How the media’s addiction to false equivalence distort our politics

Paul Krugman

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman today returns to the theme that the media allows GOP politicians to wage a campaign of lies with impunity. In this case, he notes that GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is painting President Obama as a an anti-business extremist who wants to level incomes for everyone. Krugman also notes that the press will refuse to call that a lie.

Krugman explains that that GOP candidates have learned to rely on the press’ addiction to the notion of false equivalence since it distorts reality by painting both sides as equally black:

“Oh, Mr. Romney will probably be called on some falsehoods. But, if past experience is any guide, most of the news media will feel as though their reporting must be ‘balanced,’ which means that every time they point out that a Republican lied they have to match it with a comparable accusation against a Democrat — even if what the Democrat said was actually true or, at worst, a minor misstatement.”

He goes on to challenge Politifact for naming “The End of Medicare” as the biggest political lie of 2011, when in fact, the Ryan plan would have ended Medicare as we know it, by turning it into a voucher plan without today’s guarantees.

The media’s unwillingness to distinguish clearly between true and false plays into the hands of those who will lie to win. What that means for today’s politics is that it hands over enormous power to the bullying right, and nowhere is this clearer than in the media’s reluctance to distinguish between Tea Party versus the Occupy approach.

I have been to the Tea Party rallies at the Capitol in Lansing, as well as the union rallies and the Occupy protests this past year, and the differences could not be more stark.

At the Tea Party rallies, the undercurrent of paranoia is palpable, as is a heightened sense of righteous indignation often expressed as smugness. Tea Party rallies are designed to heighten the differences between “us” and “them.”

We are the best, the salt of the earth, the faithful. We tell ourselves apocryphal stories about our righteousness to draw a sharp line that divides us, the elect, from you, the damned, the welfare queens, the socialists, the interlopers, the gays and lesbians, the Muslims and other folks who do not accept Jesus as their savior.

At its core, the Tea Party comes across as a movement dominated by bullies and the folks they have terrified who are manipulated by the sharks who know better. These folks know their ideas are not the majority, but they have pollsters like Frank Luntz who know which words to use to hit hot buttons designed to obscure rather than illumniate. They seduce people by claiming the Founding Fathers’ mantle of democracy while trying to force people to bend to their will.

The Occupy events in contrast embrace inclusion. You are one of us. Come join us as we grope our way toward a better world. We don’t have all the answers but we are searching for the truth.

Here are the facts as we know them. Rising inequality threatens us all. The planet is in peril. But we have faith that we can find a better way together if we join forces. Please come and help us and share your ideas. Our general assemblies let everyone who cares a voice.

Some of the Occupy folks may be naive about what it will take to effect the changes they want to see. But where the Tea Party wears guns on their hips demanding their rights, the Occupy protesters embrace non-violence even as they are being assaulted by police.

Imagine the challenge this poses for traditional reporters inured to the “on the one hand/on the other hand” duality. There are no statistics from anointed experts they can cite to explain the differences. If they quote someone like me, they must immediately dash out to find someone to refute what I am saying. The ethos of false equivalence requires praising and bashing both sides in equal measure, and it serves us ill in an era when the bullies are ascendant.

Look and see the difference:

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Seth Godin targets “lazy journalism”

In a recent blog posting, Ideavirus author Seth Godin argues that publishing national news in a local news site is lazy journalism. It may get you a few eyeballs, but it makes no sense in building a long-term audience in a global world.

He cites repeated copies of a story about Louis CK as an example of wasted pixels. He also notes re-tweeting what every reader will learn elsewhere merely slices the news pie thinner and thinner. Leave those re-tweets to the unpaid, he argues, so that journalists can spend their time instead digging out something that others don’t already know.

The challenge for the mainstream media, however, is that it is all about revenue. It’s not just easy but cheap to post items from AP and other sources, and the bottom line is all about the clicks. That’s why Huffington Post and other click-hungry sites can’t resist misleading headlines and teasers – made you look!

The issue is finding a sustainable model to provide quality journalism at the local level. I see non-profit national sites such as Truthout and AlterNet have survived without using these tricks. They rely on advertising as well as on asking visitors for donations or using book or DVD giveaways. The challenge is finding similar models for local news whose reach does not extend as far.

Your thoughts?

Occupy Chicago Tribune raising funds on Kickstarter

Occupy Chicago Tribune on Kickstarter has raised more than $4,000 of the $6,000 they are seeking to publish 20,000 copies of a four-page broadside.

Glad to see the movement is recognizing the importance of creating its own media, but why not an online publication? Cheaper, more environmentally sound and sustainable.

End of meme

Consumerism cool co-opts everything in the long run

I knew the Sixties were over the day in 1970 when I walked into a K-Mart and saw a rack of fringed suede vests with beads. Say no more, say no more.

Salon’s Hack List highlights what’s wrong with today’s political press

Mark Halperin cashes a paycheck for squandering his powerful platform at Time magazine


Salon magazine’s prolific Alex Pareene has finally rolled out
2011’s 20 awfulest political journalists, giving this year’s top honors to Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, calling him “both fixated solely on the horse race and also uniquely bad at analyzing the horse race.”

Halperin is the prototype of the “objective” journalist who prides himself on refusing to comment on anything he sees. Race baiting? Distortions? Outright falsehoods? Let’s instead look at those recent poll numbers that show Ron Paul rising in Iowa.

By treating politics as a sporting event rather than as a contest of ideas with consequences, Halperin squanders the opportunity to use his powerful platform at Time magazine and on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to promote the kind of informed discussion that could make voting more than a tribal exercise in doing what it takes so our team wins. The only time Halperin displayed something resembling passion was the time on Morning Joe that he called Obama a “dick.”

I was actually hoping that the top-of-the-bottom slot would be awarded to Erin Burnett, the latest anchor to fill the ever-changing musical chair in CNN’s unstable 7 p.m. time slot. Pareene awarded her fourth place, acknowledging her spectacularly trivial and patronizing coverage of Occupy Wall Street as her hackiest moment.


Is this relentlessly perky free-market Barbie manufactured by CNBC by way of Goldman Sachs the future face of broadcast news? Heaven help us.

While I was bemoaning the current state of political punditry in the United States, I happened to pick up the year-end double issue of Rolling Stone. In addition to the stellar reporting of Matt Taibbi and Tim Dickinson, the issue featured excerpted quotes from an interview with former NASA scientist Jim Hansen, who has been relentless in trying to persuade the mainstream media to cover climate change as something other than a manufactured controversy. Here’s a few sentences on Obama’s record:

He allowed the usual cast of characters to carry the ball, and they came up with the cockamamie scheme called cap and trade with offsets, in which big banks would be the biggest winners and Big Coal and Big Oil and Big Utilities all were given their share. And the public would get screwed. Energy prices would go up, and there would be almost no impact on solving the climate problem. By staying disengaged, Obama completely blew the chance to really be a great president. He could have changed history.”

The problem isn’t just the voices we hear but those we don’t hear or don’t hear enough of – Jim Hansen, Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Barbara Ehrenreich. Chomsky is frequently featured in the European press, but he says that he often finds himself disinvited on those rare occasions he is offered a platform, even by supposedly progressive news outlets such as PBS. Media moguls often allow incendiary critiques fromthe right, but not the left. (So long, Keith Olbermann.)

The opportunity that the Internet provides us in circumventing commercial media could allow the Occupy movement to create a new online citizen journalism based on providing the 99% the news it wants and needs. Email me at lansingonline AT gmail.com with your ideas and input into how this new media should function.

Eclectablog’s Chris Savage charts a new course

In this two-parter, Michigan’s Chris Savage discusses how his Eclectablog has evolved from a personal journal into a widely respected progressive blog that has often been featured on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. A supporter of the Occupy movement, Savage explains why he thinks the mainstream media are making a mistake by ignoring the importance of providing analysis and context in their reporting. In these videos, Savage also explores various economic models that offer the promise of sustaining bloggers who want to report news that matters from a progressive point of view.

Both videos were recorded by Bonnie Bucqueroux at the Gone Wired Cafe in Lansing, Michigan, on Sunday, November 27, 2011.