Amid the incessant “fiscal cliff” updates this month, many major news outlets could not seem to find the time to cover an equally perplexing sign of congressional dysfunction: the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA.
For the first time since it was passed 18 years ago, VAWA expired at the end of the 112th congressional session. The expiration was the result of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, who let the clock run out on the law without ever letting it come to a vote.
Drafted in 1994 by then-Sen. Joe Biden, VAWA provides federal resources for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. A bill to reauthorize the law was approved earlier this year with bipartisan support in the Senate, but House Republicans objected to amendments in the law that would have expanded protections for illegal immigrants, Native-Americans and members of the LGBT community.
In a statement Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) called the Republicans’ failure to take up and approve the bill “inexcusable,” noting that it had passed the Senate with 68 votes. “This seems to be how House Republican leadership operates,” she wrote. “No matter how broad the bipartisan support, no matter who gets hurt in the process, the politics of the right wing of their party always comes first.”
As the week rolled on, meanwhile, the law’s expiration seemed to escape the attention of many major news outlets, an omission that has provoked vocal disapproval from some media watchdog groups. On Thursday, Zachary Pleat of Media Matters for America wrote that news programs on the major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- have completely ignored the story. According to Pleat, a search of LexisNexis transcripts over the past month showed that “none of the morning or evening news shows on ABC, NBC or CBS reported on the Violence Against Women Act and its need to be reauthorized.”
Jeanne Brooks, digital director of the Online News Association, told IBTimes on Thursday that she had begun tweeting about the lack of coverage late in the evening on Wednesday. Brooks specifically called out the executive editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post, calling their ongoing silence “shameful.” Early Thursday morning, Brooks tweeted to a Washington Post digital editor, Dave Beard, whom she said she knows personally. Beard replied that he spoke to his colleagues at the paper, and by midafternoon, Post reporter James Downie covered the story.
Not every major media outlet was mum on the subject, however. MSNBC covered the story extensively, even repeatedly warning that VAWA was about to expire. Many online and smaller outlets covered the issue as well, including the Huffington Post, Business Insider, Daily Kos and women’s magazine websites such as Ms. and Cosmopolitan.
On Friday, Sen. Murray wrote a blog post on CNN.com stating that the law’s expirations will have “real-life implications for women who now find themselves with nowhere to turn for help.”
According to CNN, lawmakers who support VAWA are hoping to revive the law in the new Congress, which was sworn in on Thursday.