False balance

OK, one more post on the current slow-motion disaster in Washington, this time quoting economist Paul Krugman’s column in yesterday’s New York Times:

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. […]

Krugman goes on to note that “Bruce Bartlett, who served as a policy analyst in the Reagan administration, argues that Mr. Obama is in practice a moderate conservative.” I doubt that will impress the cranks who run around insisting Obama is a secret commie, but to anyone with a grasp on reality it’s pretty obvious Bartlett’s assessment isn’t far off the mark. Even Obama’s most notable accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, which sent the right in to ecstasies of outrage, in reality closely follows the outlines of a proposal from the conservative Heritage Foundation, something Krugman is far from the first to point out.

Finally, I already linked to this yesterday, but let me briefly quote a couple of things from Joe Klein’s comment published Thursday on the Time website (updated this afternoon):

[…] I am usually willing to acknowledge that Democrats can be as silly, and hidebound, as Republicans — but not this time. There is zero equivalence here. The vast majority of Democrats have been more than reasonable, more than willing to accept cuts in some of their most valued programs. […]

The Republicans have been willing to concede nothing. Their stand means higher interest rates, fewer jobs created and more destroyed, a general weakening of this country’s standing in the world. Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive, could not have come up with a more clever strategy for strangling our nation.

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False balance — 2 Comments

  1. I just watched NBC Nightly News and Lester Holt stated that in the debate over the debt ceiling neither side had been willing to compromise.
    It is amazing how low the quality of reporting has become. Holt (or the writers for the show) totally ignore the facts. As you have noted, this is done in this case to appear “balanced.”
    But not reporting facts – or reporting inaccurate information – is neither balanced or professional. And it certainly isn’t journalism.

  2. It drives me nuts. Democrats briefly demanded a clean bill of the sort passed the last 89 times (literally) this has come up. Then they agreed to a deficit reduction deal that was mostly spending cuts with modest tax increases. Then they offered deeper spending cuts and no tax hikes, just closing a few loopholes like those subsidizing corporate jets. Now they’re offering a deal giving Republicans everything — literally everything — the Republicans were asking for, with zero new revenues, the Republicans still won’t accept it.

    And, as you note, people like Lester Holt pretend that neither side has been willing to compromise. It’s amazing…

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