24 thoughts on “I’ve Got Your Equivalency RIGHT HERE, Pally

  1. Mike Kennedy says:

    Good column, for the most part.

    However, there is little doubt to anyone watching that MSNBC is all liberal during the evening broadcasts.

    I don’t watch Greta on Fox so I can’t comment. I think of Hannity the same way as Keith O, so I only can watch in small doses.

    O’Reilly has defended Mr. Obama and has far more liberal guests on than most any “conservative” show I have seen.

    For some reason, liberals are only too happy to come on O’Reilly (probably ratings and attention).

    I have never watched Beck; so I’ll take your word for it.

    Never saw the “coverage” that trumpeted Iraq as being behind 9/11 nor have I seen Fox people tout that Obama is not U.S. born. I would be interested in hearing specific examples of each.

    I did, however, laugh hysterically that Tom Brokow has had a fit over Keith O trashing MSNBC’s perceived journalistic integrity. Seriously?

    Most people who register any brain waves know that Fox has a point of view. So do most people who buy the NYT. I expect I’m going to get a liberal slant in the Times. I would suspect most people know it when they tune to Fox.

  2. There are two things in play in the 50/50 ism that you describe. One part is the Republican Noise Machine that seeks to decertify traditional media by claiming liberal bias. This has cowed reporters and outlets into never telling a story without getting the conservative point of view, i.e. Mitch Pearlstein used to turn up all the time in Strib stories just to get the right wing nutcase perspective.

    The second part is that as older and more experienced reporters have been laid off or taken buyouts in favor of cheaper, younger ones, the expertise for making judgments has faded.

    I talked once to a reporter at the PiPress when John Lott (the dog at my homework guy) appeared at the legislature testifying for looser gun laws, claiming more guns made communities safer, which the extant research didn’t support. The PiPress reporter, who did a 50/50 story, stated that it wasn’t his job to evaluate the arguments made by people who testified at the Capitol.

    It’s just much safer and easier to do a he-said-she-said, 505/50 report. You don’t get into trouble that way.

  3. Joe Loveland says:

    I can’t stand it when my friends use false equivalence logic: “They both are equally guilty.” Ugh.

    BUT unlike lots of my friends at SRC, I don’t want my news coverage to tell me what the reporter thinks is the truth. I want reporters to report on both sides’ viewpoints and each side’s supportive data, and then let me decide the truth on my own. I’ll look to commentary and my own thought process to sort out the truth, but i don’t want reporters to tell me their notion of the truth. I want reporters to report what the litigators on each side are saying, not appoint themselves judge and jury.

    Understand, I’m talking about news coverage on the news pages and programs, not the kind of commentary that the prime time cable news cats do. While I don’t want commentators to lie to me, I don’t expect them to deliver balance. But I do want news reporters to deliver a balance of viewpoints, and not say “and Rand Paul is wrong.”

    What is increasingly screwy about the media is that commentary and news aren’t very well labeled, and so nobody can tell the difference.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Scrutiny’s nice. Garden-variety critical thought’s handy. Context’s a worthy effort. Applying the standard that holds that extraordinary claims require extraordinary supporting evidence would be useful.

      Simply quoting both sides, is stenography, not reporting.

      When someone as demonstrably unreliable with her command of facts as Rep. Michelle Bachmann reflexively parrots something as implausible as an unsubstantiated report on the internet repeated on the talk radio echo chamber claiming President Obama’s trip to India was going to cost $200 million/day and tie up 34 Naval vessels, politely insist that she back it up with something more substantial than that it’s on the internet.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        Okay, we got that example on Bachmann, not once but twice.

        Any others, like I asked for above? Or are you only able to to fixate on one or two incidents?

        And thanks, again, for the help, Leinfelder, but I don’t need your little grade school “point missed” hit and run. You want to debate the point and what I said?

        Let’s have at it.

    2. The only issues that simply have “both sides” are baseball games. A reporter limiting his or her reporting/stenography to “Team A says this about the deficit-reduction plan and Team B says this” is a reporter we can largely do without.

  4. Jim Leinfelder says:

    It’s your standard, boilerplate, default take, Mike, the usual, no matter the subject: They all do it, no distinctions to made. You are the avatar of false equivalency, to wit:

    “Most people who register any brain waves know that Fox has a point of view. So do most people who buy the NYT. I expect I’m going to get a liberal slant in the Times. I would suspect most people know it when they tune to Fox.”

    You’re right, I shouldn’t have bothered.

    1. The list of lies and distortions Fox News routinely commits is long and regularly updated…Mr. Kennedy should pound out a few on Google if he’s really curious. But two of my favorites:

      1. The claim made on a Fox news show that Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget was FOUR TIMES bigger than any Bush had proposed. In fact, Bush’s budget in 2009 was $3.1 trillion.

      2. Chris Wallace and others on Fox reported and also routinely did not challenge, claims that Obama’s healthcare initiative included “death panels.”

      I could go on…but whaddya say we just exchange a terrorist fist bump and leave it at that.

  5. Mike Kennedy says:

    Well, now we are getting somewhere.

    There are distinctions to be made and I made them.

    But your debate style — if I could call it that, is not to address any points but to dismiss everything with the bogus template of “false equivalency.”

    It’s a rather lazy way to debate, but if that’s all you got, then we’re done.

  6. Mike Kennedy says:

    Yeah, Bill, that’s pretty bad, all right. I like your Fox examples.

    Tell me, what did you think of the MSNBC segment that aired after Palin resigned as governor when David Schuster and some woman “progressive” theorized that Palin might soon be under “criminal investigation” because she was acting nervous and drinking Red Bulls. Watch the segment. It would be funny if not so full of innuendo and baseless charges.

    Oh, and the famous MSNBC segment that shows a man with an assault rifle outside an Obama pro health care rally and three MSNBC heads talking about white racist tea party type people possibly wanting to take a shot at Obama.

    Except they edited out enough of the man so that you couldn’t tell he was black.

    Those bother you at all, Bill. Or am I just stating a “false equivalency?”

  7. Jake says:

    My God, listen to yourselves. “Your guys are more biased and disgusting than my guys!” “No, your guys suck worse and here’s why!” Real insightful stuff.

    Both cable news networks have a point of view and bang you over the head with it. So what? How is that any different from all the other forms of yellow journalism that have existed for centuries.

    Arguing which is worse is absurd. Most cable news shows aren’t very good (exception: Jon Stewart’s satire) but than network news isn’t any better. The more you talk about the relative merits or demerits of O’Reilly or Olbermann, the more they like it because they’re entertainers first and foremost and need the spotlight.

    If you want more insightful television news, watch PBS Newshour or Charlie Rose. Then, maybe we’d discuss something more meaningful like the issues raised by the US Deficit Commission (by the way, the co-chairs are on Charlie Rose tonight).

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:


      I’m going to assume that everyone who writes, reads or comments to this blog is well aware of The News Hour and Charlie Rose and we could also throw in NPR’s programming, albeit to the chagrin of Newt and Kennedy and the ways they contrast with the fare on cable television and talk radio.

      I would offer this piece as an argument for why Bill’s essay on the prevalence of loose thinking and false equivalency makes it still worth talking about cable as a media phenomenon and what it has wrought in our political discourse:

      President Obama lowered taxes. Why doesn’t the country know that? Rick Perlstein on how Rush Limbaugh helped mislead a nation—and why the Democrats let him get away with it.
      We live in a mendocracy.
      As in: rule by liars.
      Political scientists are going crazy crunching the numbers to uncover the skeleton key to understanding the Republican victory last Tuesday.
      But the only number that matters is the one demonstrating that by a two-to-one margin likely voters thought their taxes had gone up, when, for almost all of them, they had actually gone down. Republican politicians, and conservative commentators, told them Barack Obama was a tax-mad lunatic. They lied. The mainstream media did not do their job and correct them. The White House was too polite—”civil,” just like Obama promised—to say much. So people believed the lie. From this all else follows.
      And it was all too predictable.
      Consider February 24, 2009, when, after four glowing weeks in office, Obama delivered his first, triumphant, address to a joint session of Congress. Two weeks earlier, he had signed the $700 billion stimulus bill. This was his speech defending it.
      That was the one in which Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, looking like a cross between a deer in the headlights and a 10-year-old delivering a prize school report, delivered the Republican response. You remember! He singled out for excoriation the $140 million in stimulus spending “for something called ‘volcano monitoring'”; this happened to be about a month before a volcano erupted, releasing a 60,000 foot cloud of ash near—dot dot dot—Wasilla, Alaska.
      On CNN, David Brooks followed Jindal. He called the governor’s “stale, government-is-the problem” rhetoric “a disaster for the Republican Party,” and excoriated those who insisted on hugging tight to it as “insane.” The people appeared to agree. In a snap poll, 92 percent of those surveyed had a positive reaction to Obama’s speech—68 percent a very positive reaction. Only 8 percent had a negative reaction.
      The next morning I tuned in to Rush Limbaugh. I was fascinated to see how the hell he might respond.
      Like a deer in the headlights? Not quite. The first caller, though a self-professed ditto-head, took objection to Rush’s argument that Obama had revealed himself in the speech as a tax-and-spend liberal. The caller quoted Obama’s words: “Because of this plan, 95 percent of the working households in America will receive a tax cut—a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1.” (Which was true: People did.)
      Rush responded, fluidly and without a gram of doubt. “Pay no attention to what Obama says. He means the opposite in most cases. What he says is irrelevant.”
      So the guy to whom all Republicans must kowtow on pain of political death had just laid down a marker that everything Obama said was a lie.
      What if the White House had in those months in early 2009 put in the rhetorical forefront a story about Rush’s tens of millions of listeners, and all politicians who refused to denounce Rush, were effectively saying anything the Chief Constitutional Officer of the United States said was a priori a diabolical lie?
      Rush Limbaugh (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
      But Obama didn’t. That would be the “old politics of division.” Not Obama’s bag.
      This would have been one of many opportunities to wedge the opposition between the authoritarian nihilists and the “constructive” Republicans who had America’s best interests at heart. Instead, the nihilists got to tell the story that endures in the day-after punditry from last Tuesday: that the electorate “rejected Obama’s agenda.”
      The vector worked, and works, like this:
      (a) A mountebank teaches his millions of followers that everything the president says is a priori a lie;
      b) The mainstream media that acts as if anything his millions of followers believe is a priori deserving of respect as heartland folk wisdom (note the cover article lionizing Limbaugh in this week’s Newsweek);
      (c) The president unilaterally renders himself constitutionally incapable of breaking the chain between (a) and (b), such that, (d), the assumption that Obama raised taxes when he really lowered them becomes hegemonic for a majority of the electorate, and even a large plurality of Democrats.
      Q.E.D.: Governing has become impossible.
      When one side breaks the social contract, and the other side makes a virtue of never calling them out on it, the liar always wins.
      When one side breaks the social contract, and the other side makes a virtue of never calling them out on it, the liar always wins. When it becomes “uncivil” to call out liars, lying becomes free.
      • Mark McKinnon: To Hell with the Press And dammit, the essence of Obamaism as an ideology is that it is Uncivil to Call Out Liars.
      So you find him at a press conference, the day after the midterm elections, saying with all apparent sincerity that he agreed the majority of Americans participated in a “fundamental rejection of his agenda”—who, that is, implicitly believe he raised their taxes.
      When he really lowered them.
      Rick Perlstein is the author, most recently, of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and The Fracturing of America.

  8. Mike Kennedy says:

    Well, Jake, thanks for your input and for making my case.

    Yes, they are entertainers. Yes, most aren’t very good. Yes, most have a political agenda. This dead horse keeps taking a beating.

    I recall praising the deficit commission’s ideas in a post last week. It got no responses or discussion (where were you). It’s more fun, apparently, to write about talking heads.

  9. PM says:

    William : (do you really refer to yourself as William? Never Bill?)

    I generally agree with you, with one caveat. Certainly, I do not think that there is any equivalence between Fox and MSNBC–I mean, just look at all of the republican presidential candidates who are on the payroll of Fox! Does MSNBC do anything even remotely similar?

    That said, i do not think that you can go so far as to say that one is good and the other is evil (if that is what you are saying). This is not a black and white world–they are both examples/products of a similar process (Lambert gets into some of that)–there is $$$ to be made by catering to peoples prejudices. And $$$ is the driving force when it comes to this kind of stuff. A format that makes more $$$ will always drive out other formats that make less $$$.

    Of course, the good thing about the mercenary instinct is that $$$ will always trump ideology, and markets rule–demand is more important than supply in instances like this (where the cost to the viewer is basically zero). Hell, if murdoch thought that he could make more $$$ with Olbermann than Beck, he’d switch them so fast all of our heads would be spinning!!!

  10. Mike Kennedy says:

    Righto. Absolutely Obama in fact did cut taxes in a combination of rebates, tax credits etc. There is not doubt about that. Case closed.

    Sometimes, however, the narrative is so powerful that nothing can dislodge it — it becomes almost a given that everyone assumes is true.

    The other was the lie that the Bush tax cuts were “tax cuts for the rich” when every single tax obligation in America went down, bar none. Even people who didn’t pay taxes got a tax cut through the expansion of the earned income tax credit.

    Now, we can debate whether economists think the Obama tax cuts were efficient or whether they Bush tax cuts were efficient or “fair” — economists and well intentioned people disagree.

    The facts are always the facts. But sometimes they take some digging, and that’s why you have to do your own research.

    1. Facts are facts and one of the facts is that american journalism no longer reliably exists in mainstream america, which forces that research we have to do on our own to leave TV completely other than its infotainment value, it is impossible to get a fact-ROI for your time investment.

      But another fact that results from this is the dumbing down of americans and an intellectualize malaise where suddenly someone like me who mostly ignores the news can still stumble around more informed than 90% of my fellow citizens.

      Or is this a false equivalence?

  11. Joe Loveland says:

    Speaking of false equivalence, I also don’t find MSNBC’s Maddow, Olbermann, O’Donnell, and Mathews qualitatively equivalent with each other. Maddow’s monologues are way too cutesy, mocking, simplistic and self-righteous for my tastes. But she is sometimes a good interviewer. Thoughtful, respectful probing to get to a deeper level than most of her peers get. Definitely biased — after all, she is a lefty commentator rather than a reporter — but she gets more out of guests than other MSNBC prime time interviewers. She is a much better interviewer than Olbermann, Mathews and their right wing rivals on Fox. If she would just tone down her campy newsertainment monologues, she might become watchable.

    As interviewers, the worst of the MSNBC line-up is Matthews. Repetitive screaming of questions, and answering his own questions with his own sermons before the guest can answer. Self-centered, ear-splitting blather, and very different than many Maddow and O’Donnell interviews.

  12. Well, I think now this whole posting was a mistake, as we have gone down the predictable rabbit hole in which the comments are now themselves made up of false equivalencies. My bad. How about this: Let’s all stipulate that the primetime hours on MSNBC and Fox News are a wasteland of bias and that anyone would be better off watching “AC 360” or “Dancing with the Stars.” What the hell, maybe even reading a book. Remember those?

  13. 108 says:

    Well, both sides do ‘do it’. There might be a qualitative / quantitative difference to be discerned, but really, who cares? You libs are merely angling to give yourselves another better people award again here.

    ‘False equivalenices’ is a low quality meme, much like the (D) ‘bad messaging’ meme.

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