Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Two Sides to Everything? Not on Your Tin-Type

[This started as a comment to a Facebook thread started by Rick Wirch, who read The Audacity of Hope and said favorable things about it. Got WAY too long for FB!]

Coincidentally enough, I graduated from a rather prestigious school of journalism, and spent a good deal of career time in the field. So I know whereof I speak when I say that "the other side" does not exist for journalists working to the standards of their profession. If you want to talk editorial content, that's fine, but there's no obligation (since the Fairness Doctrine expired decades ago) for an outlet to present "both sides". None. So Fox is perfectly OK to heavily slant their editorial coverage.

And Gary, you're perfectly correct that the MSM has a slant. To the right. Or, to be a little more precise, to whatever side, angle, or lie happens to be on sale from those in the halls of power, and those who fund their campaigns.

In other words, don't rock the boat, questioning our wars is treason, the free market is the answer to social problems, people born in the hell-hole of our inner cities are responsible for their problems, those who oppose us abroad are senseless fanatics, the answer to crime is imprisonment, profits trump environmental costs. Hmm. Doesn't quite have that "Internationale" ring to it, does it?

The pundits want access and a good working relationship with their sources, so they parrot the talking points anonymously provided by government officials about inconsequential issues like NAFTA (Clinton), going to war (Bush), raping civil liberties while recruiting a new generation of motivated terrorists (Bush), and confirming dictatorial powers of indefinite detention without cause (Obama). Gary, you and I agree perfectly about the watchdog/lapdog aspect of the media. Please, as your brother American (leftist though I am), I beg you to keep their feet to the fire! I promise to do likewise.

Now, when you're talking news, it's the facts that I'm concerned about. Reportage. That's what they taught us in J-School. Get 'em, check 'em. There aren't "two sides" to facts -- this is a pernicious myth. When Glenn Beck says that the recent D.C. demonstration encompassed a million-plus people, he's not espousing one of two equally valid viewpoints. He is lying. (Insert leftist pundit example here -- if you can find one.)

There aren't two sets of facts about Iraqi WMDs, one for the Left and one for the Right. They weren't there. There aren't two sets of facts about evolution. No reputable biologist denies it, or has a valid alternative theory. It's not in dispute, except by loonies and paid shills, that the climate is warming, that the effects multiply, or that a hefty portion is anthropogenic. And even when facts are in dispute, or policy options debated, what simplistic laziness dictates binary choices?

I'm afraid that this two-side hooey is largely the fault of the American right (and the aforementioned lapdog state of the media). It really began to take root with Nixon's Southern strategy in the 1968 campaign, but it was Gingrich and his cohort who really sold it in 1994, and whose heirs continued to do so for all their long years in power since then. (Let us not make jokes about Bill Clinton being a member of the Left. Please. That irony is still too painful.) The Democrats, taken as a group, are less willing to unify behind an agreed set of talking points, which is one reason they seem so powerless and fractious.

Reporters today evidently view their obligations discharged when they've presented "the other side". That covers their butts, but betrays their audience.

Gary, it's clear that you've a skeptical mindset, which is a priceless asset for an American citizen. If you want to talk healthcare or carbon-emission, hey, let's tangle! But when it comes to them lying to us, I am right there beside you, hollering.