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July 19, 2011 10:05 AM The latest in non-existent equivalence

By Steve Benen

It’s frustrating to see so many prominent media voices reflexively blame “both sides” for the debt-ceiling fiasco, but some examples are more exasperating than others. Jonathan Cohn flagged a clip from NBC’s “Meet the Press” the other day, which I hadn’t seen.

Here’s the way host David Gregory phrased a “question” — I use the word loosely — to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.):

“[S]o many people I talk to are frankly disgusted with Washington. You know, you have on the one side people saying that, that Republicans are, are just crazy. That they won’t negotiate. That they’re being unreasonable. That they’re denying the prospect of a default. Michelle Bachmann saying it’s a misnomer when the Fed chief says it would be economic calamity.

“And on the other side you, you know, you’ve got Republicans saying, ‘Look, somebody’s got to draw a line in the sand here. It’s, it’s the Democrats who have run up the debt since President Obama got into office.’ But the reality is nobody is really willing to compromise and to make a deal.”

I don’t know David Gregory personally, but I suspect he knows better. This kind of analysis isn’t just lazy, it actually undermines the public’s understanding of a pressing national crisis. In other words, at this point, the media must be playing a constructive role, helping Americans understand the process and the risks, and instead Americans have David Gregory parroting tired cliches that aren’t even accurate.

The “reality” is that “nobody” is “willing to compromise”? Has Gregory been on vacation for the last several months, unable to keep up on current events?

Reemphasizing a point from the weekend, let me put this as plainly as I know how: if you’re watching this debt-ceiling fiasco, and you think both parties are equally responsible for the mess, then you’re simply not paying close enough attention.

Forget subjective questions and consider the basics. GOP leaders are saying they want a deal that’s 100% in their favor. If they don’t get what they want, many Republicans are at least open to crashing the economy on purpose. As the process unfolds and the deadline draws closer, the GOP line is hardening and becoming more extreme, leading to today’s “Cut, Cap, and Balance” charade, which everyone acknowledges is both a vanity exercise and a waste of time.

In contrast, we have the Obama White House and congressional Democratic leaders, who are prepared to accept all kinds of concessions to make Republicans happy. This includes a series of compromise offers that lean heavily in the GOP’s favor.

There’s no question here which side of the political divide is open to compromise. There’s also no question which side has rejected any and all attempts at finding common ground.

And there’s also no question that tired media assumptions lead to coverage and analysis like this — blaming both sides equally because it’s easier than thinking about the facts.

Eugene Robinson had a column the other day that David Gregory should take the time to read. It laments “reflexive tendency to see equivalence where none exists,” and explains, “The truth is that Democrats have made clear they are open to a compromise deal on budget cuts and revenue increases. Republicans have made clear they are not.”

As for Gregory repeating the falsehood that “it’s the Democrats who have run up the debt” — a claim he presented as if it were fact — he’s demonstrably wrong about this, too.

With a Republican-made economic catastrophe two weeks away, Americans need the media to be at the top of their game. This “blame both sides” nonsense isn’t going to cut it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • SadOldVet on July 19, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Has Gregory been on vacation for the last several months...?

    David Gregory has intellectually been on vacation his entire life! He has a smile, a haircut, and an ability to read the prompts provided by his corporate ownership and sponsors; what more does he need?

  • c u n d gulag on July 19, 2011 10:17 AM:

    I also think it was on that show, when he had his panel with Kasich on it, that they pulled up an e-mail or text message from some viewing schlub, which commented on how (as if you didn't know) BOTH sides were to blame.

    This further set the meme in concrete, because one of the unwashed masses said the same thing, and not just the talking heads.

    Did you really suspect they's read one of my e-mails which would have started with, "David, you stupid, ignorant, cowed, compliant, and or complicit conservative stenographer,..." and gotten worse from there.

    The MSM has some sort of a strong investment in the Democrats sharing blame with the Republicans. They've probably been told that if people blame the Republicans, they'll be held responsible.

  • Mac on July 19, 2011 10:23 AM:

    Keep up the good fight, Steve. I went to a talk given by a newscaster who proudly proclaimed his allegiance to "objectivity." This was in response to a question about why he refused to call out Republican falsehoods. The audience actually applauded his response!!

    Apparently "objectivity" no longer means an attempt to present the truth, which is sadly hilarious given years of knee-jerk attacks on "social relativism" and "political correctness." For the modern media there is no truth, and there is no history. There is just the "he said, she said" of the moment.

  • jjm on July 19, 2011 10:23 AM:

    I almost shrieked out loud when I saw Boehner on camera yesterday claiming the same old thing --that Obama was not compromising. (Code: he wants new revenue that the GOP won't compromise on.) But for Gregory to simply adopt the talking points of the GOP without any analysis is simply dereliction of his journalistic duty.

    He looks like an oaf, and he increasingly shows he is one, lazy, cowardly and worthless.

  • LL on July 19, 2011 10:25 AM:

    First, what c u n d said.

    Second, if guys like Gregory told the truth about what's going on, no GOP hack would ever appear on his show again. These guys know what they have to do.

    Third, how long would Gregory keep his job if his corporate masters heard him laying blame where it belongs every day? Not long, I'm thinking.

    DC is wired for the GOP. It has been for at least 30 years. Our corporate-owned mass-media toadies know exactly which side their bread is buttered on and they're not going to drop that bread on the floor, butter-side down.

    I don't know what the solution is, but I can tell this false-equivalency bullshit is not lazy journalism: it's quite deliberate. Now, maybe guys like Gregory so reflexively protect their own jobs (after all, what a plushy gig!) that they don't spend much time thinking about how they are toadies to crazy republicans who they need on their shows, and toadies to their corporate masters. That would make sense. Why think about something that makes me look bad, feel bad, and about which I can do exactly nothing?

  • mike reilly on July 19, 2011 10:26 AM:

    The root problem of ALL of this is that unlike Republicans with their 'talking points' coordinated with the Fox News Mothership, are NOT challenging the lamestream media.

    Why aren't Dem politicians going after the David Gregory's of the talk show world. Doing what George Bush Sr did to Dan Rather. If I was a Dem politician I would challenge Grergory directly and with both barrels. I would be saying what Steve is writing.... like..."David, do you live here? Do you follow what is going on? Why do ask such stupid questions?"

    The lamestream media blames both parties simply because if they didn't they'd get blasted by Fox Mothership has being biased.

  • TT on July 19, 2011 10:28 AM:

    The sad fact is that within Washington media circles, unquestionable truth is dismissed as just another point of view, especially if--as is most often the case-- that truth has non-centrist Democratic origins.

    The other sad fact is that most of the Washington media lives in absolute, unholy terror that some day some smug d-bag conservative will call them a liberal. It leads directly to "opinions on shape of the earth differ" journalism.

  • jcricket on July 19, 2011 10:29 AM:

    What do you expect from Rove's dancing partner?

    That the Norquislings of Media are ramping up the hot air behind the false equivalency meme means that their masters really think that this ends badly and are laying the groundwork for blame now.

    David Gregory is as he has always been: A useful idiot.

  • beep52 on July 19, 2011 10:38 AM:

    Certainly, those with a stage like Gregory should know better, and those who do should have the courage to tell it like it is. But I think the situation is somewhat different among the general population.

    Set aside for a moment that the public has been fed false information...

    I wonder if the average person is capable of understanding just how radical republicans are. As with the Big Lie, most people just can't imagine that one of the major political parties would destroy the economy in order to control what's left. Their minds just can't go there until it's a done deal.

  • T2 on July 19, 2011 10:42 AM:

    "Americans need the media to be at the top of their game."

    the Media IS at the top of their game....which is to obsfucate the truth so the GOP can benefit.

  • square1 on July 19, 2011 10:54 AM:

    Steve Benen is entirely that Democrats are willing to compromise. And, notwithstanding the false equivalence, I think the vast majority of the American people understand that the GOP is being unreasonable. Aside from the GOP dead-enders and beltway courtesans like Gregory, Americans want an end to the impasse and support tax increases to close the deficit.

    But I still maintain that the willingness of the White House to cynically join with Republicans in order to use the impasse as a pretext for ramming through massive spending cuts that would ordinarily be subject to a relatively open committee process is to be condemned. Frankly, the idea that Barack Obama and John Boehner can go off into a corner and cut some backroom deal where a significant percentage of non-defense discretionary spending over the next ten years is simply lopped off of the budget is

  • square1 on July 19, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Steve Benen is entirely that Democrats are willing to compromise. And, notwithstanding the false equivalence, I think the vast majority of the American people understand that the GOP is being unreasonable. Aside from the GOP dead-enders and beltway courtesans like Gregory, Americans want an end to the impasse and support tax increases to close the deficit.

    But I still maintain that the willingness of the White House to cynically join with Republicans in order to use the impasse as a pretext for ramming through massive spending cuts that would ordinarily be subject to a relatively open committee process is to be condemned. Frankly, the idea that Barack Obama and John Boehner can go off into a corner and cut some backroom deal where a significant percentage of non-defense discretionary spending over the next ten years is simply lopped off of the budget is rather disgusting.

    It is also validates the GOP's willingness to put conditions on something that should be automatic -- the raising of the debt ceiling. Yes, the President's terms are, IMO, more "reasonable" than the GOP's terms. But once you open the door to placing conditions on raising the ceiling, all bets are off. Is it reasonable for the GOP to refuse a deal that includes tax increases? Is it reasonable for Obama to refuse a deal that doesn't extend the debt past 2012? It is entirely subjective.

    Had the Democrats simply demanded a clean bill and stuck to their guns, it would be a lot more clear who is being unreasonable.

  • You Don't Say on July 19, 2011 11:11 AM:

    Yes, the media wants to hold on to viewership like politicians want to hold on to voters.

    Also, this kind of rigid TP thinking has taken over. If Dems offer a compromise then they never really wanted what they said they wanted in the first place because there's no such thing as a compromise so they aren't compromising. Get it?

  • SecularAnimist on July 19, 2011 11:23 AM:

    Steve Benen wrote: "This kind of analysis isnít just lazy, it actually undermines the publicís understanding of a pressing national crisis."

    And that's exactly why David Gregory gets paid the big bucks.

    While clueless "sensible liberal" bloggers attribute to "laziness" that which is clearly deliberate and calculated, scripted and focus-group-tested propaganda.

  • majun on July 19, 2011 12:00 PM:

    I'm one of those people who can't watch clips at work, so there may be something in the video that is obviously missing from the transcript you provide, some inflection or nuance, but as I read the transcript it does not clearly mean you claim it means.


    Start with the easy one, "Gregory repeating the falsehood that 'itís the Democrats who have run up the debt'". If you look at the transcript there are quotations around that phrase when Gregory repeats it too. "And on the other side you, you know, youíve got Republicans saying, ĎLook, somebodyís got to draw a line in the sand here. Itís, itís the Democrats who have run up the debt since President Obama got into office.í" I read that as Gregory repeating something that the GOP says, not as a proven fact. And within the context of the statement as a whole, it is in quotes precisely because it is to be taken as something that is not a fact.

    A more subtle problem with your interpretation is that in the first paragraph you have Gregory, not indicating that Democrats are intransigent and not negotiating in good faith, but indicating that the Democrats are claiming that the GOP is bonkers and then giving Michele Bachmann as an example to support their position. That is not setting up a false equivalence. The second paragraph seems to be saying that the GOP is generally proving the Democrats right by trying to blame the Democrats for the deficits and then refusing to negotiate.

    So, there is a reading where Gregory is not setting up a false equivalence, but rather is saying that the Democrats are cally the GOP crazy and the GOP is doing nothing to prove them wrong.

    Like I said, maybe the clip is less equivocal and the tone and inflection provide additional meaning to the words.

  • Gretchen on July 19, 2011 12:46 PM:

    A colleague was complaining this morning that she and her husband might not get their social security and veteran's checks if "they" don't compromise. She's very upset about it, and completely dismissed my saying that the Republicans are causing the problem. She's sure both sides are fighting it out, and she'll suffer the consequences. But then, I think she gets all her information from Fox News. Problem is, she thinks she's well informed, because she's following the news closely.

  • Alli on July 19, 2011 1:04 PM:

    DAVID GREGORY IS A REPUBLICAN!!! that's why he does that equivalency shit. He knows better but his political views shine through in every interview.

  • dj spellchecka on July 19, 2011 1:12 PM:

    cokie roberts at npr yesterday morning offered up this "amusing" bit of false equivalency...

    "But the problem is, is that everybody is still dug in, in their respective positions. So Republicans are still saying no taxes whatsoever to reduce the deficit, and the president is still saying that he wants to hold out for some big package."

    later she semi-explains that the "big package" has big spendings cuts in it

    but both sides are "dug in."

    http://www.npr.org/2011/07/18/138462434/deadline-still-hangs-over-debt-ceiling-talks

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 19, 2011 1:18 PM:

    I've given Gregory a piece of my mind. Here's the address:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6872152/

  • CDW on July 19, 2011 1:55 PM:

    "This kind of analysis isnít just lazy, it actually undermines the publicís understanding of a pressing national crisis. In other words, at this point, the media must be playing a constructive role, helping Americans understand the process and the risks, and instead Americans have David Gregory parroting tired cliches that arenít even accurate.

    There's noting lazy about this. You have to work really hard to come up with this nonsense.

  • catherineD on July 20, 2011 3:25 AM:

    I am so tired of a president and Democrats in the Senate and House who decide to set their position as far right from the beginning, then go to the extreme Republicans who set theirs as the far, far right.

    This is like knowing that a fair price for something is $50, so the buyer offers $60 and the seller insists on $70. The Democrats in positions of power never present a position on the left from which to bargain toward a position in the middle. It's idiotic. Particularly when public polls show that the left's positions are more popular.

    Why can't we have Democrats in Congress taking to the talk shows with talking points that state we want to bring back the prosperity of the Reagan years, by bringing taxes back to the way Ronald Reagan wanted them to be?

    Let's see Republicans convince the American people that Reagan was wrong.

    It's time for Democrats to be Democrats again.

  • catherineD on July 20, 2011 3:36 AM:

    And if it sounds a bit strange to use Reagan as the means to do it, I think my point is we're incredibly stupid when it comes to bargaining. I still haven't gotten over how Clinton "bargained" - pulling in all his chips, making all kinds of promises to Republicans - in order to get NAFTA in place. A Republican policy.

    Taxes under Reagan were higher. Let's bring them back. And show some kind of intelligence when it comes to entering into the bargaining process. Now wouldn't that be interesting, if the Democratic Committee were to hire as consultants some canny people who know something about how it's done?

  • crulterce on August 24, 2011 9:35 AM:


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