Newsflash: Right is Not Center

"War is peace,
freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength"-more than a quarter
century after those oxymorons were supposed to pervade an Orwellian
1984, today's media make such newspeak even more preposterous: On
economic issues, we are often told that right is center, center is
left, and left is fringe.

For a year, national reporters (with help from conservative
talk-radio goons) have depicted the center-right Obama administration
and its corporatist policies as quasi-Marxist. We've heard that a
government-run public health care option is a "liberal" cause, even as
polls confirm that most Americans-not just liberals-support the idea.
We're told that legislators backing no-strings-attached bank bailouts
are mainstream "centrists," while bailout opponents are extremists-even
as public opinion surveys say the opposite.

This is Washington's "fair and balanced" journalism (or
"journalism," as it were) and as two of the most respected metro
newspapers show this week, its distortions can bleed into local
coverage.

Reporting on independent Bernie Sanders, the Boston Globe headlined
its recent profile: "Sanders a growing force on the far, far
left-Vermont senator is gathering clout as he takes on the Fed's Ben
Bernanke."

Polls, mind you, prove that disdain for the Fed chairman transcends
"the left." As a failed regulator and architect of unpopular bailouts,
Bernanke is despised by the public at large. Even within the Senate,
his renomination faces transpartisan opposition from Republicans like
Jim Bunning (KY) and red-state Democrats like Byron Dorgan (ND).

So depicting Sanders' fight against Bernanke as a "far, far left"
crusade tilts the definition of the economic "center"-the premium label
in politics-to the far, far right.

Then came a Denver Post editorial (in fairness, billed honestly as
opinion) urging the city's mayor, restaurateur John Hickenlooper (D),
to run for governor.

In an earlier interview with the paper's editors, Hickenlooper told
the Post that his candidacy will be motivated by his belief that "there
should be a lot more people in government who come out of the business
community."

The Post responded in its editorial not by pointing out that the
business-government revolving door is already spinning out of control,
nor by noting that we're approaching the historical zenith of
corporate-government corruption. Instead, the newspaper gushed.

"Even though he governs a left-leaning city, Hickenlooper has been a
pro-business Democrat ... making (city services) more cost-effective,"
the paper wrote, before criticizing Hickenlooper's potential Democratic
rival, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, as unacceptably "farther to the left
than Colorado's electorate."

Notice the suggestion of conflict between "left-leaning" and
"pro-business." There was no mention that the politicians typically
labeled "pro-business" were the same ones who pushed deregulatory
schemes that destroyed so many businesses in this recession. Likewise,
there was no mention that more "left-leaning" initiatives might have
averted the disaster.

Notice, too, the technocratic euphemism describing old-line
conservatism: "Cost effective" is code for a mayor who most recently
threatened layoffs unless police agreed to give up previously
negotiated pay raises.

And, most important, notice the newspaper's line about Perlmutter.
Unlike Hickenlooper, this eminently moderate congressional Democrat
with ties to organized labor has twice won a formerly Republican swing
district that is a microcosm of his state. Perlmutter, in fact, is
living proof that pragmatically progressive economic credentials aren't
"farther to the left" than the electorate-they are squarely in the
election-winning center.

The Globe and Post examples, of course, epitomize the larger
problem that arises when media voices-whether deliberately or
inadvertently-skew the terms of our political debate. War is not peace
and right is not center. But such newspeak to the contrary can
destructively alter the public's perception of acceptable and
unacceptable, possible and impossible.

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