By CANTON WINER
Our journalists are failing us.
No, I am not referring to the “liberal,” “lamestream” media conspiracy à la Sarah Palin, but, instead, to the false equivalence in which many major American news outlets frame our nation’s politics.
Major headlines suggest that the government shutdown is the result of a “stalemate” in a “bitterly divided” Congress that “failed to reach agreement” (The Washington Post), an “impasse” caused by “a bitter budget standoff” and “rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers” (The New York Times). “Republican and Democratic leaders remain entrenched in separate camps,” wrote Tom Curry, a national affairs writer for NBC News. “Washington dysfunction,” he went on to say, is the result of an “impasse” on the part of both political parties.
“Impasse”? “Stalemate”? Are these journalists watching the same shutdown the rest of us are?
In their pursuit of so-called “unbiased” journalism, many news outlets are keen to blame both sides of the aisle for the laughable state of American politics. The media’s decision to blame the government shutdown on the inability of both political parties to come to an agreement is merely the most recent example of the equivalency myth. But after all, equal is fair, right?
Misguided attempts to spread the blame and promote a sense of false equivalence are a failure of journalism. American media is confusing its desire to avoid taking sides with the desire to never offend or challenge its readership. This “they’re all bums” brand of journalism is both lazy and cowardly.
It is much easier to play the “they’re all bums” card than to present reality. The current government shutdown is a great example of this laziness. Many major American news providers have placed responsibility for the shutdown on the failure of both parties to negotiate. Any impartial observer understands that this could not be farther from the truth. International media, to its credit, has blamed the GOP for the shutdown with impressive tenacity.
In reality, the shutdown is the product of an extremely radical wing of the Republican Party obsessed with destroying the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) no matter what the cost.
These right-wing Republicans have resorted to legislative hostage-taking to dismantle Obamacare, a law passed by Congress, signed by the president, upheld by the Supreme Court and endorsed by a sizeable majority of Americans in the 2012 reelection of President Obama and the rejection of Mitt Romney, who vowed to repeal Obamacare.
The extreme right has decided to ignore the normal venue of achieving political goals (winning elections) and instead employed outrageous political maneuvers designed to bring the Democratic Party — and the entire federal government, even if only as collateral damage — to its knees.
“By wanting to repeal Obamacare using this method, it defies what the popular will is,” said Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee and a prominent figure on the campaign trail for his party’s national ticket last year.
“I campaigned in 2012 all over this country for months: ‘Repeal and replace Obamacare.’ That was not the mandate of the voters,” McCain said. “If they wanted to repeal Obamacare, the 2012 election would have been probably significantly different.”
House Republicans’ actions are unprecedented, and the national media should call them out as such. If the Democrats sent the federal government into a tailspin over some equally-ideological issue, all while refusing to even pretend to negotiate, they should be equally admonished.
Imagine Democrats refusing to negotiate on the budget unless Republicans agreed to drastically raise taxes on the upper class and then shutting down the government when their demands were not met. Could any rational person possibly blame both parties in that scenario?
While it is convenient to simply blame everyone for the government’s failures, our journalists should be holding politicians accountable for their actions. Spreading the blame to avoid appearing biased is actually a bias in itself.
The shutdown was caused not by an “impasse,” or a “stalemate,” or even merely a difference of opinion, but by one party lurching so far to the right that it was willing to capsize the federal government to make an ideological point. By equalizing the blame, the press is obscuring reality and cowering behind “objectivity.”
American media has emasculated itself in its fear of appearing to take sides. Journalists need to drop the act and lay the blame where it belongs.
Canton Winer, FCRH ’15, is an American studies and sociology double major from West Palm Beach, Fla.