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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

False equivalency FTW

by digby

They call this "fair and balanced" but it's actually a lie

Eric Wemple at the Washington Post takes a look at the subject of "false equivalency" in the press coverage of the presidential race. It's worth looking at:
U.S. media organizations are locked into such a negative mind-set that they portrayed Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as equally pernicious and scurrilous pretenders to the presidency. That, at least, is the conclusion of a study by Thomas E. Patterson in the fourth of his series of studies on media coverage of the presidential campaign for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. 
“False equivalencies abound in today’s reporting,” writes Patterson. “When journalists can’t, or won’t, distinguish between allegations directed at the Trump Foundation and those directed at the Clinton Foundation, there’s something seriously amiss. And false equivalencies are developing on a grand scale as a result of relentlessly negative news. If everything and everyone is portrayed negatively, there’s a leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans.”

The whole thing is fascinating because we watched this unfold in real time, as did the press, but there was nothing we could do about it. I recall writing about the findings of the earlier Shorenstein study's papers on the campaign and I was scolded like a child by journalists who said it was ridiculous data that should be tossed immediately into the dust bin. They did not want to hear it.

I do think this has something to do with a herd mentality in the press when they decide they don't "like" someone. The obvious precedent for this campaign is the most recent one in which an unprepared Republican fool became president largely because the press decided that Al Gore was icky. The same thing happened this time. They went after Clinton with a vengeance, portraying her basically as a sick, corrupt old crone and played into the hands of Mr Entertainment, the class clown who nobody took seriously until it was too late. This was their choice.

In other words, the media picks your president, America. This time they picked Trump, the man who treated them like dogs throughout the campaign. But hey they bagged their white whale finally so it's all good. Hillary Clinton paid for the fact that her husband survived so they can finally put that to rest. It sure was worth it.

This article by Jonathan Allen was very important and very true:
The reporter's job is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" — a credo that, humorously, was originally written as a smear of the self-righteous nature of journalists. And so the justification for going after a public figure increases in proportion to his or her stature. The bigger the figure, the looser the restraints.

After a quarter of a century on the national stage, there's no more comfortable political figure to afflict than Hillary Clinton. And she's in for a lot of affliction over the next year and half.

That's generally a good way for reporters to go about their business. After all, the more power a person wants in our republic, the more voters should know about her or him. But it's also an essential frame for thinking about the long-toxic relationship between the Clintons and the media, why the coverage of Hillary Clinton differs from coverage of other candidates for the presidency, and whether that difference encourages distortions that will ultimately affect the presidential race.

The Clinton rules are driven by reporters' and editors' desire to score the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism: the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family's political empire. At least in that way, Republicans and the media have a common interest.

I understand these dynamics well, having co-written a book that demonstrated how Bill and Hillary Clinton used Hillary's time at State to build the family political operation and set up for their fourth presidential campaign. That is to say, I've done a lot of research about the Clintons' relationship with the media, and experienced it firsthand. As an author, I felt that I owed it to myself and the reader to report, investigate, and write with the same mix of curiosity, skepticism, rigor, and compassion that I would use with any other subject. I wanted to sell books, of course. But the easier way to do that — proven over time — is to write as though the Clintons are the purest form of evil. The same holds for daily reporting. Want to drive traffic to a website? Write something nasty about a Clinton, particularly Hillary.

As a reporter, I get sucked into playing by the Clinton rules. This is what I've seen in my colleagues, and in myself.

Read on for how it worked. You will certainly recognize the phenomenon in our recent atrocity of an election.

Way too many people who should know better ignored this obvious truth in 2016. They will never admit it, of course. But they know who they are.

So I just want to extend my thanks to the media for giving us Donald Trump. Good work. You finally bagged Moby Dick. I hope it was worth it.