Carl Bernstein on false equivalency media reporting

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Carl Bernstein was the guest on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on Wednesday night for a segment on media false equivalency — the "both sides are to blame" default setting of media reporting (especially the Associated Press). So pay attention media villagers, Bernstein wants a word with you. (Video below the fold).

O'Donnell began the segment by referencing a piece by James Poniewozik at Time magazine, Not “Both Sides,” Now: Why False Equivalence Matters in the Shutdown Showdown:

This month’s fiscal crisis is one such situation. One party (in fact,
essentially one wing of the Republican party), seeking the elimination
or delay of Obamacare,
precipitated a government shutdown and threatened to force a default on
U.S. debt. Period. There was no corresponding threat or demand on the
Democratic or White House side; having gotten the Affordable Care Act
into law three years ago, they are not in the situation of saying, “Pass
Obamacare or we shut ‘er down.”

That’s the situation. To accurately describe it, as news coverage
should, is not to endorse an ideology. It’s not to say that Obamacare is
good or bad. It’s not to say that Republicans do or don’t have good
reasons to oppose it. It’s not to say that Democrats have or haven’t
sought political benefit in the aftermath. But it correctly places the
impetus where it belongs.

Much of the big-picture news coverage has been clear on this.
But as the crisis dragged on, more news stories framed the story as
old-fashioned bipartisan gridlock between two equally culpable,
stubborn, useless sides. It becomes “Boehner, White House Harden
Stances” (Washington Post); “Congress Plays Chicken” (a CNN chyron this morning); “each side trying to blame the other” (Politico).

“Both sides are to blame; the truth is somewhere in between”–that has always been the political media’s happy, safe place . . .

* * *

But in a case like the fiscal crisis, false equivalence matters. It’s
the difference between reporting an extraordinary event and an ordinary
one, which in this case is crucial to how the story plays out
politically. It’s a matter of whether “not changing current law” becomes
redefined as “getting 100% of what you want.” If this is just one more
case of those knuckleheads in Washington “digging in their heels,”
“playing the blame game,” and so on, it normalizes the situation for the
news audience: it sends the tacit message that it is entirely ordinary,
every so often, to have a forced debt crisis that reasonable people
resolve through “compromise” by renegotiating major pieces of U.S. law.

O'Donnell also cites James Fallows at The Atlantic, Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead:

As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the
disagreements as a "standoff," a "showdown," a "failure of leadership," a
sign of "partisan gridlock," or any of the other usual terms for
political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism
and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the
"dig in their heels" headline you see below, which is from a proprietary
newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the
identifying details.

This isn't "gridlock." It is a ferocious struggle within one party,
between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that
unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt
default, could harm the rest of the world too.

To this I would add political scientist and Beltway centrist high priest Norman Ornstein, who explains today that the GOP debt ceiling extortion is not normal, ordinary or routine. Congress Must Stop Using Default as a Weapon:

Boehner also suggested that threats over the debt ceiling were routine.
False
. Before 2011, as Tom Mann and I point out in It’s Even Worse Than
It Looks
, the use of the debt ceiling as a political tool was limited to
narrow issues directly related to budget priorities.

* * *

The idea of threatening default in a real way—demanding outlandish
concessions with a loaded gun to the country’s head—only emerged in
2011. We escaped default when Mitch McConnell swooped in at the last
minute to craft a deal—but the future became clear soon thereafter when a
candid McConnell told The Washington Post about the future of the debt
ceiling, “What we did learn is this: It’s a hostage that’s worth
ransoming.” This year the hostage drama is more frightening. McConnell
is AWOL this time. And the fantasy believed by many prominent GOPers
about the consequences of default make it easier for them to push to the
brink and over into the abyss.

* * *

The bottom line here is that we need some kind of agreement that will
reopen the government and stop a downward spiral that uses default as a
genuine and frightening political weapon.

The video provides a closed caption function. I will update with a link to the transcript when it is available.

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