Misinformation By News Media In Shutdown Coverage
What is there to be done? The first and most important thing is to recognize how we came to this pass. Both sides did not do this. Both sides are not to blame. There is no compromise to be had here that will leave the current structure of the government intact. There can be no reward for this behavior. I am less sanguine than are many people that this whole thing will redound to the credit of the Democratic party. For that to happen, the country would have to make a nuanced judgment over who is to blame that, I believe, will be discouraged by the courtier press of the Beltway and that, in any case, the country has not shown itself capable of making.
— Charles P. Pierce, Esquire
This week Dan Froomkin, writing for Al Jazeera, echoes a point about the press that is raised by Thomas P. Pierce in his piece for Esquire, which was followed on Friday by David Folkenflik’s analysis on NPR’s Morning Edition of whether so-called “objective reporting” on the government shutdown is accurate reporting.
All three pieces arrive at the same conclusion: U.S. media coverage of the government shutdown is failing Americans.
“U.S. news reports are largely blaming the government shutdown on the inability of both political parties to come to terms. It is supposedly the result of a “bitterly divided” Congress that “failed to reach agreement” (Washington Post) or “a bitter budget standoff” left unresolved by “rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers” (New York Times),” Froomkin writes. “This sort of false equivalence is not just a failure of journalism. It is also a failure of democracy. When the political leadership of this country is incapable of even keeping the government open, a political course correction is in order. But how can democracy self-correct if the public does not understand where the problem lies? And where will the pressure for change come from if journalists do not hold the responsible parties accountable?”
Folkenflik spoke with James Fallows, former speech writer for President Jimmy Carter and current national correspondent and media critic for The Atlantic and Robert Costa, Washington Editor for the conservative National Review. Representing two publications with different political philosophies, the men draw a similar conclusion: “For decades,” Folkenflik reports, “the default position of journalists has been to give credence to the idea that both parties carry equal culpability in every crisis.”
Not so Fallows and Costa agree. Both say the central figure in the ongoing political drama is House Republcan Majority John Boehner, and the narrative is all about divisions with Republican ranks, which keeps them from crafting a deal.
The false guise of objective journalism is one thing, then there’s the absolute bazaar actions demonstrated by CNN’s Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash that did a disservice to both viewers and other journalists by asking a question to which there was no good answer. Bash wanted to know if Senate Democrats would pass a bill that would allow funding for NIH cancer treatment trials, but would leave the shutdown in place for millions of other people. “But if you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?” Bash asked. To which Reid replied: “Why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own. This is — to have someone of your intelligence to suggest such a thing maybe means you’re irresponsible and reckless.”
Reid is right. The question was irresponsible. Asking tough questions is one thing, but that’s not what Bash did. She set-up a “gotcha scenario” and that’s just not our job as journalists. Bash later tweeted (then deleted the tweet) that she was playing devil’s advocate when she asked Reid such a loaded question; that’s not what the public needs. Americans need responsible journalists to hold politicians accountable and to inform the citizenry so that it is best able to make competent decisions.
And finally, there’s been outright bias from Fox News’ Fox & Friends, which criticized President Obama for offering to personally pay for a “museum of Muslim culture” during the government shutdown, a claim that originated from a satire website. All it would have taken was five minutes worth of reporting, checking sources, a quick call to the White House to confirm or deny… Something. Basic reporting. Accuracy. Instead Fox News viewers get totally misled and misinformed.
Here’s a list of concerns a few journalist friends have about the current news coverage. I won’t reveal their names because I did not get permission to post their thoughts, but their observations are worth noting:
- “It’s the “Pox on Both Your Houses” school of reporting that doesn’t require much thought or analysis. But sometimes, one side really is WRONG.”
- “It’s worse than that. Conservatives have successfully been “playing the ref” for at least the past 20 years. To wit: they’ve been screaming about alleged “liberal bias” and MSM has been bending over backwards to show they’re wrong. Not every story have two sides which merit equal weight. As I ask my students: what’s the other side of pedophilia?”
- “This morning, whoever the reporter was for “Morning Edition” said “the Affordable Care Act” was still going but Congress wasn’t. The ACA is law. Hello. Law, of course, it’s still going. Why would she say that? Because the Repubs want to stop it: hello, law, SCOTUS approval, etc. It was as if there were some merit to the opposition. Bad.”
- RE: Dana Bash & CNN: “I thought it was a baited question. As he said, for the GOPpers to cherry pick the heart-tugging programs like NIH for kids but not Head Start or WIC is irresponsible and reckless. Grassley inserted the congressional exemption in the ACA they’re now screaming to get out as some sort of moral gesture. So no, it was not a fair question to me.”