Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
July 19, 2011
One of the many things that bugs me about the news media these days is the phenomenon that we can call “false equivalency.”
That’s the idea that every story has two sides and that, in order to be “balanced,” we must report both sides, and we must act as if both sides are equally valid.
This approach skips right over the existence of such a thing as “truth” and just lays out both sides of the argument.
In many cases, where the truth is not necessarily clear, that works just fine. “Many say that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was justified. Others argue that Pakistan’s sovereignty was improperly violated.” Fair enough. Argue away.
In other cases … well, you know how it goes: “Members of the Flat Earth Society, however, maintain that the planet is not a sphere. They say it is a flat disk, and if you get near the edge, you could fall off.”
Or, “Some, however, say that the Earth was created in seven days, exactly 6,000 years ago.”
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Or, almost as ridiculous, “Others argue that the planet is not warming.”
This “on the other hand” approach to matters of science and fact is the result of sheer cowardice on the part of the media.
Tired of being attacked by a fire hose of invective from the right wing, reporters are shying away from standing up for facts.
Look, 2 plus 2 equals 4. If some third-grader puts down “3” as the answer, that does not merit serious reporting. The teacher writes “NO! 4” in red ink. And if he persists in doing it, the kid flunks (or runs for Congress as a Republican).
When reporters fail to do the journalistic equivalent of writing “NO!” in red ink next to an obviously wrong answer, they are abandoning their responsibility to report the truth.
A story that presents the truth is not – repeat, not – reporting the truth if it allows that truth to be surrounded by a shrubbery of untruth. (Notice, please, that I did not say “lies”; I’m way too polite for that.)
“At the top of the news tonight, some say 2 plus 2 equals 4, though some say it equals 3. Others say 5 and still others say 17.”
No. When a reporter knows the truth, it’s his job to stand up straight and tell the truth: “2 plus 2 equals 4.”
Just that simple. And if you want to report the “other side,” you can add, “Some say it equals 3, but they are wrong.”
The latest sad case of the media failing to really report the truth is the story of the fight over raising the national debt ceiling.
We hear about the negotiations. We hear the Democratic position. We hear the Republican position.
What we don’t hear is the truth.
In fact, even referring to this sad process as a “negotiation” is a lie all by itself.
The truth is this: Only one side is actually negotiating. Only one side has made any real offers of compromise.
At issue, as you ought to know by now, is raising the debt ceiling, which is necessary to continue paying off debts already incurred – again, this is not about new debt, it is just paying old debts.
Over the decades, raising that debt ceiling has been an occasion for some snarky debate, followed eventually by a vote of approval. The ceiling was raised seven times under President George W. Bush (from $5.7 trillion when he took office to $11.3 trillion by the time he left), with overwhelming Republican support and a chorus of Democratic cheap shots (including some from then-senator Barack Obama).
Now Republicans are claiming that the deficit must be reduced before they will vote to raise the debt ceiling.
During the “negotiations,” Democrats have agreed to some serious cuts, including social security and Medicare, as part of a deal to reduce government spending.
In exchange, they have asked that Republicans agree to measures that would bring in additional government revenue – such as eliminating the tax loophole that benefits the owners of private jets or the one that gives a tax break to hedge-fund partners, some of whom are making over $1 billion (yes, that’s billion-with-a-“B”) a year.
Republicans were glad to agree to the spending cuts – and then they shut down the “negotiations” rather than even discuss raising revenue.
This is not “negotiating” – and when any reporter says it is, he is not reporting the truth.
A few facts:
• Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said just last week that his “single most important political goal” is making sure that Obama does not get re-elected. So reaching a deal with Obama on the debt limit is in conflict with his “most important political goal.”
• Michele Bachmann, among the leaders for the Republican presidential nomination, has said that she doesn’t care what kind of deal is worked out, she will vote against raising the debt ceiling. Period.
• Many Republican leaders are arguing that not raising the debt ceiling would be no big deal. Don’t worry about it.
• Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner have declared that even talking about raising the debt limit is a huge concession for them – so that’s their part of the “compromise.”
• Boehner recently said, “Most Americans would say that a balanced approach is a simple one: The administration gets its debt limit increase, and the American people get their spending cuts.” But the debt-limit increase is not a favor for the president, it is not “his” debt-limit increase, it is (again) necessary to pay off the debt that these same Republicans voted to run up under President Bush.
The point is simple: The Republicans are not “negotiating in good faith.” They are not even negotiating.
And when reporters fail to point that out, they are not telling the truth – they are participating in a lie.
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