Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fair and Balanced Fraud

Here is an excellent post by Paul Krugman on his NY Times blog:
The Cult That Is Destroying America

Watching our system deal with the debt ceiling crisis — a wholly self-inflicted crisis, which may nonetheless have disastrous consequences — it’s increasingly obvious that what we’re looking at is the destructive influence of a cult that has really poisoned our political system.

And no, I don’t mean the fanaticism of the right. Well, OK, that too. But my feeling about those people is that they are what they are; you might as well denounce wolves for being carnivores. Crazy is what they do and what they are.

No, the cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism.

Think about what’s happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.

So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.

The reality, of course, is that we already have a centrist president — actually a moderate conservative president. Once again, health reform — his only major change to government — was modeled on Republican plans, indeed plans coming from the Heritage Foundation. And everything else — including the wrongheaded emphasis on austerity in the face of high unemployment — is according to the conservative playbook.

What all this means is that there is no penalty for extremism; no way for most voters, who get their information on the fly rather than doing careful study of the issues, to understand what’s really going on.

You have to ask, what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the convention that both sides are equally at fault? This is the clearest, starkest situation one can imagine short of civil war. If this won’t do it, nothing will.

And yes, I think this is a moral issue. The “both sides are at fault” people have to know better; if they refuse to say it, it’s out of some combination of fear and ego, of being unwilling to sacrifice their treasured pose of being above the fray.

It’s a terrible thing to watch, and our nation will pay the price.
The "political dialog" of the 2010s reminds me of the political dialog of the 1930s. The balance was between those who said "peace at any price" and those who said "leave Europe to its misery". The reality was that war in Europe wasn't going to stay in Europe and you the only price for "peace" was complete subservience to the nihilistic, racist Nazi creed. The voice that wasn't heard was one of engagement, that the sooner you helped those little nations being crushed under the Nazi heel the less deadly the world-wide conflict would be. But voices of "fair and balanced" made sure the debate was between two "extremes" that didn't recognize the real variety of viewpoints needed to fully understand the on-coming tragedy.

Krugman is pointing out that the Republicans and Democrats are giving Americans a false "fair and balanced" alternative, one that is destroying the soul of America because it has gutted the industrial heartland, stagnated wages, destroyed the housing market, is about to dismantle the FDR-created social programs that give critical support to the bottom 90% of the population. But that doesn't get discussed. Instead the "debate" is over just how many more tax cuts to give the rich, how deep to cut spending, and just how impossible it is to get the Republicans to "compromise".

Here is an example of the "fair and balanced" idiocy that Krugman is pointing out. From the Robert's Stochastic thoughts blog:
Ballance's last stand

Dan Balz writes [in a Washington Post article entitled "Debt talks show breakdown in governing"] what I'm sure he considers a very hard hitting column about what's wrong with the debt ceiling negotiations. He concludes the problem is the House Republican Caucus
But it’s clear that House Republicans are the principal obstacle to any grand bargain that includes substantial new revenue. Their rigid opposition runs contrary to public opinion, [from page 2, here]
But the impressive thing is that even when assigning blame, Balz feels the need to assert a false equivalence. Actually I'm not sure he felt anything. I think it is likely that he does this without thinking or imagining that there is an alternative. He wrote
Republican opposition to tax increases is an article of faith for the party, but many GOP lawmakers, particularly the freshman who came in with the support of the tea party movement, are more rigidly opposed than ever. Similarly, many Democrats, who have won elections attacking Republicans over Social Security and Medicare, remain strongly opposed to cuts in those programs. [from page 1, here]
He could also have written
Republican opposition to tax increases is an article of faith for the party, but many GOP lawmakers, particularly the freshman who came in with the support of the tea party movement, are more rigidly opposed than ever. Similarly, many Republicans, who have won elections attacking Democrats over Medicare, remain strongly determined to cut that program and eliminate it if possible.
The last campaign wasn't so long ago. Balz knows perfectly well that Republicans claimed that the PPACA cut Medicare benefits (when they didn't suggest that it established death panels). He also knows that the public disagrees with the Republicans on taxes and he must know that the public strongly agrees with the Democrats on Medicare and Social Security. What is the justification for the word "similarly." Why did Balz type that word ? It is not needed. It is not true. Did he even consider the possibility of not claiming that two things which are fundamentally different are similar ?

Notice one asymmetry. Republicans have "faith" Democrats' support for Medicare and Social Security must be based on political calculation. The possibility that people actually sincerely think that cutting those programs is a bad idea is not conceivable even though the vast majority of people in the USA sincerely think that cutting those programs is a bad idea.
Having media that pretends that the political spectrum consists of choice A or choice B with no other variants and no differentiating principles other than party label is a disservice to the public. The failure to analyze the differences and point out that there are more choices or that one side is less "reality based" than the other is presenting the public with a false idea of "political debate".

No comments: