Why Does Our News Media Insist On Equating Bullsh*t With Truth?

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.

Republicans Love Grievance Kabuki

Selling good ideas that people want isn’t nearly has hard as selling terrible ideas that no one except a privileged few would want. The majority of Americans have zero interest in what the Republican Party wants to sell them because the majority of Americans don’t want to live in the distant past — somewhere around 1850 — in what Republicans and white supremacists think of as their “Golden Age”. Regardless of their current political label (the Democratic and Republican Parties have swapped names; modern Republicans are Dixiecrats while modern Democrats philosophically are the “Party of Lincoln”), Republicans no longer stand for anything except racism and naked power lust. The demographic annihilation they’ve feared since the Reagan years has begun. White people — already a minority in states like California — are fast becoming a minority all across America. And that makes Republicans nuts.

What exactly did all those Trumpists mean when, marching in lock step together, they chanted “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville? What did those armed thugs have in mind as they stormed Michigan’s capitol in 2020? Why do all those anti-vaxxers lose their shit when asked even to mask up (never mind vaxx up)? What outcome did the January 6 insurrectionists aspire to? And is there any grievance bigger than someone who cheated vigorously to win an election but lost anyway and whose tender ego still can’t bear it?

Quick side note: Donald Trump’s Grievance Kabuki may be inspired more by fear of treason charges than having lost the election he needed to win in order to never get charged with treason. But, I digress…

Grievance Kabuki is a bizarre pearl that forms inside the racist’s brain. The irritating grain of sand that starts this perverse pearl is an abhorrence of “the other” — anyone that isn’t exactly like him. They don’t believe for two seconds that E Pluribus Unum. But they’re all into “originalism” which is really a schoolyard bully insisting the rules are whatever he says they are. They’re down with the tacit understanding that “All men are created equal” referred only to men and only to white, Christian, land-owning men. No one else was equal to the white man and anyone who says or acts differently is challenging this bullshit orthodoxy.

A big reason evangelicals and other religionistas embraced Grievance Kabuki is because they embrace Grievance Kabuki’s cynicism. Jesus preached “Do unto others” (a good, tight distillation of the foundational Judaic concept “Tikkun Olam” — the obligation of every Jew to make the world a better place because they live in it) which the Apostle Paul (Christianity’s actual founder) and the early church fathers twisted into “Do what we say, or else”. Original sin looms large in this worldview. Regardless of whether they believe an actual Eve ever existed, these fundamentalists think that all human evil flows from women (to them, the lustful, it starts with lust). The whole point of Jesus is 1) to zero out the original sin’s negatives and 2) to give all these forgiven Christians a chance to live forever — just like Jesus is doing. The trick is you have to believe in Christianity’s version of Jesus in the exact, dogmatic way they’re telling you to. And woe is to you if you dare contradict their version of the world!

Feelings over facts. That’s the music playing in the Grievance Kabuki artiste’s head as he awkwardly shifts this way and that, white people having no rhythm. They think louder equals “more right” when louder only equals more loud. And, of course, there’s always their “Second Amendment Conflict Resolution” approach to solving their problems (like people who disagree with them, Black people too successful for their liking or women getting to do with their bodies what they want): you pick up a semi-automatic and the glorious spray of gunfire makes all those problems go away. Or at least, bleed out where you can see them. They don’t want to share power with “others”. It’s the part of democracy they’ve always hated on the down low. It’s the reason they voter suppress and gerrymander. It’s the reason they can shrug off Vladimir Putin being the leader of a crime syndicate with a corrupt government at its disposal as their ally in altering election 2016’s actual outcome (we will get to the bottom of exactly how Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin went red by 78,000 votes combined). Whether it’s violence to deal with personal issues or the political violence of an actual coup d’etat, violence is very much a part of the Grievance Kabuki toolkit.

And, ya know who else loves Grievance Kabuki? Our news media. They eat it with a spoon. Being acolytes of “both sides do it” brand journalism, most American journalists insist that all points of view are equally valid — the good and the bad, the true and the untrue (it’s not for them — journalists — to judge). But it also asserts that all points of view (even if diametrically opposed to each other) are equally valid. Therefore Hitler’s authoritarianism is equal to the Allies democracy. To be fair, that does correctly assert that authoritarian Germans had a point of view. Its mistake is in also asserting that their point of view was as valid as any other. As a Jew, I have big problems with that.

Our news media may have been taken aback by Donald Trump’s Grievance Kabuki when he began his presidential campaign in 2016 by announcing that “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing” is okie-dokie for rich guys like him, but they quickly jumped aboard Trump’s Grievance Kabuki tour bus when it started their “But Her Emails” act. Any other former president — having lost the White House, the House and the Senate — would have hurriedly faded into the woodwork to avoid being harangued by the press. But, Donald Trump needs to be in the White House because, according to that stupid Department of Justice rule that says you can’t indict a sitting president, being POTUS means Trump gets away with EVERYTHING. And that includes turning America from the greatest (semi-flawed) experiment in human self governance into the biggest shithole country in the world.

That, really, is the goal of Grievance Kabuki — an America that looks like 2021 but feels like 1850. I’ve some bad news for my Republican chums: aside from them and their bitches in the American news media — no one else is interested. We ain’t buying tickets to the show. And if the GOP thinks it can shove this show down America’s throat? They’re about to witness a whole other kind of “performance art” — one where America finally lives up to its “EVERYONE is equal before the law (and the law is applied equally”) potential. It’s called E Pluribus Unum. And it rocks.