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We the People

We the People

Politics as a Food Fight: The Media Is Feeding the Political Divide

False “balance” which infects the entire mainstream media, making it puke out nonsense as if it were news.

John Atcheson

The other day, while listening to that liberal bastion, NPR, the newscaster mentioned that another witness had given testimony that would be damaging to Trump in the House’s impeachment inquiry.  In a transition so seamless it was an integral part of the story, the anchor immediately went on to say that Republicans claim the process is flawed, illegitimate, and partisan.

Well, yes. But is this news?  Of course, they object to the process.  Don’t criminals object to being arrested? Don’t speeders object to getting a speeding ticket?  The only reason to give the Republicans’ objection essentially equivalent status to damning testimony in a Presidential impeachment inquiry would be if it were valid.

But it isn’t.  Not even close.  And NPR isn’t alone in this false “balance” which infects the entire mainstream media, making it puke out nonsense as if it were news.

Republicans are mounting a counter-narrative that is not only baseless and intentionally deceptive, but it is also motivated by a dangerous tendency to put loyalty to party above loyalty to country.  Things like the constitution, the rule of law, and the truth are swept aside in order to preserve the party’s grip on power.

Remember those Republican Congressmen storming the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility – a highly secure meeting room – just before Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper gave damning testimony confirming Trump’s use of public money and abuse of national security policy to blackmail Ukraine?  Many of those demanding entry were, in fact, members of one of the committees in charge of the investigation and therefore allowed entry. This whole charade was simply a desperate attempt to change the narrative from Trump’s increasingly obvious guilt to one about a flawed process. And of course there was a press conference, and of course, the press repeated Matt Gaetz’ utter nonsense about Democrats running a “kangaroo court.”

Yes, Vox and a few others noted that the Republican’s stunt may have compromised national security; and yes, many deplored the lack of decorum, and yes, there were calls for less partisan behavior – as if both sides were equally at fault for the riot.

But those are the least of the problems with the media’s coverage of the impeachment proceedings.

When even the so-called liberal media’s response to any impeachment story is a knee-jerk reaction that gives equal time and credence to Republican talking points and red herrings, something is deeply wrong with the media in America.

And it didn’t begin with Trump’s impeachment.

In a recent column, Paul Krugman pointed out, once again, that the media has given credence to the Republican’s hypocrisy on budget deficits for decades now.  The on-again-off-again hysteria over the deficits corresponds precisely with who’s in power.  When Democrats control the White House, deficits are horrible, no-good, evil things to be avoided at all costs.  When Republicans are and they want to pass a deficit exploding tax cut, no worries.

And the media has been complicit in giving their obvious lies legitimate coverage.  It’s all done in the name of “balance,” an attribute NPR has lately taken to bragging about in their news.

One of the beneficiaries of the partisan political food fight is cable news, as partisans from both sides constantly tune in to get their “side” reinforced.  Fanning the national id has been profitable for them.

Social media gets clicks galore and the nation descends into rabid screaming matches as each side squares off in preparation for the now dreaded Thanksgiving Dinner where Uncle Al holds forth on the latest conspiracy theories and threatens civil war if Trump is impeached.

If discourse in the US has descended into the level of the insane, it’s because the media doesn’t treat idiotic red herrings and bald-faced lies as what they are – attempts to distract, deceive, and destroy.  And it’s not just Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Their misinformation campaigns couldn’t withstand a concerted effort to actually inform Americans by the rest of the media.  But that’s not what they do.

The Ukraine incident is – if it occurred as witnesses and Trump himself have described it -- a high crime. It appears – by his own words – that Trump used the public’s money in an attempt to extort a personal political favor from an ally, putting them at risk and compromising the US’s security in the process.  Certainly, it’s an impeachable offense, if he did it, and certainly, it must be investigated.

When Republicans storm a secure facility; knowingly lie about economic policy; block legitimate inquiries into impeachable offenses; deny climate science; or roll back environmental, health and safety regulations, the real news story should be that one of our major political parties has gone off the rails and turned bat-shit crazy, not a he-said, she-said appeal featuring balanced reporting, and bemoaning partisanship – which the media itself inflames by according the same weight to utter nonsense and lies as it does to factual reporting.

One can achieve balance by putting a ton of bullshit on one side of the scale, and a ton of gold on the other, but that doesn’t make them equivalent.  Unfortunately, our media doesn’t see fit to report the fact, that’s what’s going on.

It doesn’t help that they also present the progressive candidates and policies that most Americans favor as unpopular, costly, or … gasp … socialist, while they present the neoliberals in charge of the Democratic Party as “prudent” and popular. This makes obvious the role of big money in our politics and media for both parties.

But it’s one thing to be beholden to corporate money, and quite another to be beholden to corporate money and to be conducting an assault on government that is – literally – dangerously tyrannical.

The Constitution was written on fragile parchment.  It has no power other than the history of respect, reverence and custom supporting the principles written upon it since it was ratified 231 years ago.

The real story in journalism today is that one party has abandoned that respect and reverence.  It is a party that hates government, yet wants to govern.  It is a party that puts power over principle.  It is a party that routinely lies. It is a party that rejects science, the Enlightenment, and seeks to usher in a New Dark Age. And finally, it is a party that threatens the principles and institutions we rely on for whatever semblance of freedom remains.

That’s what should be in the headlines; that’s what should be leading off the news at 7; that’s what should be blaring from the radio. It's the story of our time, and it's barely being told.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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