Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Exposing 'Fair and Balanced'

The analysis in The Washington Post on April 27 by Thomas Mann of the centrist Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute now stands more remarkable for what it does not include than for what it does include.  

Achieving objectivity and accuracy at the expense of "balance," Mann (not this Thomas Mann) and Ornstein observe

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

They observe

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right.

Identified are the usual suspects.    It began with the civil rights revolution, which prompted an exodus (which continues to this day) of conservatives into the GOP, moved onto the mobilization of cultural conservatives following Roe v. Wade in 1973, the anti-tax ethos catalyzed by California's Proposition 13 in 1978, emergence of GOP TV and rightist blogs, and furthered more recently by Speaker Gingrich and single-minded anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

Perhaps because their article was published in early May, Mann and Ornstein, omitted reference to the Budget Sequestration Act,  passed by the Repub-controlled House on May 10

which effectively nullified the 2011 debt ceiling deal and set up a political catastrophe for 2013 that will make the previous debt crisis seem minor in comparison. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and passed with all 183 House Democrats and 16 House Republicans in opposition, the bill was designed to supplement the automatic defense budget cuts promised bythe Budget Control Act with cuts to the Obama health care law, slashes to Medicaid spending, cuts to block grants that funds social services such as Meals on Wheels, denial of the $1,000 per child tax credit to illegal immigrants, and assurances that food-stamp recipients are actually eligible for the benefits they receive. 

Automatic cuts were anticipated by the deal reached last summer to avert default on the debt.       A supercommittee would find $1.2 trillion in cuts to agencies over the next decade, half of them in domestic programs and half in defense.      If the committee failed to come to agreement, the cuts would be made automatically.    Now that the 2013 fiscal year looms, the GOP reneges- heads we win, tails you lose.

Nor did Mann nor Ornstein  assume that John Boehner again would put the fiscal health of this nation at risk in order to satisfy the extremists in his caucus.     They would have been attacked had they suggested  the Speaker would be so irresponsible as to threaten to bring the nation to the brink of disaster in order to satisfy GOP desires to cut programs for the poor, the elderly, and the sick.    But in remarks he

delivered yesterday in DC, Boehner demanded that the next debt-ceiling increase -- slated for early 2013 -- have commensurate spending cuts and no tax increases. “I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase," Boehner said, per NBC's Mike O'Brien.  "This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance."

Mann and Ornstein

.... understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.

Eventually, GOP leaders may decide to take "yes" for an answer.     Obviously, that time hasn't come yet, as the goalposts get moved continually by legislators and party leaders unconcerned about the future of the nation.

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