress the partisan bias you perceive.