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Too Much Balance in the Media?
Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, has an idea. He thinks there’s too much “balance” in the media – “a cult of balance,” as he describes it -- at least when it comes to economic issues. And because of this mindless dedication to balance, in Krugman’s view, journalists are at least partly responsible for the economic mess we find ourselves in.
This is how he put it:
“The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.”
But if both sides aren’t at fault, then which side is at fault? Take a wild guess. Or just read what Krugman says about that.
“The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.”
Now we hear another voice from left field. This time it comes from Democratic Senator John Kerry, who just the other day said this on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“And I have to tell ya, and I say this to you politely, the media in America has a bigger responsibility than it’s exercising today. The media’s got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual. It doesn’t deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do. The problem is everything is put into this tit for tat equal battle and America’s losing any sense of what’s real—of whose accountable—of whose not accountable-- of whose real...who isn’t.—of whose serious and who isn’t.”
Hold your hats, my friends, but I agree with both Krugman and Kerry – in theory.
If you’re a reporter and interview someone who says the Earth is round, you don’t have to run out and find some knucklehead who says it’s flat. That kind of balance isn’t journalism. It’s stupidity.
But is it really the same when the issues are more complex? When serious people hold different views?
If Krugman or Kerry were running the newsroom, conservative voices who say we have a spending problem in this country, not a taxing problem, might not get in the paper or on the air. After all, in liberal America those are not really legitimate positions. Everyone knows, they’ll tell you, that we need to raise taxes on the “rich” in order to get our economic house in order.
But if a conservative were running the newsroom the illegitimate voices would sound very different. Barack Obama and Timothy Geithner, for instance, warned about “default” if a new debt ceiling wasn’t put in place -- and soon. That wasn't true. There was a zero chance that the U.S. government would have defaulted on its debt – even if no agreement were reached. There was more than enough tax money to pay our bondholders. Something might have to be closed for a while, a National Park or a museum in Washington, but bondholders were going to get paid on time, no matter what.
So those are the voices that would be shut out if we’re only going to put the “truth” on the air and in the newspaper.
The reason Krugman and Kerry aren’t worried about their side being silenced is because they know who runs the so-called mainstream media. Liberals. They run the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, PBS, and at least two of the three broadcast network news divisions. (There’s hope for CBS under its new management.) So Krugman and Kerry understand very well whose views will be smothered if their scary observations about the media ever took hold. And if it starts with economic issues, it won’t be long before they sing the same song about political issues. Talk about your slippery slopes!
Oh yeah, one more thing. Back in 2007, Senator Kerry said it’s time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine – ready for this? – because we need “balance” in the media.
Here is Senator Kerry, in his own words:
“I think the Fairness Doctrine ought to be there and I also think equal time doctrine ought to come back. ... [O]ne of the most profound changes in the balance of the media [came] when the conservatives got rid of the equal time requirements. And the result is that, you know, they’ve been able to squeeze down and squeeze out opinion of opposing views.”
So squeezing liberal voices off of talk radio is bad, but squeezing conservative voices out of the mainstream media is good. I know it’s 2011 but it feels a lot like 1984.
I have long thought that a strain of authoritarianism runs through too much of modern day liberalism. That kind of thing isn’t attractive when either side becomes enamored with it. But it’s worse when liberals are the guilty party. They are, after all, the open-minded ones. I know this is true because my liberal friends keep telling me how open-minded they are.