False equivalency and its discontents

Today, President Obama slammed the media’s go to catch-phrase: “Both sides are to blame”.

As Greg Sargent quotes Pres. Obama:

“You’ll hear if you watch the nightly news or you read the newspapers that, well, there’s gridlock, Congress is broken, approval ratings for Congress are terrible.  And there’s a tendency to say, a plague on both your houses.  But the truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific.  We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid, who are so committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don’t think making investments in early childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you’re not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing.

“They, so far, at least, have refused to budge on bipartisan legislation to fix our immigration system, despite the fact that every economist who’s looked at it says it’s going to improve our economy, cut our deficits, help spawn entrepreneurship, and alleviate great pain from millions of families all across the country.

“So the problem…is not that the Democrats are overly ideological — because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side.  There are no radical proposals coming out from the left.  When we talk about climate change, we talk about how do we incentivize through the market greater investment in clean energy.  When we talk about immigration reform there’s no wild-eyed romanticism.  We say we’re going to be tough on the borders, but let’s also make sure that the system works to allow families to stay together…

“When we talk about taxes we don’t say we’re going to have rates in the 70 percent or 90 percent when it comes to income like existed here 50, 60 years ago.  We say let’s just make sure that those of us who have been incredibly blessed by this country are giving back to kids so that they’re getting a good start in life, so that they get early childhood education…Health care — we didn’t suddenly impose some wild, crazy system.  All we said was let’s make sure everybody has insurance. And this made the other side go nuts — the simple idea that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody should go bankrupt because somebody in their family gets sick, working within a private system.

“So when you hear a false equivalence that somehow, well, Congress is just broken, it’s not true.  What’s broken right now is a Republican Party that repeatedly says no to proven, time-tested strategies to grow the economy, create more jobs, ensure fairness, open up opportunity to all people.”

Let that sink in. The President has dared speak to the elephant in the room. Congress is broken only to the extent that today’s Republican Party is a cesspool of dysfunction, xenophobia, racism, and know-nothingness.

The greatest trick which the conservative movement has been able to pull off is to convince the public of the “liberal media”. This is not to say that there are no liberals in the US media; obviously there are, just as there are conservatives and centrists. But to say that there is a “liberal media bias” extant in 2014 is laughable. The questions from the front row at the daily White House press briefings are a litany of GOP talking points, from Benghazi to the VA to the doomed ACA. Meanwhile, the GOP, which controls one half of the legislature outright and stymies any progress in the other half, is allowed to proceed along uninterrupted, monkey-wrenching to its heart’s content.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. The “liberal” MSNBC is owned by Comcast; its mornings are devoted to a host who does nothing but sprout Republican talking points, and is allowed to flog GOP candidates and causes outside of work, an act which gets liberal hosts suspended or fired. CNN has devolved to a TMZ with better production values, and is owned by Time Warner. We’ll ignore Fox News, as it was created in answer to the “liberal media bias”, but it too is owned by a multinational media empire.

The entire US mainstream media is owned by large corporations, whose interests are not those put forth by Pres. Obama and the Democrats. And the mainstream media is watched largely by an age demographic which is highly susceptible to the blandishments of liberal bias. Therefore the cable news networks cater to those biases, veering rightwards whenever there is a question of “fairness”, or at the very least painting the President in as bad a light as possible.

The easiest thing the media can do, when it isn’t pushing a Republican narrative, is to push a “both sides are to blame” narrative, which is essentially the same thing. It’s sloppy, it’s lazy, it doesn’t take much work, and it fits with what it thinks its audience believes.

Of course, this is the grossest fallacy. Democrats have always been willing to compromise. But what the Republicans want is a complete surrender, to expunge the electoral results of 2008 and 2012, to pretend that they hold all power in Washington. They want a Democratic, progressive President to enact a Republican program, to be a mere rubber stamp. They want to do away with the checks and balances of the US Constitution, and roll over any opposition. Which leads to 50+ attempts to repeal Obamacare in the House, and the GOP Senate caucus filibustering bills it actually supports. The GOP isn’t a political party, but an insurrectionist cell, putting a spanner in the works rather than making things work, as its base becomes ever older and more unhinged.

But the mainstream media doesn’t report that. It doesn’t report that there’s one party in the capital which wants to govern for the betterment of the majority, and one party which is conducting a scorched earth campaign. Every time a headline announces that the Senate fails to move a piece of legislation, one has to read to the middle of the article that in fact the GOP filibustered the measure, allowing no actual debate or a final vote. But the impression has been made; it’s “the Senate”, as a body, which is dysfunctional, rather than a reactionary rump gumming up the works.

The media is called “the Fourth Estate” because of the role it plays in society and governance. It should never be a handmaiden to government, reporting uncritically on it. It should never be a propaganda tool. But the default position it has assumed for the past three decades has been one of parroting Republican memes and finding every bit of fault with Democrats. It did, in fact, report almost uncritically for most of the Bush II Administration, turning on it only when it was obvious that it had lost the public’s confidence. It gave air time and oxygen to the astro-turfed Tea Party, and hosts on the liberal MSNBC helped to turn off Democrats in 2010, leading to the impasse in which we find ourselves. It treated the failings of a website as the totality of the ACA, column inches and hours devoted to a cackling delight that it wouldn’t meet its goals. The examples are legion.

If the media wants to regain the public’s respect—its approval is right there with Congress’—it needs to return to being an impartial reporter and expounder, giving not only the “who, what, when, where”, but, most importantly, the “why”. Scandal is sexy, and must be reported on. But when your news cycles are devoted to a constant search for the next scandal, that does a great disservice to the public. When 97% of scientists agree that man-made global warning is real, and you give equal time to a climate change denier, that’s not being even handed; that’s giving the guy who says “the sky is purple with white polkadots” legitimacy.

Fortunately, with the information revolution in full swing, we have options. From blogs to new media sites, different perspectives are entering the discourse and being heard. People are starting to understand that both sides aren’t to blame, that blame can be apportioned to one side or the other. CNN, much to its credit, has said that it won’t be shamed into covering Benghazi, as it has determined there’s nothing there. The competition from the new media may make the old media take notice, and adjust its narrative in an effort to attract eyeballs and ad revenue. We can only hope this is the case.

157 Responses to “False equivalency and its discontents”

  1. 11 MightyPamela
    May 23, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    How far behind am I, truly? Tell me, I can take it! 🙂

    • 15 Ladyhawke
      May 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      This is the coolest White House ever. The kids squealing sat the end just made me melt.

      On the other hand when you look at the GOP ……

      When Jorge Ramos confronted Speaker Boehner about immigration reform this week, his response was what about Obamacare and President Obama can’t be trusted. WTH? The fact that this man can get away with answering a question like that is an indictment of the media. There is no seriousness of purpose. He should be laughed at and run out of town on a rail. What a disgrace.

      • May 23, 2014 at 1:46 pm

        I thought Jorge Ramos had more of a backbone to follow up on a response like that. I don’t follow him closely but the little I’ve seen I thought he did. I’m not sure if I get the station. What would the call letters or name be? We do get Spanish networks.

        • 17 aquagranny911
          May 23, 2014 at 2:39 pm

          Jorge did call Bone head out on that. He asked: “What does Obamacare have to do with immigration reform?” The orange bone man kept fumbling on. I’m sure the viewers saw exactly how the Repubs are blocking immigration reform. Just, imo Boehner looked estupido.

    • May 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      Proud of our POTUS & VPOTUS. POTUS is not afraid to have VP wherever he needs him and give him air time. Don’t see any jealousy or tension or power plays. Cheney may have been powerful but he was in an undisclosed location most of the time.
      I think yesterday was an Anniversary of sorts for Pres. Johnson’s Great Society. He could get so much done because of cooperation with Congress. We must get out the Vote in Nov. GOTV 2014!

    • 20 GGail
      May 23, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      We have the coolest President & Vice President – EVAH!

  2. 21 jacquelineoboomer
    May 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Call ’em out, Mr. President!

  3. May 23, 2014 at 1:20 pm

  4. 27 jacquelineoboomer
    May 23, 2014 at 1:22 pm

  5. May 23, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Two of my Uncles got very good care in VA Hospital and also a cousin. Sorry, one uncle and Hubby’s father. They all had advanced cancer before they even tried to get in in. You know those old WWII Vets. My SIL is a nurse at the one in Sioux Falls. She’s in an administrative type job now though.

  6. 38 EricFive
    May 23, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Excellent essay LL.

  7. 39 anniebella
    May 23, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Anyone with any dam sense knows were the problem lie, and it’s with the Republican Party. The media refuse to say so because they want to stay on the Republicans good side, and get interviews and leaks from them. What’s wrong with Capitol Hill is the Tea Republican Party.

    • 40 anniebella
      May 23, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      And if the voters are stupid enough to vote them in control of the house and Senate, then the voters deserve any hard ship thrust upon them by those Republicans.

      • 41 COS
        May 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm

        Anniebella, one would think that folks learned their lessons in 2010 when they whimpered and whined about PBO not doing what they expected. They voted all of these thugs into office thinking things would be different and they have inflicted nothing but misery on this country. Wisconsin is a prime example. They even had a chance to change governors and voted him back in.

  8. May 23, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I’m a little riled up because I watched a YouTube video at 3Chics Politico.

    • May 23, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      WOWIE, that was phenomenal and absolutely amazing to see Rep. Clyburn be speak so openly and candidly. MUCH admiration for him.

      • May 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm

        I thought so too. Bill seems so desperate and so does Hillary. I just don’t care for her politics. I’m tired of it. We’ve seen the good, the really, really good.

        • May 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm

          I just really wonder what Bill Clinton thought phoning him at midnight with a very angry tone was supposed to accomplish. Trying to invalidate the victory in SC so publicly and dismissively was one of the nastiest things I’ve seen from them.

        • 52 sjterrid
          May 23, 2014 at 10:55 pm

          This primary in South Carolina is when I fully started supporting then Senator Obama. In the debates leading up to South Carolina he focused on what he wanted to do to make life better for the middle class. He never attacked the other candidates personally. It, also, opened my eyes to the Clintons.

          • May 23, 2014 at 10:58 pm

            That’s when I thought Bill got a little crazy, but I like Pres. Obama when I heard he came out against the war. I was reading a good paper or blog to see it.

            • 54 sjterrid
              May 23, 2014 at 11:11 pm

              I remember watching him giving the keynote speech at the 2004 convention. My daughter had the book Dreams Of My Father and after reading that book and the Audacity Of Hope I was convinced he wanted to make sure that the government was working for all the people, not just the select few.

    • 71 GGail
      May 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      I admire Rep Clyburn even more after hearing that.

      Thanks so much Carolmae!

  9. 73 Sylvia Y Jones
    May 23, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    This diary just makes my day; no matter how it starts out…reading about our President just reaffirms my support for his administration. There really is hope!

  10. 74 jacquelineoboomer
    May 23, 2014 at 1:51 pm

  11. May 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    So Wikileaks finally released the name of “Redacted Country X”, calling it an “innocent victim”. The country?

  12. May 23, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Another great piece LL, and so timely after PBO’s remarks. The false equivalency leaves me tearing my hair out, it is utterly maddening.

  13. 84 jacquelineoboomer
    May 23, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Hurricane season starts June 1. Good reminder of some state sales-tax holidays when buying hurricane prep supplies, this weekend:

  14. 85 Nerdy Wonka
    May 23, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    • May 23, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    • 87 anniebella
      May 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      The Clippers players don’t want to play for anyone name Sterling, anyone related to Donald Sterling. And while I am speaking about owners, I don’t think very much of that Dallas Maverick owner. Guess what, on a late night I wouldn’t get in a elevator with Cuban or Donald Sterling.

      • 88 jacquelineoboomer
        May 23, 2014 at 2:23 pm

        Love the last part of that last sentence of yours, anniebella. Well said.

      • 89 Cindy
        May 23, 2014 at 2:47 pm

        Mark Cuban,

        Would you cross the streets if you passed this guy on the streets?

        The sun is out, the flowers are blooming and you’ve been working out for months to look your best. You know what that means — it’s hoodie season.

        At least, it is if you’re Mark Zuckerberg, king of hoodies.

        No you wouldn’t run Cuban; it’s “always” the black kids; black men, black fathers, black uncles, black brothers, and just being black is what makes you want to run, unless you’re bank rolling your account from the sweat off of their backs.

        Hell, you so full of yourself, you would probably run from the same “black men” who works for you.

        Good ol America……It’s always “the black” that scares the hell out of people.

        We understand why they fear President Barack H. Obama….

  15. 90 taiping1
    May 23, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Wonderful essay! The change in patterns of media consumption are a reflection of growing disenchantment with the one-sided GOP slant of the misleadingly named “liberal media.” We should all tweet this out: deserves a wide readership. Truth-telling.

  16. May 23, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I’m sorry. I’m not going to get over this….. 😥

  17. May 23, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Nice synopsis, LL!!

  18. 109 jacquelineoboomer
    May 23, 2014 at 2:15 pm


    Pope Francis will be in the Holy Land this weekend … doesn’t appear he’s leaving any stones unturned among the various groups, including visiting refugees and the physically disabled:

    “Pope Francis will travel to the Holy Land May 24-26. He will visit Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site where John the Baptist was baptizing. He will also travel to Palestine to visit Bethlehem.

    “In Jerusalem, he will visit the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, the church of Gethsemane, and the Cenacle.

    “The Pope will address refugees and the physically disabled on his trip. He will meet with Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti, the Sunni cleric entrusted with the city’s Muslim holy places, as well as Jerusalem’s chief rabbis.

    “He will also meet in private with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople; the two will sign a joint declaration, after which there will be a public ecumenical meeting at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.”


    • 110 jacquelineoboomer
      May 23, 2014 at 2:20 pm

      BTW, in fairness, if I ever post anything about the Pope, please note it’s not any form of religious evangelism on my part, even though I’m a Catholic. I am first overjoyed with his actions because he sets the example for U.S. CARDINALS, and some of the Pope’s meek actions must make some of the cardinals’ eyes pop (some are so entrenched in their own realities), and, secondly, because he never forgets the least of these.

      • 111 aquagranny911
        May 23, 2014 at 2:47 pm

        I like your posts on this Pope. I admire him greatly & the work he is trying to do.

      • May 23, 2014 at 2:56 pm

        I am with you on that. For the first time in like forever, I feel delighted to hear from this Pope. His humanity, essential goodness, his spark…..he is an inspiration.

        • 114 jacquelineoboomer
          May 23, 2014 at 2:57 pm

          And he so reminds me of President Obama – and let’s include Vice President Biden – Ha!

      • 115 sherijr
        May 23, 2014 at 3:04 pm

        I’m not religious at all JOB- but I appreciate your info on the Pope (this Pope), he seems to be the real deal, a good man, trying to do right by people.. that’s what matters.

  19. May 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    As Greg Sargent once so eloquently said:

    One side is lying, but the other side is on the defensive.

  20. 119 Linda
    May 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    To take another axe to the nearly non-existent campaign finance rules in a post Citizens United world, the Republican National Committee sued the Federal Election Commission on Friday according to the AP, because they want to be able to raise unlimited money, like their buddies the Super PACs. “Republican officials emphasized the move was to seek parity with super PACs, which have grown in influence since 2010 and can help a few deep-pocketed donors exercise incredible influence.”


  21. 120 hopefruit2
    May 23, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    This is a fine piece LL…very well written, comprehensive calling-out of the feckless media. They need to be regularly called out like this! With regard to CNN, though, I think their interest in Benghazi has waned mostly because they feel it no longer hurts PBO, and might potentially hurt HRC if she decides to run. Let’s see if they take the same approach with regard to the newly manufactured VA scandal…

  22. May 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm

  23. 122 hopefruit2
    May 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    • 123 Cindy
      May 23, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      Thank you for responding to their blatant BS questions.

      Did anyone ask Bush/Cheney to go bury themselves with the ones they murdered?

    • 124 Linda
      May 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      She is doing the MSNBC Corporate dance…..

      She was much….much….better as a guest than a host…IMO….

      Her segment ” We the Tweeple ” is just stupid

      • 125 Cindy
        May 23, 2014 at 2:53 pm

        Hi Linda,


        I never cheered for Reid to have her own show. It was too plain; writing on the wall, speak out when you’re independent, and closed down when your employer is MSNBC or any other corporate chain.

    • May 23, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Such a blatant manipulation to foment discontent. I despise the media!

    • 127 Nena20409
      May 23, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      If Joy Ann Reid is using Fox and RWing talking points for her tweets……that is sad…….for there is really any so called leftie willing to report News with content and in context.

      Playing on the rightie rule, leaves Us all a tad regressive.

  24. 128 hopefruit2
    May 23, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Does anyone know the names (both technical and layperson’s terms) of the last two veteran bills blocked by the GOP, or where I could access the info – including the names of the GOPers who voted against the bills? I’m thinking of launching a Twitter offensive against some key media figures, challenging them to ask the hard questions of each of the GOPers who blocked the VA bills before they ask ridiculous questions about whether or not VA Sec Shinseki should resign.

  25. 133 Vicki
    May 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I was very glad to see PBO take on the “both sides do it” nonsense. I hope we can stay on the offensive with The President.

    Dems want you and your family to have secure health coverage. The Repubs want the insurance companies to prosper, not you.
    Dems want all of us to vote. The Repubs want only the rich to matter.
    Dems want women to make their own decisions. The repubs want to call all the shots.
    Dems want to give workers a raise. The Repubs, a raise??? are you kidding?
    Dems want you to live with and love the person of your choice. Repubs—not so much.
    Dems want to welcome immigrants who play by the rules. Repubs–bar the door, quick
    And so on.

  26. 134 hopefruit2
    May 23, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    LMAO! McConnell wants to have his cake and eat it too…

    • May 23, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      Funniest thing EVER!!!!!!!

    • 136 Nena20409
      May 23, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Unfortunately, when there isn’t a trusted Fact based vehicle, i.e., the Media to report the facts…..places such as KY residents are easily fooled and manipulated.

      McConnell is able to say that flat out bold lie for he will NEVER be held accountable. Just ask Romney in 2012.

  27. 137 donna dem 4 obama
    May 23, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Hello TOD

    LL another brilliant piece from you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. 141 sherijr
    May 23, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Great LL, I like it when we take on the media and how they cover for the GOP. Well done.

  29. 142 Vicki
    May 23, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Acording to the TV BY The Numbers website the viewership at MSNBC has shrunk unbelievably. Rachel, who used to get 1,200 now on a good night gets 700. Rev. Al and Ed, Chris Hayes, barely 500 and sometimes less. Chris Matthews does almost as well as Rachel.

    I can’t tell you exactly what the numbers represent but the trend lines are clear.
    To me this is very sad.
    Comcast/Bain/whoever owns MSNBC is getting what they want and we are certainly not getting decent fair coverage.

    • 143 Vicki
      May 23, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      Another website that reports ratings has as a big headline that Chris mattews beat Rachel on Wed. To my knowledge this is a first.
      This will be regarded as a big deal for anyone who wants to make sure that the corporate voice is the only voice .

      • 144 Nena20409
        May 23, 2014 at 3:43 pm

        No it is not a 1st. Chris Hayes’ rating is pitiful and it is a great damp on TRMS. It started in 2013 when MSNBC made the change. On average, TRMS is still beating Chris Matthews. I check the ratings just about everyday.

    • 145 COS
      May 23, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Maybe MSNBC’s ratings would be more if they identified with something. One only need to watch one show. They all talk about the same thing with the opinions of the same folks. I like Joy but I haven’t seen very much difference. At least I can say that Rev. Al report on positive things PBO and FLOTUS are doing. Rachel is hit and miss. At least she does a lot of research and try to make her show appealing.

  30. 146 yardarm756
    May 23, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    For the next few days I’ll be posting songs like this in honor of the Vietnam vets and that time period. Until you tell me to stop.

  31. 156 Nena20409
    May 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Unbeatable Essay LL. Great Job.

  32. 157 sjterrid
    May 23, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    LL, Thanks for both this and yesterday’s essays.

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