Read thither and yon, google all day, and you’re still not going to find a better take-down of the MSM’s proclivity for false equivalency — and the damage it is doing in the current debt ceiling negotiations than Paul Krugman’s “The Centrist Cop-Out” in today’s New York Times. Some excerpts:
The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.
…Many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.
Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?
The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.
Krugman goes on to explain how President Obama bent way over backwards to negotiate with Republicans, inmcluding “a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans over taxes and spending…extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities…an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only small revenue increases.” The President’s concessions were not merely centrist, but “a bit to the right of the average Republican voter’s preferences.” Krugman continues:
But Republicans rejected the deal. So what was the headline on an Associated Press analysis of that breakdown in negotiations? “Obama, Republicans Trapped by Inflexible Rhetoric.” A Democratic president who bends over backward to accommodate the other side — or, if you prefer, who leans so far to the right that he’s in danger of falling over — is treated as being just the same as his utterly intransigent opponents. Balance!
…Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders who do the right thing, not the centrist thing.
But for those who insist that the center is always the place to be, I have an important piece of information: We already have a centrist president…
Krugman cites President Obama’s HCR and tax policies as examples and adds:
So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.
But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.
In fairness, there have been MSM reporters and editorials that have not been hustled by “the centrist cop-out” and they merit respect for doing an honest job. But Krugman is right that too many others have swilled the pseudo-centrist Koolaid, and now are very much a part of the problem.