Op Ed: DC’s Big Lie is That Both Sides Are to Blame


boehner2By Hank Plante
Special to Calbuzz

Before we pop the corks and celebrate the end of the latest self-inflicted political crisis in Washington, let’s put to rest one persistent theme:  that both sides were to equally to blame.

Call it the folly of false equivalence:  the notion that just because there are two sides to a story both are equally right and wrong.

Reporters on the ground know that simply wasn’t the case this time, as Congress moved the country toward the edge of financial default.

It was a small cadre of Republicans who held their own party, the rest of Congress, the White House and the American economy hostage in their failed attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

But you’d have to sift through the coverage by the national news media to really understand that.

unbalancedThe network newscasts are greatly responsible.  In their overly cautious attempt to appear “fair and balanced,” as Fox News calls it, D.C. bureaus bent over backwards to lay equal blame for the crisis on both political parties.

I understand the need to present both sides.  I’ve sat in thousands of newsroom story meetings over four decades watching the sausage being made.  No newsroom wants to be accused of bias. But that often means both sides of a crisis get blamed 50/50.

We are long past the days when we would do a story on African-American civil rights and then be sure to get “the other side” from the Ku Klux Klan.

And yet we still give credence to extremists who insist their points of view should have equal weight, like those who want Creationism taught right alongside Evolution in the schools.

It’s amazing how many smart people fall for D.C.’s big lie:  the folly of false equivalence.

howard-schultzTake someone as bright as Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.  During the previous debt ceiling crisis in 2011, Schultz proposed that he and other big donors cut-off political contributions to politicians on both sides until it was solved.

But then came an embarrassing interview Schultz did with Jake Tapper, then with ABC’s “This Week.”  Tapper had to educate Schultz on the fact that some members of Congress actually did compromise and did try to reach across the aisle to get things done.  Should they be punished too?

The fact is the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and ratified by the re-election of President Obama (since voters chose not just a candidate but his policies as well).

But then came this fall’s blackmail, led by political jihadists who, in many cases, simply hate government.  They aren’t far removed from their predecessors who hated Social Security, Medicare, welfare and anything that smacked of “entitlements.”  (See Calbuzz from Monday.)

And members of the Tea Party (known as “TeaBillies” in some circles), will continue to be political extortionists as long as the news media and the rest of the public give them equal weight on the sanity scale.

Just last week, financial guru Warren Buffet warned against tying controversial issues to the country’s ability to pay its bills.  The financial sovereignty of the United States should be sacrosanct, and discussed without linking it to the issue du jour.

HankPlante2The good news is some voters are able to wade through the  false attempts at equal blame.  This week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll found 74 percent of Americans disapprove of how Republicans in Congress handled the debt ceiling negotiations, 61 percent disapprove of Democrats and 53 percent disapprove of President Obama.

Republicans getting slightly more of the blame may spur them into wrestling control of their party back before they face their own default – a political one.

Hank Plante is an Emmy and Peabody-winning reporter who spent three decades covering California politics for the CBS TV stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He is also the Palm Springs Bureau Chief of Calbuzz.

P.S. Amid the myriad news headlines suggested by sworn enemies of false equivalence, this is the Calbuzz favorite: “JFK, Oswald Differences Lead to Violence.”

subscribe to comments RSS

There are 11 comments for this post

  1. avatar Hemlockroid says:

    The redneck portion of the GOP was made to drink its own bath water>all the way down to the last peanut. Loved it.

  2. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    While I’ll agree that false-equivalence arguments are a common snare for lazy journalists, I’m not sure the coverage I’ve seen so far falls into that trap. (Except of course on Faux News, but they operate in a parallel universe.) What I have seen is the other failing of modern political reporting, which is attempting to reduce complex issues to horse-race dynamics… and there’s a lot of that going on today. Our political system may be a zero-sum game, but the push to call the race for one side or the other does a gross disservice to the issues at hand.

    As an example: Most national media is calling this showdown for Obama and the Democrats, but largely ignored is the fact that the CR as passed effectively enshrines sequester-level funding for government going forward. This ensures that the new baseline for negotiation next year will the once-“unthinkable” funding levels enacted as an incentive for prior negotiations. So the White House may have won the battle, but the outcome of the war is far from certain.

    The GOP may be licking their wounds in the short term, but the fundamental dynamics that started this whole dysfunctional process are unscathed. Most GOP House members are in “safe” districts, and most will face primary challenges from the right. The chances that this episode will swing the House to Democratic control, or even a more moderate GOP majority, are virtually nil. Again, the parallel universe at work.

    On a side note: I fervently hope that the next time Boehner encounters Cruz on the HIll, the Speaker kicks the freshman Senator squarely in the nuts.

  3. avatar tonyseton says:

    The “balanced” approach has long been a serious problem. Viz Russell Baker: “In the classic example, a refugee from Nazi Germany who appears on television saying monstrous things are happening in his homeland must be followed by a Nazi spokesman saying Adolf Hitler is the greatest boon to humanity since pasteurized milk. Real objectivity would require not only hard work by news people to determine which report was accurate, but also a willingness to put up with the abuse certain to follow publication of an objectively formed judgment. To escape the hard work or the abuse, if one too many says Hitler is an ogre, we instantly give you another to say Hitler is a prince. A man says the rockets won’t work? We give you another who says they will. The public may not learn much about these fairly sensitive matters, but neither does it get another excuse to denounce the media for unfairness and lack of objectivity. In brief, society is teeming with people who become furious if told what the score is.”
    Yes, there is that problem with people who don’t want the truth.
    And this codicil to Mr. Plante esteemed essay, I was actually surprised at how strong were some of the headlines against the right-wingers. About damned time.

  4. avatar bth100 says:

    Actually, it’s the democrat party that has “moved the country toward the edge of financial default.” The last two weeks was just the body of dems murder victim floating to the surface. Over-promising entitlements and the giving the easy life to anyone who doesn’t want to work has got us here.(The “poor” now have cable t.v., cell phones, taxpayer-funded meals, and childcare). But when the bill comes due there are not enough people to fill the public coffers. Look at Detroit and Stockton. Microcosm-ish of the what’s happening at the federal level.

  5. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    No, bth, it’s not “the democrat party.” It’s 50,000 or so toothless hillbillies who inhabit congressional districts in the south and parts of the midwest and who have sent ignoramuses to the Congress. As a result, Congress is stuck with a lump of idiots who are anti-science, anti-woman, anti-minorities, and live in fear that their redneck constituents will elect someone in a Republican primary who are even loonier than they are.

    If it made just the slightest effort, the Flat Earth Society could make major gains in membership among those who agree with bth.

  6. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    Oh, and BTW, Hank is spot on. There is STILL too much false equivalency in day-to-day reporting. How many times have you read or heard people say “Those politicians! If only they’d get together and work things out!” That’s an exact result of the media not accurately informing the public that it’s not “those politicians” but a minority of Republicans who have caused all the trouble. Repeat, all the trouble.

    “Opinions differ on whether the Earth is round.”

  7. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    I wonder where Hank Plant has been searching for the “awful” presence of false equivalency ’cause I have not found it. The blame for the shut down was almost universally and unequally placed on the Republicans by the media.

    And calling the Tea Party-ites.”extortionist” is factually untrue and straight out of the Demo playbook. Watch your ugly political bias Plank.

    The Republicans wanted to negotiate amendments and most of the ones that were attached to House bills sent to the Senate were both needed and fair. As we know, the Demos had the votes to not negotiate at all as long as the Reeps held the shutdown over their heads as leverage. Of course, the Reeps were tactically in error as many Republican observers pointed out for they did not have the votes in the Senate to pass those amendments. Fortunately, this mistake does not kill Republican chances in 2014.

    Watch the Senate and House returns in November 2014. You’ll see the same results the party out of power has gotten in past Congressional returns. Two good bipartisan examples for this judgment would be the Republican losses in 1958 when the Reeps were in power and the Demo losses in either and you pick ’em, 1966 or 2010 when the Demos were in power.

    As the worm turns my friends.

  8. avatar Junkman9096 says:

    The sole benefit that the GOP got out of this fiasco was that it wasn’t an election year. Try that stunt again, when politicos are attempting to gain a foothold with the voting public, and the anger and frustration built up this year will come down with a fury upon the heads of those responsible. I’m just talking as a voter, I don’t have umpteen years of Sacramento experience, but I talk to people and the people are pissed. The difference between 2014 and 1996 is YouTube, the Internet, etc. Any politician that tries to say “Oh, no. I didn’t say that-I didn’t do that” will have to refute a wave of videos and a host of bloggers that will leap at the opportunity to prove him wrong. The TeaBaggers, for all their efforts, have shown that you have to pay attention even in off-year elections. The people are on notice and they will be paying attention.

  9. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    “The Republicans wanted to negotiate amendments and most of the ones that were attached to House bills sent to the Senate were both needed and fair.”

    On what planet, Ernie?

    Obamacare may yet prove to be a train wreck, but the House GOP’s singleminded determination to link defunding amendments to the CR (and, ultimately, the debt ceiling) was neither needed nor fair. Remember, we just had a presidential election which turned into a referendum on the ACA… and the progenitor of the Act won. Quoting Obama: “If you don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election.”

    Had the GOP kept their powder dry, they likely would have been in a good position to increase their leverage in the House and possibly retake the Senate in 2014 by running on the Obamacare-nightmare platform. Instead they chose to follow the siren song of a freshman Senator with no skin in the game. Now they’ll be lucky to maintain the status quo.

  10. avatar JohnF says:

    Hank, I like this editorial a lot more than the last one. Analysis is right on. Yes the TV pundits, Chuck Todd and Wolf B are particularly irritating in this regard. But somebody named Mark Halprin is the worst, fortunately he is at about 5 in the morning when nobody watches.

Please, feel free to post your own comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.