Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Ornstein and Mann: "A balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality"

I guess is shouldn't surprise me that Simone Biles's decision to pull out of the gymnastics team finals at the Olympics is being politicized. Right wing news outlets have headlines today that call her a "quitter" and a "coward." Meanwhile, even Michelle Obama reached out in support.

We're living in an era where everything is politicized — which plays right into the hands of Republicans. If Democrats see something one way and Republicans take the opposite point of view, there is no room for facts or truth. As the saying goes, "if nothing is true, then anything is possible." That is precisely how propaganda has been used to build the wall of polarization we are experiencing in this country today. 

Of course, right wing media is mostly to blame. For years they've told their readers, viewers, and listeners that they exist because mainstream media has a liberal bias. Fox News was built on the lie that the conservative viewpoint was silenced until they came along. But mainstream media gave that notion a boost when they responded by bending over backwards to "tell both sides of every story." From that vantage point, the goal was never to report objective facts, but to regurgitate the positions of both liberals and conservatives.

While our polarized reaction to Simone Biles probably doesn't pose much of a threat, a both sides approach to what happened at the Capital on January 6th lays the groundwork for upending our democracy. The same is true for an investigation into what happened that day. So I thought it was important to promote the voices that are speaking out against this latest iteration of bothsidism. Here are four articles I highly recommend:

1. Our democracy is under attack. Washington journalists must stop covering it like politics as usual, by Margaret Sullivan.

2. The absurd coverage of the January 6 committee, by Jon Allsop.

3. Media's "both sides" obsession has gone too far, by Amanda Marcotte.

4. Can the media Both Sides an insurrection? They're gonna try, by Eric Boehlert.

Those authors give us a lot of insight into how bothsidism is embedded in the reporting we're seeing these days. We all need to get familiar with how it happens so that we can recognize it immediately. 

Sullivan begins her piece by reminding us of the prescient book written by Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann back in 2012 titled, "It's Even Worse Than it Looks" about "the rise of Republican Party extremism and its dire effect on American democracy." Here's how they made the point in an article published at the Washington Post (emphasis mine).

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party...

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges...

If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections...

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

That is how they described the situation during Obama's presidency and, of course, things have gotten a whole lot worse since then. The Republican Party is now aligning itself with the insurgents who stormed the Capital with the intent of overturning an election. To distort that reality with bothsidism presents a clear and present danger. For the sake of our democracy, the media must prioritize truth over balance.


  1. Of course, nice to see you back after a break. Fine post and much appreciated. Kevin Drum has been harping on the obvious, Fox, but he has his love of mono-causal explanations. It's so important to stress how the mainstream is letting us down. Fox reaches its base, but it takes cues, too, as from Trump's demented positions on January 6 and the virus, just as the GOP as a whole does, and blaming it all on Fox doesn't explain its success. It's as if Pravda influenced 40 percent of American back in the day. It does enormous damage, but the wider reach of whitewashing from others is scary, too.

    FWIW, he thus dismisses the impact of social media as well and wonders why Biden mentions it. I can't think of lots of reasons. In polls, roughly half say that's where they get their news; where it doesn't disinform, it does have the ability to mobilize, which is important too as with January 6. It's also under scrutiny as big business from progressives in Congress, and it's nice Biden us adding his weight to them. After all, they may change, and Fox won't. Finally, he merely reflects what his own top science people have said publicly, and how nice to have a president who believes in, whatever his own feelings are, in a consistent administration message!

    1. Apologies for not proofreading properly. In particular, it should say "I can think of lots of reasons."


why i've been awol

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