Thomas Friedman offers up a classic example of false equivalency in political journalism. (More)
Thomas Friedman’s recent New York Times column titled Help Wanted: Leadership should be taught in every Journalism 101 class. We say that not because it is a good column (it is not). Instead, it should be taught because it is a textbook example of the type of false equivalency in political reporting that is allowing our political system to become so dysfunctional.
In the column, Mr. Friedman bemoans the continued economic struggle facing our country and the failure of our political leaders to solve those problems. Mr. Friedman identifies the outlines of a reasonable plan to get our economy moving again, stating:
We know what to do — a Grand Bargain: short-term stimulus to ease us through this deleveraging process, debt restructuring in the housing market and long-term budget-cutting to put our fiscal house in order. None of this is easy and the economy will not be fixed overnight; it will take years. But there is every chance it will get healed if our two parties construct the Grand Bargain we need.
But then Mr. Friedman goes off track by blaming both Democrats and Republicans for failing to enact such a plan. He compares the “collective behavior” of President Obama and both the Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership to Herbert Hoover, and claims that both sides have failed to do what needs to be done to get the “Grand Bargain” needed to jump start the economy and tackle long term deficit issues. Mr. Friedman acknowledges that Republicans have “tried to make President Obama fail from Day 1” and that the GOP’s “dabbling with another government shutdown now is pure madness.” But then Mr. Friedman blames President Obama for not taking the lead in forcing both sides to agree to a plan “that offers some short-term jobs stimulus, a credible long-term debt reduction plan with entitlement cuts and tax reform that increases revenues.”
Mr. Friedman’s column suggests that he has not been paying attention to political reality for the past two-and-a-half years. His pointing of blame at President Obama is laughable given that our President has offered and been barnstorming the country for exactly the plan Mr. Friedman is calling for. The American Jobs Act would provide short term stimulus to assist the economy. President Obama has further called for $3 trillion in deficit cuts, 1/2 from revenue increases from the wealthy, $1.1 trillion from ending unnecessary wars, $320 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings by rationalizing health care spending rather than cutting benefits, and $257 billion in cuts to mandatory government spending programs including a 50% reduction in agricultural subsidies. In other words, President Obama has put forth and is fighting for exactly the plan Mr. Friedman calls for.
On the flip side, the GOP opposes any revenue increases from the wealthy, and have fought every stimulus proposal, including a temporary payroll tax cut. They have held the nation’s credit worthiness hostage, and have made clear that their top priority is defeating President Obama. While the American Jobs Act is much needed for our economy, and President Obama’s deficit reduction plan is a reasonable one, the GOP has vowed that neither will pass through the GOP controlled House.
As such, the plan that Mr. Friedman calls for has been proposed by President Obama but is not being implemented because of the GOP. Yet Mr. Friedman somehow manages to pretend as if both sides are equally blameworthy for the ongoing stalemate in DC.
The problem with this false equivalency is that it allows the GOP to be pathologically intransigent with little political cost and, therefore, prevents the policies that we need from being enacted. The simple fact is that President Obama and the Democrats have proposed steps that would put us on the road towards economic recovery and fiscal stability. At the same time, the GOP continues to cling to the failed economic policies that got us into this mess, and have used their power to try to hold our economy down in an effort to defeat President Obama in 2012. But when journalists like Thomas Friedman ignore this reality and pretend that both sides are equally to blame for the failure of the Democratic job creation and deficit reduction plan to be enacted, it makes it much less likely that the voters will know who to blame and who to vote for when they go to the polls in November 2012. And, in turn, such media false equivalency will simply encourage ever more brazen behavior from the GOP because they know that folks like Mr. Friedman will let them get away with it.
Make your voice heard in favor of journalism that educates its readers rather than offering false equivalency by sending a respectful e-mail to Thomas Friedman and to the Public Editor for the New York Times.