The Media’s Feckless Appeasement and Washington’s Lazy Consensus: A Love Story

500 days

There they go again on television with the timeless argument between the ideologies and the political parties on the topic of whether the sun rises in the east or west. The Republican conviction is strong that the orb lofts itself into a Western sky every morning and the poor flustered Democrats insist for the umpteenthmillionth time that the great ball of fire shows up every morning in the east. Our putative arbiters of truth in the mainstream press can’t be certain. It’s good to get both sides of the argument.

I’m telling you right now that if I see David Gregory or Tom Brokaw or Wolf Blitzer or Tom Friedman or Charlie friggin Rose strenuously trying to split the difference one more time in defiance of fact, truth, history, objectivity and common sense I’m going to hang myself with the hdmi cable (They’re expensive, but I’m going out in style) .

Your average television news viewer or newspaper reader might have gotten the idea from somewhere that the “debate” about who is to blame for the current government sequestration is real, rather than another of those press-beloved “two sides of every argument” school plays they unashamedly subject us to. Yes, an  Obama adviser had the sequester idea. Here’s a lesson in the glorious veracity of context: When hostages are being held for ransom, when the person negotiating on behalf of the hostages’ release comes up with a plan that will result in the hostages being freed, that does not make the resourceful negotiator thereby responsible for negative consequences of the plan itself: the hostage-taker remains responsible for all negative fallout due to criminally taking the hostages to begin with.

According to a recent Bloomberg survey that shocked many but seemed about right to me, 94 %of Americans mistakenly believed the deficit is growing or unchanged rather than falling. We’ll concede that every single American is not necessarily a brainiac, but if this doesn’t seriously implicate those responsible for informing the American public nothing does. I know I’m a hopeless idealist, but isn’t the news supposed to make you smarter and better informed? Confusing people or making facts elusive can only mean our mainstream media are a great Bizarro World success story.

While there may be some sort of middlebrow Washington cred assigned to those who pontificate about the direness of debt and deficit while stroking their chins, and while there may be advantages for Republicans simulating concern for debt as an end-run maneuver to get their hands around the throat of the safety net, it doesn’t change the fact that actual harm is done through this skewing of focus and misallocation of attention . When the economy continues to do little better than barely inch forward and a bunch of unemployed Americans are sitting at home each day you’d think the genuinely salient challenges facing the country would not be allowed to slip to secondary status simply because media outlets are so content with their operating models.

A Media Matters study recently found that out of 503 guest appearances on news segments devoted primarily to budget discussions on the four major networks only 22, or 4.4% of those guests were economists.  You don’t have to be Woodward and Bernstein of Olde to recognize that as a clue. Do anything like a significant number of Americans know that the embrace of austerity (obsession with cutting budgets, in this case in the midst of recession or slow growth) by European nations has sucked that continent into an economic sinkhole? Doubt it. Whose fault is that? It’s not entirely the negligence of weary working Americans. It’s nice for them that everyone  in DC comfortably ends their evenings burping up the Washington consensus after a dinner party but why do we let them get away with it?

How many Americans really understand that there is nothing systemically wrong with Medicare, that in fact it is highly efficient, and indeed has dramatically lower administrative costs than private insurance, but that it is the cost of the health care Medicare pays for that has soared.  People telling you they want to save Medicare by reducing its benefits, meaning for all intents and purposes ending it out of ideological animus at the same time protecting  hospitals and health providers and private  insurance companies ought to be lined up against the media wall and shot by the press on a regular basis. But there’s old Wolf and Dave taking them at face value.

During these oh so many oh so serious discussions of debt and deficit with the accompanying dependable Republican scenery chewing and heavy emoting about the perils of them, why isn’t the historical record worth hearing about? How frequently are Republican talkers or politicians reminded their party ramped up the deficit and debt over the last decade, with nary a peep out of any of them, in fact with their express legislative and rhetorical support during the duration of the Bush tenure? Not very bloody frequently. Did or did not the last three Republican presidents substantially increase deficits? Have the last three Republican presidents spent more than their Democratic counterparts or have they not? Shouldn’t the historical credibility of those doing the theatrical caterwauling be especially pertinent?

Perhaps no press behavior is more negligent or more dangerous than the degree to which the American mainstream press have become appeasers of the egregiously  and conspicuously radicalized right, and its vehicle the Republican Party. The campaign by the activist right to demonize the press as biased after the exposure of the crimes of Richard Nixon and the increasing inconvenience of the press to the highly stylized shall we say version of truth the right offered has been fully victorious,  media companies and editors and producers in corporate media constrained by fear, conditioned to timidity and in too many cases merely subservient to a mixture of careerism, conformity and ego, muting if not entirely neglecting an ongoing,  forceful mainstream critique of the radicalism of the current Republican Party. Like most appeasement, this has wrought nothing but contempt from those appeased and reinforced a perception of feckless tiptoeing. After thirty years of hammering the press as liberal, has all this “balance” and false equivalency earned the press huzzahs from conservatives for their fairness and balance? Ha Ha. Ha. No, conservatives relentlessly and mercilessly drag the press over a bed of rhetorical nails as the “liberal media” just as opportunistically and successfully as ever.

Urging the press to unfailingly distinguish what is fact from what is not, to be historically cognizant, contextual, and diligent about that which is objectively true is now considered, at least by the prim dullards and careerist nabobs of the op-ed pages, Sunday morning roundtables and D.C. eateries I suppose to be partisan firebombing. Hey, it’s not my fault one side has made the tactical decision to insist on ideological political correctness at all times, rather than to contribute to governing the nation; or that a party allowed radicals and Know-Nothings to seize the thing.

So, the press brags they’re as “balanced” as a carpenter’s leveler. Who gives a fuck?

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