What happened in the Texas Senate on Tuesday night was Must See TV.
Only the Wendy Davis Filibuster wasn’t anywhere to be found on your television. The 24-hour cable news networks had more pressing matters.
We’ve been wrong about the 24-hour news cycle in the three decades since CNN made its debut. Only now, with the rise of Twitter and Vine and Instagram and Livestream and Reddit, are we living in an all-day, all-night news environment. We don’t need cable “news” anymore. Wendy Davis, in addition to morphing into the Khaleesi of women’s reproductive rights, showed us just how obsolete CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have become.
The cable news networks missing the Wendy Davis filibuster and its aftermath is the prime example of YOU HAD ONE JOB.
If you aren’t up to speed on what happened in Austin, catch up here: On the last day of the Texas legislative session, the Republican-led Senate tried to pass an omnibus abortion bill that would have forced 90 percent of the state’s abortion clinics to close and banned the procedure after 20 weeks, among other infringements on women’s reproductive rights.
A senator named Wendy Davis, a single mother raised by a single mother, a woman who got her law degree from Harvard, a gutsy legislator whose office was firebombed in 2012, stood up to filibuster the bill. Beginning at 11 am local time, she had to stand and speak for 13 straight hours. And she almost made it, until the Republicans forced her to stop through procedural shenanigans. She ran out most of the clock, then Senate Democrats and a boisterous gallery ran out the rest of it on her behalf.
Republicans claimed to have passed the SB 5 bill on a 19-10 voice vote, and the Associated Press ran with that headline, but since it happened after midnight, the special session had ended. For now, Wendy Davis can smile at a job well done, even if exhausted and “overwhelmed.”
At 10:59 am on Tuesday, you could forgive the cable news channels for not knowing about Wendy Davis, or preparing to jettison regular coverage for a special evening in Texas. But as the day progressed from a slow simmer to a full rolling boil, how does nobody at these channels flip the switch?
About 180,000 people tuned into the YouTube livestream at its peak. That may not sound like all that much, but keep in mind this was a Tuesday, at midnight on the East Coast, no less. Given television’s reach, this would have attracted a much bigger audience than, say, every single cartoonish show on their regular programming lineup.
Were there not enough angles here?
Like Davis’s incredible life?
Like the continued legislative reproach of a women’s right to choose in Republican-led statehouses across America?
Like the fact that Texas Republicans deemed that Davis’s discussion of sonograms and Planned Parenthood were NOT GERMANE to the abortion bill being voted on, which allowed them to cut her off, hoping the filibuster wouldn’t be carried to full term?
Maybe the cable news shows just couldn’t find a good angle for Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, who came directly from her father’s funeral to set Twitter a-twitter when she asked, while stalling for time, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” That set the chamber off into a 15-minute burst of applause that carried well past midnight: the people’s filibuster.
Maybe the cable networks couldn’t find a good angle in the spontaneous rallies that broke out in the Capital Rotunda:
Or the fact that the official State Senate website and Texas Republicans tried to change the timestamp of the vote to inaccurately reflect that it took place before the special session had ended?
— Juan Chuy Hinojosa (@TxChuy) June 26, 2013
The @BarackObama Twitter feed (which isn’t really Obama, sure) even tweeted about the filibuster at 9:40 ET. That wasn’t enough time to scramble and catch the last few hours of history?
Two perfect metaphors for what’s happening here could be seen on cable news this morning. First, MSNBC declared this was a “Failed Filibuster,” despite the fact that it was hugely successful on many levels.
And CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked, “All that energy to avoid the vote. Why not spend the time trying to compromise and figure out the bill in the first place?” Yeah, what a waste of time. Wendy, examine your priorities.
Tuesday night was what we used to call “incredible television.” Now we find and follow it elsewhere, because incredible news rarely unfolds on television these days. Now we get it elsewhere. Wherever we want.
Follow Slade Sohmer @SladeHV.