Political Animal


November 27, 2012 10:31 AM The MSM Does Not Define “Moderate”

By Ed Kilgore

Occasionally I’ll write something like the last post, raging at the right-wing boilerplate that passes for “moderation” in Washington today, and wonder if I’m more or less credible for having been associated with a famously “moderate” political group, the Democratic Leadership Council, back in the day. And I’m sure Tim Noah of The New Republic, another iconic segment of the moderate wing of the center-left coalition, must pinch himself after writing stuff like this:

The predominant ideology in Washington isn’t liberalism or conservatism. It’s Chicken Little-ism.
The Washington Post daily hammers us with panic-stricken dispatches by Lori Montgomery, a wholly owned subsidiary of Erskine Bowles, warning that if America falls off the “fiscal cliff” our civilization will be reduced to rubble. Never mind that Montgomery was preaching the same nonsense one year ago when the congressional “supercommittee” failed to reach budgetary consensus. Miraculously, we’re all still here. (Post readers seeking coverage more reliable and less alarmist than Montgomery’s are advised to go online for Suzy Khimm’s excellent Wonkblog dispatches on the topic.)
Now Politico has its knickers in a similar twist about the terrifying prospect of filibuster reform (“GOP Warns Of Shutdown Over Filibuster”). Manu Raju’s story, illustrated with a photograph of the Capitol dome set against a sky black with storm clouds—I kid you not—says the Democrats’ proposed filibuster reforms “will surely prompt a furious GOP revolt that could make those rare moments of bipartisan consensus even harder to come by during the next Congress.”
More and more, when reading Politico, I feel as though each article should come with a Surgeon General-style warning that whatever you’re about to read is hype-distorted by a factor of at least 20 percent. I recommend discounting by at least 50 percent for this one.

I won’t try to speak for Tim, but my own ever-increasing exasperation with the political analysis of the MSM is most definitely exacerbated by its writers’ implicit and explicit claims that whatever stands half-way between the present posturing of Left and Right is what defines not only “moderation” but everything that is reasonable. That’s not my idea of “moderation;” it is very nearly its opposite in terms of brainless and gutless accommodation to whatever way the wind blows. You get the sense that if the political Right in this country ever went openly fascist, with its activists wearing uniforms with lighting bolt insignia on the arms and marching around singing songs about the physical elimination of their enemies—the MSM would find some Lindsay Graham figure who only wore his uniform part of the time and sought only to circumscribe the liberty, not the life, of his enemies. (Yes, yes, I could construct a parallel image of the Left going totalitarian, too, with similar results).

I understand this sort of “moderation” based on false equivalencies is the MSM’s coping mechanism for looking objective in a polarized political world without referees. But I don’t have to like it or even accept it, and it’s a grievance many “moderates” are beginning to hold in an immoderate way.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Mimikatz on November 27, 2012 10:49 AM:

    It isn't just Chicken Littleism, it is also just plain conformity, a fear of standing apart from the herd, and also cynicism, a fear of taking a stand, of clearly and unequivocally supporting a value or principle. The modern antiseptic, falsely equivalent journlism and punditry relieves it's practitioners of having to defend any stand that is not already consensus in DC. I am getting really, really tired of all these rich people like Erskine Bowles and Pete Peterson trying to shred the safety net while their predator capitalist friends fleece every last bit of wealth from the bottom 80%.

    The worst idea yet is is to raise the Medicare age. People already can't get health insurance over 55. Why think it will be available for the over 65s when it's very unavailability was the impetus fir Medicare in the first place? I say go over the damn cliff. Let the stock market tank again. Let them lose a few mil. The world will go on, and there will be a slightly more reasonable Congress coming in on Ja uary 4. We can all last until Presidents Day for a fair deal. Obama and the Dems shouldn't panic.

  • ComradeAnon on November 27, 2012 10:51 AM:

    Most of the "media" is very wealthy. The wealthy looking our for the wealthy is not a foreign concept.

  • c u n d gulag on November 27, 2012 10:53 AM:

    And this is how politicians like Bob "Ain't He A Real" Corker, and Scarlette O'Graham, come to be painted as "Moderate," even though the plan they'll "settle for" is a modified version of Mitt's plan.

    The Overton Window is no longer on the right side of the house.
    It's on the outhouse outside the house, and on the far right.

  • Patience on November 27, 2012 10:54 AM:

    I had a train of thought that ran along similar lines when I read a blog post by the author of the new book Klansville, USA, who talked about how the NC state government in the 1960s preened itself with pride over its "moderate" tendencies because it said equally mean things about the KKK and the NAACP. (See http://page99test.blogspot.com/2012/11/david-cunninghams-klansville-u-s-a.html for more.)

  • T2 on November 27, 2012 11:05 AM:

    I agree with your comment that the "moderation" meme is simply the MSM trying to deal with the fact the GOP has lurched so far to the Right as to be, essentially, not representative of a mainstream political party, but a legion of TheoConservative white guys. The Media won't just come out and say that. So they equivocate, talk about "both sides" , hold kooks like McCain and Graham up as "reasonable voices of the GOP" and look for any occasion to paint the Democratic Party as a partner in the breakdown (the Filibuster flap is a prime example). The Republican Party is a farce. period. And the recent election indicate that the wide swath of America realizes it. But the Evening News can't come on and say "well, that crazy GOP senator was at it again today, trying to block the nation's progress". It would be refreshing, wouldn't it. But when the owners of that Network also have dumped millions into the election of the "crazy GOP senator"....well there's our problem.

  • David in NY on November 27, 2012 11:09 AM:

    It's not your main point, but I have been pleased by the evolution of Democratic "moderates" that you note at the beginning. It long seemed to me that they were the Democratic champions of false equivalency. In their particular case it took the form of what Atrios calls "hippie bashing," and seemed to be the main interest of those in the DLC as far as I could tell (don't know if you should be counted in the group for these purposes, Ed). That is, the alleged moderates spent their time looking primarily for fault in the "left," which they saw as a greater enemy than the Republicans.

    At least now we seem to be coming into some agreement that the enemy is the insane Republican/conservative party, not each other. That's real progress.

    Wonder if we could get together on thinking that the unregulated, non-transparent, routine use of drones is probably not a good thing for the country in the long run. How can we now credibly criticize others for institutionalizing assassination by any means (see Russian murders of dissidents)? Nah, too early for that. Baby steps.

  • boatboy_srq on November 27, 2012 11:17 AM:

    if the political Right in this country ever went openly fascist, with its activists wearing uniforms with lighting bolt insignia on the arms and marching around singing songs about the physical elimination of their enemies

    Doesn't that rather accurately describe the Teahad, with its tricornes, colourful "revolutionary" garb, dangling Liptons and coarse rhetoric about "taking back America"? And isn't that same vision not too terribly removed from an anti-choice "protest" at a Planned Parenthood facility?

  • biggerbox on November 27, 2012 11:19 AM:

    But it's ever so much easier to just pick someone on the right and someone on the left, and a spot in between them! It saves writers from having to, you know, actually know something about the issues, with all the attendant learning and reading and thinking and so forth. And that stuff changes all the time, you know! So you have to keep up, which it just tedious, especially when you got into this line of work because you like gossiping with your friends about competition, and cocktails, and being close to the powerful, not because you actually care about the details of governance or contributing to the good of the nation. Silly.

  • T2 on November 27, 2012 11:24 AM:

    looks like Moderates McCain and Graham didn't like the answers they got from Susan Rice. No surprise there.
    And our MSM is now letting us know that the Filibuster Issue may threaten a deal on the Fiscal Cliff. I sure hope it does. Please Senator Reid - reform the Filibuster and please Mr. Obama let the damn Bush Tax Cuts EXPIRE. Screw the Moderate Wing of the GOP.

  • Samuel Knight on November 27, 2012 12:41 PM:

    Great point - and a good counterweight to Kevin Drum's stupid idea that somehow the Wash Post and Peterson are at all interested in a solution to anything.

    The major organs of the press are owned by really wealthy folks and employee lots of not-all-that-well-informed talent who - surprise! - write and talk a lot about superficial glitz that somehow always frames things in a way that protects their business interests.

    So for example, does the Wash Post which prints Richard Cohen, Krauthammer, Will, etc. have any interest on really looking at public policy OR just print stuff that protects Kaplan - their pathetic 'learning' profit centre? Well - other than a few exceptions the answer is obvious - they don't care about public policy and never really have. They just write drivel supporting the wealthy establishment.

    For example - anyone really think that Ezra Klein is getting better? Assimilated by the Borg seems more like it.

    That sad reality is part of the reason why Silver and Krugman stand out. There are just so few people who actually know much of anything who are in the MSM.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 27, 2012 12:44 PM:

    Well, it's about time somebody other than those paying attention from their bunkers took the idiotic MSM to task for their cowardly, incompetent position for the last 20+ years. It's the primary reason the country (and the world) is in the awful mess it's in.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 27, 2012 12:49 PM:

    @Samuel Knight: I have noticed the same thing about Klein. It seems like he's in some sort of inexorable drift toward the centrist mediocrity all who play the Washington circle jerk game evidently must play to advance themselves. His new guy, Neil Irwin, is terrible.

  • thisdave on November 27, 2012 1:22 PM:

    Where the hell are the Democrats? This November is reminding me of 2009, when healthcare reform went down the toilet. Dems have disappeared behind closed doors while Republicans and their opinion leaders seem to be filling the airwaves and print columns with their talking points.

    What the Dems need is six or seven compelling members of Congress, particularly people who just won elections/re-election and are in the public mind, to get in front of TV camera, to buttonhole reporters, every day. They need to lead the public discussions about fillibuster reform, about fixing budget problems. This silence is deadly!

  • jjm on November 27, 2012 2:29 PM:

    The worst one, to me, is the phrase, "partisan bickering" when the issues are major, real and serious, and indicative of actual differences in outlook, not just a matter of bickering. It's a disgusting term, and should be banned from all intelligent reporting.

  • beejeez on November 27, 2012 2:44 PM:

    Just heard an NPR voice yesterday refer to the "fiscal cliff" in a news summary with no indication there is any dispute about whether it's even real, let alone an analysis. NPR.

  • bmorejoe on November 27, 2012 4:07 PM:

    Hmmm - did you just model your theme?
    " (Yes, yes, I could construct a parallel image of the Left going totalitarian, too, with similar results)."

    I think the MSM reaction to a left group being even a little extreme would be swift and furious, not at all equivalent to the tolerance of rw crazy. False equivalence?

  • SecularAnimist on November 27, 2012 4:43 PM:

    The so-called "mainstream media" in the USA is entirely owned by a handful of giant corporations, who use their near-totalitarian control of the mass media to relentlessly propagandize the American people in furtherance of the corporate agenda.

    If you read, watch or listen to the corporate media, you will get corporate propaganda. To expect anything else is foolish.

  • SecularAnimist on November 27, 2012 4:46 PM:

    And by the way, the corporate-owned media's definition of "moderate" is simply "right wing extremism sanitized and legitimized for a liberal audience".

  • SecularAnimist on November 27, 2012 4:52 PM:

    beejeez wrote: "Just heard an NPR voice yesterday refer to the 'fiscal cliff' in a news summary with no indication there is any dispute about whether it's even real, let alone an analysis."

    NPR routinely recites Republican talking points as "news" during their every-half-hour news updates. Not just during discussions on programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered -- but during the headline NEWS reports.

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