The scheme worked. Establishment news began to bend over backwards to provide "balanced coverage" of liberals and conservatives. Here is how Mark Jacob, former editor at Chicago Tribune and Sun Times described it:
When I edited political stories, I went so far as to count the quotes from Republicans and Democrats, thinking an equal number would make us fairer. I didn’t think I was helping either party. I thought I was helping the readers. I was wrong. 3/9— Mark Jacob (@MarkJacob16) September 27, 2021
He's right. Not only was it lazy journalism, it served to mainstream Republican positions that became more and more extreme.
In 2017, Fox News dropped the slogan "Fair and Balanced," presumably as a way to distance the network from Roger Ailes and his serial sexual harassment. But the news site RealClearPolitics has picked up the mantra. A fundraising piece written by President David DesRosiers is titled, "Bring RealClear Balance to America's Media." His main example of balance is a data base the site has created that purports to demonstrate an equivalence between the violence of protests following the murder of George Floyd and the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
While the claim is to simply provide the data, the lack of context is an attempt to make the George Floyd protests appear more violent than the January 6 insurrection. For example, they point to over 16,000 arrests during the former and only 570 in the latter. Here's a bit of context on the George Floyd protests from the Washington Post.
The Post’s analysis found the overwhelming majority arrested in those 15 cities — 2,059 of the 2,652 — were accused of nonviolent misdemeanors, most on charges of violating curfew or emergency orders...
Nationwide, the large number of arrests in those first two weeks occurred because police policies and training were inadequate to deal with widespread demonstrations at such a tense moment in the nation’s history, experts said.
“When it comes to civil disorder, officers are trained to handle riots,” said Edward Maguire, a professor of criminal justice at Arizona State University, who has helped craft federal guidelines on community policing amid social unrest. “They’re not trained to handle peaceful demonstrations or even mostly peaceful protests. They often show up to crowd control events that are not yet riots and handle them as if they were riots.”
We also know that "Four people who identify with the far-right extremist “boogaloo” movement are among those facing the most serious federal charges." None of that information made it into the so-called "balanced" database at RCP.
DesRossiers provided some other examples of the publication's balance. There is the attempt to smear fact-checkers, a "1776 Series" designed as an assault on the NYT "1619 Project," material on the theme of "trustworthy elections" as a cover for lies about voter fraud, and - of course - attacks on critical race theory. That is what RCP is referring to when they talk about balance.
But it gets even worse. In addition to the fact that one of RCP's main investigative reporters previously worked for the right wing site WorldNetDaily (which they fail to mention in his bio), the Daily Beast reported this about the site's parent company.
The company behind the non-partisan news site RealClearPolitics has been secretly running a Facebook page filled with far-right memes and Islamophobic smears, The Daily Beast has learned.
Called “Conservative Country,” the Facebook page was founded in 2014 and now boasts nearly 800,000 followers for its mix of Donald Trump hagiography and ultra-conservative memes. One recent post showed a man training two assault rifles at a closed door with the caption “Just sitting here waiting on Beto.” Others wink at right-wing conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s “ties to Islam” or the Clintons having their enemies killed, or portray Muslim members of Congress as terrorist infiltrators. The page is effusive with praise for Vladimir Putin, and one post portrays Russia as the last bastion of freedom in Europe.
One of the main reasons people visit RCP is that they aggregate news stories daily. But for every piece from a major news outlet, they link to an opposing view from right wing media. Their favorite so-called "liberal" journalists are people like Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Aaron Maté - whose main reason for being these days is to criticize Democrats. That is also what passes for balance at RCP.
RCP is one of the main reasons our news environment is so toxic. At least with sites like Brietbart and WorldNetDaily, everyone knows what they're getting. RCP is deceitful. Under the guise of balance, they are promoting the same lies and disinformation we see from other right wing sites. But they are treated as legitimate. If you doubt that, take a look at where AllSides places RCP on their media bias chart.
RCP lands right in the middle, along with NPR, Reuters and the BBC.
It is unlikely that we will be able to stop the threat the Republican Party currently poses to our democracy as long as their extremism is mainstreamed.