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.
The 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.
Take 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.
The 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.”