Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Greater Danger–False Equivalency

I have been writing about this problem for years, to no avail. Both sides of every political issue are carefully equalized in most news reports. Even when opinion is heavily on one side, as is the case with the tax/deficit issue right now––a sizable majority in most polls want some spending cuts but also want revenues raised by taxing rich people more, at least by removing the enhanced cuts they got from Bush. But false equivalency ignores consensus. It gives the two sides equal weight.

More worrisome, the false equivalency ignores merits of the arguments. If (as I believe is the case now) one party has become dangerously radical, impractical, inflexible and irrational, it's automatically made equal with the more rational, moderate, flexible, practical party opposing it. The Republican Party's dominant fringe has made compromise impossible. Compromise is the essence of democracy. To cut it out of the process endangers how our democracy functions, but this radicalism is disguised and denied. The Republican Party's radical tactics are reported very cautiously and respectfully. In the midst of a serious crisis precipitated by one party, the media's habitual balancing makes it appear both parties are equally to blame.

This false equivalency rewards and encourages radicalism, it rewards inflexibility, it rewards extremism. It penalizes flexibility, reason, moderation and maturity on the other side. And it makes cynics of us all, because we are constantly told that both parties are equally extreme, equally inflexible.

I see the present impasse as a hostage situation. The Republican Party's radical fringe knows that moments of crisis can be exploited for political gain. They are holding 300 million Americans hostage and making demands. Their demands would seriously degrade the lives of the poor, the weak, the unemployed, veterans, the sick, the working poor, the middle class and further enrich and empower the rich and powerful. But they hold the gun, and because no news organization feels comfortable reporting this we are left believing that the hostage takers and the people negotiating for their release are morally and rationally equal. This is why the international community wants to downgrade our debt, because we are behaving irrationally. And our news media aren't helping.

I think the present predicament is largely attributable to news media's false equivalency. I'm not sure if it's cowardice or laziness or naive faith or a very wrong sense of fairness, but it's a dangerous habit.

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