One of the largely untold stories of this era has been the culpability of the mainstream press in our current predicament. For at least two decades, the press has turned a blind eye to the insidious Republican takeover of all the levers of power, consistently treating this long descent into lawlessness and lunacy as if it’s all just politics as usual.
What the press has refused to say out loud — in any mainstream media format — is that one of our two major political parties has gone completely off the rails, and is systematically corroding every social, economic, and political structure in its path. You will never hear it said on the air that yes, this mess is entirely the work of one party.
Which it is. It couldn’t be more obvious. It’s certainly well documented. In our hearts, we all know it. You would think it might be worth a mention among the pundits we’re so devoted to hearing from.
But the core pretense — that we’re a nation of upright citizens, soberly discussing the issues of the day in a fair and equitable manner — is being disingenuously broadcast by people we trust to know better.
But because the business model for today’s press requires conflict, and because a conflict demands two sides, and because two sides need — for the sake of “narrative thrust” — to be seen as equally plausible, we hear incessantly how “both sides are to blame.”
The term “both-siderism” (a/k/a “both-sidesism,” a/k/a “false equivalency”) has entered the language for good reason. What it lacks in linguistic elegance it makes up for in utility. It’s a handy term for something that — once you recognize the phenomenon — pops up everywhere you look, in most of what passes for discourse these days.
Both-siderism takes many forms, but the template is well defined: minimize the methodical destruction wrought by Republicans, while exaggerating the most trivial missteps of Democrats.
Play down Trump’s immigrant-bashing. Play up Hillary’s emails. Play down voter suppression, assault on the rule of law, criminal incompetence in a pandemic. Play up Biden’s latest gaffe.
And treat them as equally bad.
In much of our media — NYT, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets that aspire to journalism (Fox News doesn’t count) — both-siderism seems to be a fixture of editorial policy.
But wait, you say, I see criticism of Republicans all the time. Yes, you do. But you will never see a Republican pundit called out for lying, no matter how outrageous the whopper. And you will never, ever see a prominent “news” personality call out the Republican party for undermining our entire way of life. They would be off the air in a heartbeat. Even Rachel Maddow — who regularly shows us Republican carnage in real time, and who comes as close as anyone to placing the blame squarely where it belongs — does not cross that line. One can only conclude that she is forbidden to do so.
The effect of this is to permanently tilt the playing field. Because no matter what Republicans do — no matter how naked the power grab, how venal the corruption, how open the cruelty, how bald-faced the lie — we can absolutely count on the press to give them a pass.
Oh, they’ll make disapproving noises. They’ll roll out a pundit, or a news anchor, or an op-ed columnist, or a whole panel of serious-sounding analysts who get paid to be indignant. Inevitably they will wring their hands and lament, with a straight face, how our discourse is always so partisan, and isn’t it such a shame we’re so divided?
And that’s the lie the press is selling. That the country is divided, as opposed to vandalized.
In the name of fairness, they want us to accept that ignorance should carry equal weight in any discussion. That science is subjective. That facts are negotiable. That rule of law is optional. That scoundrels deserve our attention.
These are not things that should be up for discussion. They make a mockery of the values we supposedly share as a nation. Yet we’re told by the press every day that these things have two sides, and that both sides deserve to be heard.
That is simply not true.
Which brings us to the real two sides of the discussion. A discussion we are not, repeat not, having. To our deep detriment.
Because for any issue that’s truly important — for the urgent needs of healthcare, infrastructure, environment, and anything else we’ve ignored for way too long — there are indeed two sides. But only one of them is acting in good faith.
Republicans have shut down all debate. You won’t hear either side of those issues, consequential as they are, discussed anywhere. Since they have no ideas, only an agenda, Republicans know they can’t win any honest discussion. So they refuse to discuss. They deal exclusively in alternative facts. They gaslight in broad daylight. And the press plays right along, pretending it’s nothing.
If you want Republicans on your panel, you have to make believe that they have a valid point. No matter what lie they tell.
So the big story here is that the people who are supposed to be telling us this big story happen to also be its subjects. So who exactly will tell it? The press?
You see the problem.
P.S. For much of the thinking behind this rant, I am indebted to Driftglass and Bluegal, the husband-and-wife podcasting team at The Professional Left. For many years now, they have pointed me to difficult truths with good humor, and with equal parts insight and gusto. I encourage you to sample their wares.