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.