Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Even-Steven Syndrome

Unless you live under a rock, by now you've heard of the infamous "one of these things doesn't belong" incident that occurred on Melissa Harris-Perry's show involving Mitt Romney's adopted grandchild, who just happens to be African American. The segment featured a picture of the Romney family with the grandchild on Romney's lap. Most of the comments were, to be honest, off color, no pun intended, and probably belonged more in the decorum of a late-night comedy club than on a political talk show. Harris-Perry and most of her guests have all issued public apologies.

As you might expect, it didn't take long for the far Right to go bat-shit crazy. Within hours the conservative blogosphere was all a twitter with the usual fake outrage. I won't bore you by posting them here - you're free to peruse for yourself. Suffice to say, the same mob that went to the mat for Phil Robertson's right to be a homophobic racist was denouncing every liberal from here to Oshkosh for statements that were considerably more innocuous.

It's the same nonsense from them. Every time an off-color remark is uttered by the Left it immediately becomes the moral equivalent of every offensive remark uttered by the Right. They have misogynist, racist homophobes in their ranks, we have "baby bullies." I'm not making that up; that's an actual quote from one of the more unhinged twitter heads.

For the record, no one on the show was in anyway bullying a baby. Take away the tactlessness and the argument that they were making had nothing to do with the adoption of a black baby. It was about the Republican Party's lack of diversity; it's continued inability to attract minorities into its ranks remains its biggest challenge on a national level. Though inartfully put, the segment was an indictment of the GOP's image; an image, I might add, that is well deserved.

As you might expect, it didn't take long for our vaunted main-stream media to wade in on this issue. CNN, where news goes to die, "courageously" lead the way with Fredricka Whitfield reporting that “some are calling for Melissa Harris-Perry to be fired." Of course that "some" were a few twitter postings by the usual suspects. Not that Whitfield bothered to mention that fact; or, more to the point, that CNN was shamelessly looking to exploit the situation by painting itself as "non-partisan" and therefore a "trusted" source of information. Based on the ratings and their own track record (see, the Boston bombing), I would say they have some work to do.

Whitfield and others like her continue to fall for the same, worn-out false equivalency argument, or as I prefer to call it, the Even-Steven Syndrome. It's important to make one thing perfectly clear. Both sides are NOT equally to blame here. There are no left-wing equivalents of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Steve King, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Dana Loesch and Michael Savage. That isn't to say they don't have their fair share of flamboyant personalities who occasionally push the envelope, but none of them come even remotely close to what the above do on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

The difference, as I see, comes down to accountability. When the Left screws up and says something inappropriate, there are consequences. When Ed Schultz called Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut," he was suspended by MSNBC, and deservedly so. When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut all that happened was that he lost a few advertisers. There was no disciplinary action taken against him by his employers. Clearly, there are different standards for both sides.

But even allowing for the difference in standards, the number of incidents on each side is not even remotely equitable. Limbaugh, for most of his twenty-five years in broadcasting, has made numerous offensive remarks concerning gays, Hispanics and blacks, none of which he has been called to task for. Like reality, the rules of decency do not seem to apply to the Right. They are free to spew whatever garbage pops into their craniums knowing full well that the moment the other side has so much as a brain fart they can claim both sides are just as bad.

This sort of convoluted logic is akin to the bully who justifies pulverizing another boy by saying "he pushed me." If I hit you in the chest with my fist and you come at me with a club, both of us are guilty of assault. One of us will have his feelings hurt; the other will likely spend a week or two in the hospital. How is that even remotely even?

It's bad enough that conservative media outlets like Fox News and A.M. radio push this drivel; the main-stream media can't help but go along for the ride. All it takes is a little fake outrage by the wingnuts and CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, like lapdogs, suddenly start in with their point / counter point "discussions" like the moral arbiters of justice they view themselves as being.

The analogy is like watching a hockey game. The instigator provokes a player on the other side to retaliate; then when he does, he ends up getting penalized. It's sheer brilliance on the part of the instigator; the referee ends up getting played.

Except there's one difference. The referee in a hockey game can't go back and look at the genesis of the infraction. You'd think a good journalist would be able to see through this canard. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. That's because broadcast journalism for the most part in this country has been in a steady state of decline for the last couple of decades. In a word, the industry has become lazy. It's failure to call out the GOP's Benghazi conspiracy nonsense borders on malpractice. And where were these paragons of journalistic integrity when George Bush was lying the nation into a war that ended up costing trillions of dollars, resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and badly destabilized an entire region? Missing in action, that's where.

The saddest part of all this is that most of the general public is at best apathetic. They simply don't have the patience or inclination to sift through all the sordid details.  Indeed, the average attention span of much of the electorate leaves a lot to be desired. Left to their own devices, and with no one to parse out the true facts, there's a tendency for them to go with the flow and adopt a "pox on both your houses" mindset.

Proof of this came during and after the government shutdown. As you will recall, the media hammered the GOP and, not coincidentally, virtually all the polls showed the public falling in line. One month later, as the federal government website continued to have its problems, the media was all over the Administration. Guess which way the polls went? You guessed it; they practically did a 180.  If you think the main-stream media is rudderless, the public might as well be up a creek without a paddle. In the absence of an interested populace, the least the fourth estate could do is its job.

But that seems unlikely to happen. The truth is both Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite have been gone for quite some time. Frankly, the majority of what passes for journalism in this country is one or two steps above the trolls who wind up writing for such publications as Entertainment Weekly and The National Enquirer.

At a time when the nation desperately needs them the most, a once great profession has abdicated its responsibility and has hung out a sign which reads, "Out to lunch."



Eric Wattree said...

I wish I had written this piece, because it is absolutely flawless, and it goes a long way toward demonstrating that the people who are clueless in the country are choosing to be clueless. Because I submit that NO ONE with an IQ that exceeds the circumference of a grapefruit could possibly read an article this logically laid out and factually based and not see the light.

So again, articles of this caliber go a long way in validating my long held contention that there’s a huge difference between efficient thinkers and ideologues of every stripe. Efficient thinkers give truth priority over ideology and follow truth wherever it leads and regardless to whose ox it gores. Ideologues, on the other hand, give ideology priority over truth, and when truth is in conflict with their ideology, they try to contort truth into a configuration that fits comfortably into what they want to believe. In short, they're delusional.

Deborah Smith said...

I would like to thank Eric Wattree for posting this concise but thorough look at the failings of our major media outlets and the issue always on my mind: moral "in-equivalance" between Democrats and Republicans while the media stirs the pot! Thank you to the author, I will follow you and Eric now!