Against overwhelming evidence that Republicans have plotted to obstruct everything President Obama does, even the things they agree with, the mainstream media has stubbornly insisted that “both sides” are the problem, that there’s just a “polarization” problem in DC. In an interview on Current TV’s The War Room with Jennifer Granholm, Politico‘s Joe Williams says that the press has been cowed into this perversion of “objectivity” by a right-wing that specializes in working the ref (I’m paraphrasing, of course).
The Republicans’ obstruction of President Obama at every turn, aside from being more obvious than the evacuation habits of ursine mammals, has been traced to the very day Obama took office, when Republicans made a pact to block anything and everything he would ever try to do to fix the economy, even those things they agreed with. That pact remains in effect today, enforced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Despite this plain reality, the Beltway press has continued to act as though the DC gridlock is a two-way problem.
Even so, a recent poll shows that 49% of voters in Florida aren’t fooled, but former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Joe Williams, White House correspondent for the influential Politico.com, think that number could be higher if the press did its job.
Gov. Granholm asked Williams, “Do the Capitol Hill journalists whisper about this obstructionism on the part of Republicans?”
“There’s not so much a whisper,” Williams replied. “It’s pretty plain. A lot of people in a lot of newsrooms have a duty to be objective here, and I think that’s one of the reasons the poll numbers are so low, because we try to present news in an objective fashion, we try not to necessarily focus on what they said, and on the agenda, because they do have, for lack of a better term, legitimate reasons for saying what they’re saying. They are philosophically opposed with the President, and they can extrapolate and say that philosophical opposition is what’s leading them to vote against the President at every turn.”
“But sooner or later, it becomes pretty obvious,” Williams continued, “especially when the President points out that some of the things he’s proposing that will fix the economy in years past have been universally loved by Republicans. They voted for transportation packages, they voted for infrastructure spending in the past–these were not controversial proposals until President Obama seemed to put his name on it. Then, all of a sudden, it became something that was untouchable–something the republicans didn’t even want to consider, much less hold a vote on.”
“You said something really interesting there,” Gov. Granholm responded, “which is one of the reasons that the number of that poll might be so low–the 49%–is that the media feels like its got to be even-handed and on this channel, I think we would call that false equivalency. The media knows very well what the obstruction is.”
“And there are many who would agree with you that it is false equivalency,” Williams allowed, “but nonetheless, one reason why that still sticks and still maintains a presence in most newsrooms is not only because of integrity of individual journalism, but also because the conservative Republican message machine is very, very good at vilifying people who they believe have crossed the line into advocacy, who have done a number on what they believe is their fair and objective way of looking at things and looking at the White House agenda.”
Gov. Granholm observed, “And so the Democrats don’t do as good of a job at scaring the journalists into being fairer to the Democrats?”
Williams then confirmed that “working the ref” has worked wonders for the GOP. “Well, I’ll probably get some heat for this,” he said, “but certainly, in my view, and again, I’m only speaking as one reporter–in my view, they have done a very good job of pushing back–we always talk about Republican push back and we always talk about the fact that they are very much intent on staying on message–they do it very, very well. They’ve got very intense message discipline and they are very good at convincing journalists, that’s probably a more polite word, convincing them that not only is their stance legitimate, but you might have gone too far. And there are some journalists who are very sensitive.”
Credit Williams for honesty, but this definition of “objectivity” stinks, and it’s the whole problem with our political journalism establishment. Any attempt at analysis, any attempt to draw a conclusion, has been relegated to the commentariat, as though it’s impossible to objectively judge the truth in what one side or the other says. If enough people insist that Elvis and Sasquatch had a love child named Ted Nugent, that assertion gains equal footing with those who disagree. Gov. Granholm calls it “false equivalency,” I call it the fig leaf of pointless neutrality. By Williams’ own admission, his conception of “objectivity” (in fairness, his attempt to soften the blow to his colleagues) prevents journalists from telling the truth, which is the entire mission of journalism.
I disagree with Gov. Granholm that Democrats aren’t as good at pushing the media about the pervasive influence of conservative framing (Jay Carney does it all the time). The reason conservative bleating about bias is so effective is that many journalists feel a certain consciousness of “guilt,” a buy-in to the notion that the media really might have a “liberal bias.”
The defect in this thinking is that liberalism, in the classic sense, is an absence of bias, whereas conservatism is necessarily biased, is, by definition, a narrowing of thought. A Democrat can favor a tax cut if it’s what’s best for the country, or a tax increase if it’s best for the country. A conservative can only do one of those things. A Democrat can (and most do) personally oppose abortions, and try to reduce the number of abortions through education and access to contraception, or by supporting legislation that restricts abortion access. A Conservative can only do one of those things.
The press needs to realize that when conservatives whine about “liberal bias,” what they’re really complaining about is an absence of conservative bias. Until they do, things like the plainly obvious GOP sabotage of the economy will continue unchecked.
Here’s the clip, from The War Room:
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