Sunday, January 27, 2013

The blame game

President Obama did an interview at The New Republic. Best question was about Obama's unfortunate habit of referring to Congress in describing Capitol Hill gridlock, giving the impression he's playing the same "both sides do it" game as the media. The President gave the right answer:
Well, no, let me be clear. There's not a—there's no equivalence there. In fact, that's one of the biggest problems we've got in how folks report about Washington right now, because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity. And so the default position for reporting is to say, "A plague on both their houses." On almost every issue, it's, "Well, Democrats and Republicans can't agree"—as opposed to looking at why is it that they can't agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing? [...]

... I think the issue is that we have these institutional barriers that prevent what the American people want from happening. Some of them are internal to Congress, like the filibuster in the Senate. Some of them have to do with our media and what gets attention. Nobody gets on TV saying, "I agree with my colleague from the other party." People get on TV for calling each other names and saying the most outlandish things.
Surprisingly, I took a rare peek at Politico and Dylan Byers took the criticism well. The rest of the elite DC media, not so much. Jake Tapper hit the twitter with this: ‏
@jaketapper: False equivalency is a thing, sure. But so is false "false equivalency."
Several more of the insider club jumped in to agree, +infinity. Meanwhile, Jake almost immediately walked it back: ‏
@jaketapper: maybe too meta. but yes, it was meant to be a joke and also a note that pols don't make the best media critics.
Those Beltway Boys, they have the thinnest skins in politics. In truth, it works both ways. Thanks to "both sides do it" and obsessive horserace journalism, our elite Big Media aren't exactly the best critics of the pols either. Thingis Obama is right on in his critique. Outrage and outrageousness drives traffic. No money in comity. And then there's the news cycle's insatiable maw which demands speed over accuracy. Which leads to brevity and soundbytes over fully fleshed out information. There's simply no room for context in this business model. Which leads to confused viewers and an ill-informed electorate.

Obama also pointed out the obvious:
Until Republicans feel that there's a real price to pay for them just saying no and being obstructionist, you'll probably see at least a number of them arguing that we should keep on doing it. It worked for them in the 2010 election cycle, and I think there are those who believe that it can work again. I disagree with them, and I think the cost to the country has been enormous.
To be fair, media holds much of the blame, but Obama is partly responsible for failing to call out Republicans by name for so long. Every time he blamed Congress generically instead of specifically pointing at Republican obstruction, he contributed to the construction of false equivalency. On the bright side, it appeaars he's figured out if he says it out loud, the media will report it. So there's that...

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