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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