Watching Jake Sherman (founder of the Punchbowl News newsletter) on MSNBC just now drives home the point: whatever talent Sherman might have as a journalist is totally undermined by his acceptance of “Both Sides Do It” brand thinking and journalism. The first thing “Both sides do it” does to any journalist thinking this way is obliterate all their perspective. To Sherman, a thief is a thief is a thief. Fair enough. But what if one thief is Bernie Madoff – the guy who stole billions from billionaires and millionaires – and the other is Jean Valjean – hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. He steals bread to feed hungry people and ends up in prison. Both are thieves. But are they the same? Is their thievery equal?
Journalists like Jake Sherman would tell you “That’s not their responsibility – to sort out which thievery is better or worse than the other thievery”. My gut says Sherman’s a good person; that’s how he plays through a TV screen and the camera is damned hard to lie to. My gut says if you get Sherman (and most journalists like him) offstage? They’ll tell you straight on – Madoff’s a thief and Valjean’s a hero. I bet, with a few drinks in him, Jake’s got a heart big as wherever he comes from. But turn on the cameras or hand Sherman a deadline and suddenly all that honesty goes out the window because (suddenly) “both sides do it” and the last thing Jake-the-Journalist would ever do is “judge”.
“Both sides do it” insists that everyone has a point of view. Can’t argue. It’s a stone cold fact. “Both sides do it” also insists that every point of view has a point. Ummmmmmmm… no. That does not follow. For instance, Vladimir Putin and Volodymir Zelenskyy both have their points of view. Invader and invaded. I fully understand both Zelenskyy’s point of view as the invaded – this sucks! – and his point: we did nothing to deserve this! Putin similarly has a point of view: I’m invading Ukraine to shore up my hold on authoritarian power. But, does that point of view have a “point”? In other words, is Putin making a valid argument. Just because he’s making an argument – that doesn’t validate it. It just means he’s making it.
Rapists also defend themselves and insist – this is their point – that the rape wasn’t their fault or not their fault entirely. It’s bullshit. Total bullshit. And bullshit NEVER has a point – because it’s bullshit. But, if someone (a journalist, say, like Jake Sherman) repeats the rapist’s (or Putin’s) excuse within a “Both sides do it” framework (where they won’t judge so therefore a rapist’s story and his victim’s story will get equal weight), journalism – supposedly Truth-telling – has given credence to bullshit, a thing completely devoid of credence!
And then, if you point this out to journalists like Jake? Well, they ain’t terribly “Jake” about it. But, if journalists like Jake Sherman had the perspective required, they’d never think “both sides do it” in the first place. They’d have seen Donald Trump for the corrupt traitor he’s been from the get-go. FFS, they’d have seen Trump for the corrupt traitor THEY REPORTED HIM to be. Washington Post reporter Adam Entous published a story on May 17, 2017 wherein he quoted from a recorded conversation he’d listened to. As he entered a meeting of GOP leaders – having just come from a meeting about what Putin was trying to do to Ukraine at that point – current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy told the Republican leadership his fears that the man they were about to nominate to be POTUS posed a grave national security risk because a hostile foreign leader – who many of them knew was at cyber war with us – had compromised him.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays – Rohrbacher and Trump – swear to God!” is how McCarthy put it.
Even if McCarthy merely suspected such a connection, he and everyone present was obligated by their oaths of office to DO something other than what then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan insisted they do – keep it all a secret (because they’re “family”). Both sides do not do that. Both sides don’t even contemplate such a monstrous thing.
Only one side does that – has done that – is doing that. And for reasons that are entirely theirs. Democrats – progressives – do not think anything like Republicans; if they did, they’d go be Republicans. But we don’t. We congregate here in the Democratic Party. As Will Rogers famously put it about being one of us: “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat“. Yeah, we understand that it’s messy over here. It can frustrate the hell out of you but that bothers us far less than the alternative – authoritarian Republican rule.
Democrats embrace diversity because we understand that is what makes American exceptional. It’s what makes our democracy exceptional because we aren’t the product of one nation, we are the product of all the nations. America is what diversity (and real democracy) looks and sounds like.
As our Great Seal and motto put it, “E Pluribus Unum”.
Both sides don’t believe “E Pluribus Unum”. Only one side does… And only one side makes literally every conversation political. If you tell yourself both sides do that (regardless how untrue it is) then the fix is always in at the start: no matter how I respond to a Republican’s assault on my voting rights (or the voting rights of any other Democrat), the Republican’s blatantly criminal act (that’s what it is first and foremost) will be normalized into merely their “political opinion”. It’s their “opinion” (in this way of thinking) that American democracy should die. Why should American democracy die, one might ask (one hopes a journalist might)? That isn’t even on the ballot!
Both sides don’t come from a position of long-time political power and wealth. The side with all the power and wealth didn’t necessarily earn that power and wealth. But they sure have made sharing that power and wealth damned near impossible – the power especially. If you have the power, the money’s a ride-along.
Our corporate media see their corporate boss’s interests as their interests when, ironically, they’re actually opposite interests. Our founders didn’t envision a corporate news media. Their vision made the Fourth Estate our final backstop against authoritarianism. The press is the only non-governmental job mentioned anywhere in our founding documents. Theirs really is a sacred duty on top of it being a paycheck.
Do our news media really think that people who embrace Fox News because it doesn’t worry itself with accuracy or fairness represent a point of view our founders wanted to encourage and empower? Hell, they’re the antithesis of our founders’ intent for the press. Whereas our news media endlessly questions Democrats out the wazoo, they couldn’t wait to put down “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing” the hot second “But her emails” popped up.
And the irony di tutti ironies? No one played games with email the way the Trump White House played games with it. And where was our news media all along? Nowhere. When/if the Republican Party finishes gutting our democracy while our news media holds the flashlight so the Republicans can see in the dark, what does the news media think a second Trump presidency – now unrestrained by any kind of rule of law – will mean for them? Do they think Trump will throw them parades every day?
Do reporters think a second Trump presidency would be good for America? Would it be good for them?
They’d be wrong on both counts if they thought so. They won’t even get the good bunks at the gulag – and there will be gulags. If the Republicans succeed in any way with their master plan – permanent minority rule – it will be because our news media carried Republican water when it should have refused.
Both sides aren’t trying to destroy America’s democracy. Both sides won’t send journalists to prison or murder them outright. Only one party even thinks that way – and it’s the party American journalism insists Democrats “bi-partisan” with.