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Hullabaloo


Saturday, June 04, 2016

 
Not a dime's worth of difference

by digby

















This piece by Eric Alterman about the press's He said/ She said "both sides do it" coverage of the 2016 election is an absolute must read. There is a very big risk of the press normalizing Trump and pathologizing Clinton in order to pretend they are being "balanced." This is always a bad thing, as we saw when they valorized that man-child George W. Bush and denigrated Al Gore back in 2000.  This time the threat is even more grave.


From the earliest days of this campaign, Times reporters have been transparently eager to blame “both sides,” often regardless of circumstance. Last November, Times reporter Michael Barbaro devoted a lengthy article to the GOP candidates’ most brazen lies, albeit one filled with euphemisms for the word “lie.” Carly Fiorina “refused” to back down from a story about Planned Parenthood that was “roundly disputed,” he wrote. Ben Carson “harshly turned the questions” about inconsistencies in his life story “back on the reporters who asked them.” Donald Trump “utters plenty of refutable claims” and “set the tone for the embroidery” by creating “an entirely new category of overstatement in American politics.” But guess what? “The tendency to bend facts is bipartisan.” How do we know? Well, Gary Hart and Bill Clinton chose not to confess their infidelities to the nation during election cycles that took place a generation ago. And apparently Hillary Clinton once mistakenly described herself as being the granddaughter of four immigrants when, in fact, her paternal grandmother was born shortly after her family arrived in the United States—an error she quickly corrected. Barbaro also found Clinton’s explanations about her personal and State Department e-mail accounts to be unsatisfactory. He wrote that she had “used multiple devices, like an iPad, to read and send e-mail,” even though she’d said she “preferred” to read them all on a single device. He failed to note that the iPad didn’t even exist when Clinton set up her e-mail account, nor did he explain why expressing a preference counts as bending the truth.

In the paper of record’s political coverage, false equivalence often appears to be the rule rather than the exception. For instance, on March 13, while most political observers were approaching panic over the chaos that Trump’s followers were causing—even Fox’s Chris Wallace felt compelled to tell the candidate, “You have condoned violence in rally after rally”—a front-page story in the Times investigated the question of responsibility for Trump-rally violence. The article, by Barbaro, Ashley Parker, and Trip Gabriel, quoted the corporate-friendly Democrat William M. Daley observing, “Both sides are fueling this.” Neither Daley nor the authors offered any evidence to support this accusation. It wasn’t even clear who represented “the other side.” Was it President Obama? (That’s whom The Wall Street Journal’s editors blamed.) The “communist” Bernie Sanders (Trump’s preferred culprit)? Democrats in general? Or the folks who were recklessly getting themselves beaten up by Trump’s thugs? The article didn’t attempt to explain.

I draw these examples from The New York Times not because the newspaper is the worst offender in this regard, but because it is by far America’s most comprehensive and influential news-gathering institution. More than any other source, the Gray Lady shapes the contours of the news narrative to which almost all mainstream reporters adhere. Others play an important role as well: The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, and, of course, the broadcast and cable networks and their news and Sunday shows contribute to the overall shape of the conversation. But none come close to challenging the Times’s 1,300-person newsroom in scope or ambition. The upshot is that if the Times is OK with a given journalistic practice, then so is just about everyone else. In an election campaign in particular, the dominant narrative acts as a kind of intellectual straitjacket on reporters’ coverage. In Frank Bruni’s unintentionally revealing memoir of the 2000 presidential campaign, Ambling Into History, the Times pundit and former campaign reporter admits that he occasionally found himself writing stories whose premises he didn’t accept. He couldn’t help but “follow suit,” he explained, if a particularly silly story line “was so rampant in the newspapers and newscasts that it had transmogrified into…fact.”


Read the whole Alterman piece.   It's hard to believe this is happening. 

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