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jan-6

Right-wing insurrectionists, fueled by then-President Donald Trump's relentless lies about voter fraud, violently rioted at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to prevent lawmakers from certifying the 2020 presidential election results in a joint session of the 117th Congress on January 6, 2021. (Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

False Equivalence: The Media's Dangerous Bias

The media equating both sides, one "left" and one "right," suggests there's a moderate middle between hate and inclusion, between democracy and proto-fascism.

Robert Reich

 by RobertReich.org

The mainstream media has historically tried to balance left and right in its political coverage, and present what it views as a reasonable center.

That may sound good in theory. But the old politics no longer exists and the former labels "left" versus "right" are outdated. 

Today it's democracy versus authoritarianism, voting rights versus white supremacy. There's no reasonable center between these positions, no justifiable compromise. Equating them is misleading and dangerous.

Equating all these lawmakers suggests that the responsible position is halfway between hateful, delusional conspiracy theories on the one hand, and efforts to fight white supremacy, save the planet, and empower working people on the other.

You hear the mainstream media say, for example, that certain "Republican and Democratic lawmakers are emerging as troublemakers within their parties." These reports equate Republican lawmakers who are actively promoting Trump's big lie that the 2020 election was stolen, with Democratic lawmakers who are fighting to extend health care and other programs to help people. 

These are not equivalent. Trump's big lie is a direct challenge to American democracy. Even if you disagree with providing Americans better access to health care, it won't destroy our system of government. 

You also hear that both sides are gripped by equally dangerous extremism. Labeling them "radical left" and "radical right" suggests that the responsible position is somehow between these so-called extremes. 

Can we get real? One side is trying to protect and preserve voting rights. The other side is trying to suppress votes under the guise of "election integrity."  

But there isn't and never was a problem of "election integrity." The whole issue of "election integrity" in the 2020 election was manufactured by Donald Trump and his big lie about voter fraud, and was bought and propagated by the Republican Party. 

Today's Republican Party is behind what historians regard as the biggest attack on voting rights since Jim Crow, but the media frames this as a right-versus-left battle that's just politics as usual. Equating the two sides is false and dangerous.

Or compare the coverage of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, on one hand, with the coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar on the other. You'd think they were all equally out of the mainstream, some on the extreme right, some on the extreme left. That's bunk. 

Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, in addition to spreading dangerous conspiracy theories, harassing colleagues, and promoting bigotry, don't actually legislate or do anything for their constituents. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar both organize to help everyday people, deliver for their constituents, and have pushed legislation to provide universal school meals, expand affordable housing, and combat the climate crisis.

Equating all these lawmakers suggests that the responsible position is halfway between hateful, delusional conspiracy theories on the one hand, and efforts to fight white supremacy, save the planet, and empower working people on the other. 

It's similar to what the media did following Donald Trump's infamous condemnation of "both sides" after the deadly violence sparked by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. In the ensuing weeks, America's six top mainstream newspapers used just as much space condemning anti-Nazi counter-protesters as they did actual neo-Nazis.

But research shows white supremacists pose a significantly graver threat than those trying to stop them. White supremacists are animated by racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry, violence and hate. 

Battling white supremacy is not the same as advocating it. Passing laws to prevent voter suppression is not the same as passing laws to suppress votes. Fighting for our democracy is not the same as seeking to destroy it. 

The media equating both sides, one "left" and one "right," suggests there's a moderate middle between hate and inclusion, between democracy and proto-fascism. 

This is misleading, dangerous, and morally wrong. Don't fall for it.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include:  "Aftershock" (2011), "The Work of Nations" (1992), "Beyond Outrage" (2012) and, "Saving Capitalism" (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good" (2019). He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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