Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mainstream Media Coverage of the Shutdown Is Predictably Moronic and Terrible

James Fallows over at The Atlantic has an excellent take-down of the predictably moronic and terrible coverage of the shutdown by the mainstream media.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of the shutdown is the stupid "he-said, she-said" coverage that the media has offered for the past ... couple of decades. Unfortunately, what the Republican Party has said over the past couple of decades has become increasingly unhinged from reality, with the mainstream media seemingly incapable of calling out the Republicans out on their blatant falsehoods.

So it goes again with the shutdown, which is not "Washington gridlock," "dysfunction," or anything else like that. Rather,
we have a faction making historically unprecedented demands -- give us everything, or we stop the government and potentially renege on the national debt. And it is doing so less than a year after its party lost the presidency, lost the Senate (and lost ground there), and held onto the House in part because of rotten-borough distortions [i.e., vicious gerrymandering].

You can call this a lot of things, but "gridlock" should not be one of them. And you can fault many aspects of the President's response -- when it comes to debt-default, I think he has to stick to the "no negotiations with terrorists" hard line. But you shouldn't pretend that if he had been more "reasonable" or charming he could placate a group whose goal is the undoing of his time in office.
The real question now is what Boehner, McConnell, et al. can do about their hard-liners. A lot depends, for Americans and many others, on their success or failure.
Yes - unfortunately, a lot depends on Boehner and McConnell being able to reign in the Republican crazies, which they have not yet proven able to do.

And subsequently, the Republican Party has not proven that it is able to govern a country. We'll hope that the voters remember this in 2014.

Post-draft addendum: Also from James Fallows, we have a guide on recognizing and criticizing false equivalence in the mainstream media in the days (I hope not weeks and months) ahead:
Two big examples of problematic self-government are upon us. They are of course the possible partial shutdown of the federal government, following the long-running hamstringing of public functions via "the sequester"; and a possible vote not to raise the federal debt ceiling, which would create the prospect of a default on U.S. Treasury debt.

The details are complicated, but please don't lose sight of these three essential points:
  • As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are -- still -- so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
      
  • As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years. We're used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.

    This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle -- the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or "opinion leaders" outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority -- have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can't recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable "compromise" the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
     
  • As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a "standoff," a "showdown," a "failure of leadership," a sign of "partisan gridlock," or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the "dig in their heels" headline you see below, which is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.

    This isn't "gridlock." It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us -- and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too. 

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