Attention American Media: Both Sides are NOT to Blame
Unless, by 'Both Sides,' You Mean the Two Factions of the Republican Party

This treatment by ABC News shows the problem


Perhaps as inevitable as the government shutdown for which the Republicans and tea party are solely responsible is the press’s telling of it. In their version, it’s a 50/50 deal between Republicans and Democrats. But then, isn’t everything, even the stuff that’s clearly not?

For those of you playing along at home, take a shot today every time you hear these words or phrases:

  • stalemate in Congress
  • seek a compromise
  • a game of political chicken…when neither side blinked
  • each has refused to budge
  • amid the finger-wagging

If you’re still sober enough to read, please note those quotes came from a single CNN story.

Eric Boehlert at Media Matters is not only pushing back on the old “Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame” journalistic cop-out, he’s actually holding reporters who use it responsible for what’s happening.

What’s been clear for years is that the press clings to its preferred storyline: When Republicans obstruct Obama’s agenda, the president’s to blame for not changing the GOP’s unprecedented behavior. In other words, “both sides” are to blame for the GOP’s radical actions and the epic gridlock it produces.

The media lesson for Republicans? There’s very little political downside to pushing extremism if the press is going to give the party a pass.

Gladstone: ‘The political opponents of the health care act have been free to set a tone that suggests that the law is somehow still in play, as if a duly elected Congress didn’t pass it, or a duly elected president sign it. It’s a fantasy, acted out in endless votes for repeal…that elicits little more than cynical smirks from the media.

This consistent policy of finding something to blame Democrats for, no matter what the Republicans do, Boehlert says, has emboldened the tea party radicals to the point that the rest of their party falls in line.

Indeed, if ever there were a scenario where it was blindly obvious both sides are definitely not to blame, this would be it. In this case Democrats have mostly been forced to be spectators as they watch a civil war unfold within the Republican Party between its far-right Tea Party allies and the rest of the GOP that wants to keep the government running.

Some in the press, he notes, go further, hinting Democrats are the problem.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal newsroom has been working overtime to make sure readers think Democrats and Republicans share the blame, publishing generic “Washington” headlines, claiming the “increasingly dysfunctional Congress” is to blame for the shutdown threat (not Republicans), and falsely reporting the GOP’s radical health care maneuvers really just represent “a debate over the scope and size of government.”

Even supposedly objective journalists have a hard time understanding their role in what’s happening. NBC’s chief white house correspondent, Chuck Todd, recently said it wasn’t the media’s job to correct GOP lies about Obamacare, it’s the White House’s. Brooke Gladstone, on NPR’s On the Media, asked Todd about that.

NBC Chief White House Correspondent, Chuck Todd

Todd: …what got misinterpreted about what I said, is I said, I know that there is this feeling out here that somehow the media should be the one to push back on this P.R. campaign by the Republicans. But, you know, can the media fact-check an entire news organization?

Gladstone: I know, but –

Todd: The fact of the matter, now hang on a minute, because I know I got a lot of grief for this but I really think people didn’t understand what I was saying. Somebody took this, and then just assumed it meant, “Oh we don’t think the media is calling out the lies of the Republicans on this. MY point was, at the end of the day, these folks, they’re not speaking through the media, the Republicans, right? They’re buying this advertising, they’re doing this. My point was, they’re treating it like a political campaign, the White House is not treating it like a political campaign. The president of the United States has won an election twice. They know how to run a political campaign, they just haven’t run one on health care.

We can only imagine how Todd and other journalists would have characterized it if Obama had treated implementing the Affordable Care Act, “like a political campaign.” Todd made it clear that the media has little, if any, role to play and beyond that, if you don’t know enough about the Affordable Care Act, it’s your fault.

Gladstone: The Kaiser Family Foundation did a poll that found that 51 percent of respondents felt they didn’t have enough information. Do you lay that entirely at the feet of the White House?

Todd: You can lay that at the feet of a lot of people. Is it the White House? Is it the entire Democratic party? Is it the Republican party? Is it everybody that’s been involved in this health care issue? Is it because there is confusion sometimes in the decisions that are made, and is it the media? I think we’re all a part to blame in this. I’m not gonna sit here and say we’re not. There’s no excuse, to me, for an American to claim they’re uninformed. All this information is available.

Gladstone wasn’t buying Todd’s abdication and reminded listeners why the U.S. Constitution’s amendments begin with the one about freedom of the press.

Personally, I think the media have a little more to answer for here because the political opponents of the health care act have been free to set a tone that suggests that the law is somehow still in play, as if a duly elected Congress didn’t pass it, or a duly elected president sign it. It’s a fantasy, acted out in endless votes for repeal or lately, by bullying the lily-livered NFL [which pulled public service announcements that would have helped educate people about how to obtain health insurance coverage], that elicits little more than cynical smirks from the media. But our press is free only because the founders believed it would safeguard democracy. And in times like these, that means safeguarding reality too.

But they’re not. The proof is in the polling:

And it appears most Americans would blame congressional Republicans for a shutdown: Sixty-nine percent said they agreed with the statement that the party’s elected officials were acting like “spoiled children.”

Democrats, however, weren’t far behind: Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they, too, were acting like spoiled kids.

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