Back in the nineties, Holocaust denial enjoyed one of its periodic but thankfully brief revivals. It was an old idea given new life, thanks to some shrewd but cynical PR and a few credulous members of the media.
Spread virally, or what passed for virally at the time, the “story” — that the Holocaust never happened, that six million Jews were never exterminated — actually percolated up to the mainstream media as a “controversy” for a while.
TV news and talk shows, both national and local, worked hard to fan the flames, actually giving serious airtime to the charlatans perpetuating this sludge.
But the producers of these shows, sensitive sorts all, couldn’t believe how hard it was to recruit actual Holocaust victims to sit across from the charlatans. They were offering good money, after all.
Why would these old folks not want to go on camera? Why would they not want to relive those unimaginable horrors that scarred them for life, listening to some toxic putz who’s trying to convince the world that the most traumatic event in an entire century was all just a big misunderstanding?
But hey, the show must go on, so the pitch those producers would inevitably fall back on was: “Don’t you think people deserve to hear both sides?”
Both sides. One side the most widely chronicled mass murder in human history, with millions of eyewitnesses, a rich body of analysis and literature, and an overwhelming influence on human thought ever since. And the other side — not.
And there, in the middle, were the talk show hosts. The ones with the great hair and the winning smiles. The ones trying to get a rise out of one side or the other. The ones disingenuously pretending that disinformation has merit.
That’s where the “both sides do it” narrative turns poisonous. That’s where the media — including “legitimate” journalists who should know better — cross over from objective to complicit.
Because now those two “sides” — one a total fiction — will walk off together into the future, with the fiction slowly but steadily gaining traction each time another charlatan with a racist agenda gets a little financing to market more disinformation.
And who’s to say that in fifty years, when all the Holocaust survivors and most of their grandchildren have died out, that the fictional version won’t be the one accepted by history? Who’s to say that the lie won’t take over?
But wait, you say. What’s wrong with the media looking at two angles on the same story? After all, objectivity is a cornerstone of journalism, right? Journalists are trained to ferret out and examine both sides, right?
Absolutely. But only if there really are two sides. When something purporting to be a “side” is fraudulent, when it gaslights, when it makes bad faith arguments in the service of a bad faith agenda, why would we dignify it by calling it a side?
Unfortunately, that’s what the media continues to do. Working from a business model that relies on controversy to attract eyeballs, it seems they will dignify anything as a side. The more polarizing, the better.
And in doing so — in presenting outright lies as one side of a supposed story — they legitimize those lies.
Which brings us to the Republican assault on voting rights.
Under any rational thought process, there can be no other side to the right to vote. As Sen. Raphael Warnock recently said, “Voting is the infrastructure of democracy.” When the legitimacy of the entire system rests on that infrastructure, what’s the other side of that?
Is there a groundswell of demand that we stop people from voting? Is there anyone saying please oh please, take away my vote? Is there a lively discussion about eliminating democracy as a guiding principle of the nation? Not that I’ve heard.
But because Trump — a psychotic yet charismatic con man — single-handedly launched the most outrageous lie in living memory, we are now forced to defend the right to vote from that very lie.
It’s bad enough that so large a percentage of the electorate subscribes to Trump’s “stolen election” narrative. But when the media frames it as one side of a debate that isn’t actually happening, that’s despicable.
There isn’t a shred of legitimacy to denying any citizen the right to vote. There is no “election integrity” problem that needs solving. But as with Holocaust denial, it can be made into a problem just through well-financed repetition. So because Trump’s lie has gotten so much traction, red state legislatures are now in a frenzy to rush hideous voter suppression measures into law.
This comes at a time when the GOP is so intellectually and morally bankrupt, it has no choice but to create and perpetuate lies. No truth need apply. As they slip into irrelevance, they’re reduced to creating outrage from anything, or from nothing. And the media, ever alert to possible controversy, no matter how fictional, plays right along.
So look for stories that frame these racist anti-voting laws as a legitimate debate between two equal and well-reasoned points of view. And remember that they’re not.
Look for stories framing the anti-vaccination crowd as reasonable people, with sincerely held beliefs. Especially the belief that Covid is simultaneously a hoax and a flu.
Look for more ginning up of the “crisis” at the southern border, where the Biden administration is trying, against daunting odds, to find a humane solution to the kiddie concentration camps left by Stephen Miller’s minor league gestapo.
And look for both-siderism to continue to thrive. Clearly, it’s alive and well and more virulent than ever.
It’s also self-fulfilling. Because just as with Holocaust denial, the other side — the lie side — will inexorably burrow into our political discourse, and settle in for a long and deeply corrosive shelf life.
And if we don’t watch it carefully, it will at some point become the truth.
P.S. I have declined here to provide actual examples of both-siderism, though they can be found across a broad spectrum of media, both mainstream and fringe. I’ve pointed out such examples in past rants, especially here, here, and here. That said, I refer you once again to any of the weekly Professional Left podcasts, where the practice is sliced and diced regularly, and in entertaining fashion.