Some day, when the worst of Trumpism is behind us and American democracy is no longer under threat (or even duress), we owe it to ourselves to take a good, long, hard look at how our news media performed during this patch of time. Now, in their defense, America really hasn’t faced circumstances quite like the hand we’ve drawn here. On top of a Russian cyber war that put Trump in the White House in 2016, we’ve had a violent right wing surge across the planet that’s deliberately set out to wipe liberal democracy from the planet, massive climate change that’s already creating climate refugees, a violent, right wing near-putsch of our own and, last but hardly least, a worldwide pandemic. That’s a lot of news story for even a great journalist to wrap their mind around. Alas, our news media has not met the challenge head on. They’ve blinked — still are blinking like Chuck Todd signaling “I’m thinking!” to his audience — and resorted to old tropes instead looking at the events happening in front of them.
We owe it to ourselves to find that journalism professor at whatever J School it was who first proposed that “both sides do it”. We owe that academic a giant heap of scorn. I assume “Both sides do it” originated in academia among academics who couldn’t get hired as journalists themselves and so took to telling others “how to do” something. There’s an old comedy line (I refuse to source who said it because Woody Allen’s dead to me otherwise): “those who can’t do, teach and those who can’t teach, teach gym”. These journalism professors can’t even teach gym. Unfortunately they’ve taught a generation of journalists how to be cynical instead of skeptical and how to equate bullshit with the Truth.
After a reporter has reported that a certain person — a POTUS, say — lied to their face thousands of times, said reporter is entitled to characterize this liar as “a liar”. Actually, that reporter was entitled to describe the liar that way after just ONE lie. The reporter would have been reporting the truth. To NOT call them a liar then is to NOT report the truth. Now, why on earth would a journalist think that way? I suspect racism plays a large part here. Many white reporters are loathe to call out white people for bad behavior because we’ve already moved the goal posts where white bad behavior is concerned. If Kyle Rittenhouse was Black not white, he’d have never gotten to trial for killing two, wounding a third and nearly hurting lots of others with his semi-automatic weapon. He’d be dead already, shot down by the other white guys who were there that night with their guns, or the cops.
“Both sides do it” is fatally flawed walking in the door. It dispenses with all proportionality. A Republican who steals a million from the public kitty is the same as a Democrat who purloins a box of paper clips. Yes, both are thefts from the commonweal. No, they are not even remotely “the same”. But, our news media will hold up this fact as prima facie evidence that “both sides do it”. Therefore when Republicans do something — gerrymander, say — the automatic response is “both sides do it”. And yes — in the past, Democrats have gerrymandered Congressional districts. But they haven’t done it with the organization and purpose with which the GOP now is doing it. The Republicans clearly stated goal is to circumvent the will of any place’s Democratic majority by carving them into pieces and then attaching each piece to some far-flung Republican stronghold that will outnumber them. The whole reason to do this is to circumvent the majority’s will for the minority’s sole benefit.
Democrats do not do that. And Democrats don’t suppress Republican voters either. They don’t have to! Democrats can rely on the strength of their ideas to sway independent voters.
And Democrats aren’t working overtime to undermine every other democratic institution either. Have ya noticed the number of ex-Republicans disgusted by their party we now have versus the number of ex-Democrats with the same complaint? Do ya suppose that means something noteworthy? Our news media doesn’t. They think all the ex-Republicans in their ranks and amongst their punditry — all vocally outraged by what their former party is doing — are a sign of politics as usual. The news media seems to think it’s “normal” that one party backs anti-vaxism and gets violent if you ask them to put on a mask in a public space.
Republicans have become the “Feelings Over Facts” Party because facts are not their friend. Because they insist “both sides do it”, our news media immediately equates any Republican’s feelings with any Democrat’s facts. How a Republican “feels” about being vaccinated suddenly has equal weight to every fact a Democrat will put on the table about the very same thing. Nothing good can come from that. And nothing good has.