Will the media’s ‘false equivalency syndrome’ equal the death of fairness?

Will the media’s ‘false equivalency syndrome’ equal the death of fairness?

Washington : DC : USA | Nov 27, 2012 at 4:02 PM PST
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By Jack J. Prather

Jack J. Prather, the author of six books, was a multiple award-winning newspaper columnist for 13 years then a political adviser for 28 years, including for two Republican US Congressmen and two leading NJ Legislators. His previous AllVoices column was titled ‘The Bridge from JFK to Obama’.

Please ponder the question posed and then the author’s detailed answer before jumping through your computer screen or racing to your e-mail attack station (afterwards is fine):

Will the media’s rampant ‘false equivalency syndrome’ = the death of fairness?

Does that possibility ring a bell with you? Or haven’t you noticed, or paid attention? (If you’ve tuned out, I understand; it’s tempting.)

In my judgment, false equivalency rears its ugly head much too often because cable networks want and need to be considered ‘fair and balanced’, so much so that they continually proselytize that they are ‘f-&-b’ without establishing standards to demonstrate or prove it.

The fact is some often do the exact opposite of fair and balanced! Why? Because of carelessness, incompetence or worse, and the result of those shortcomings are negative effects on the financial condition and mental health of our nation.

And this ‘unfair and unbalanced’ approach to journalism almost took down a fine president; ‘almost’ being the instructive word.

Obama Emerged Triumphant

For two years the Tea Party (nee GOP) continuously devised anti-Obama positions then shepherded votes in the House and Senate (filibusters) that challenged whatever the president did or said. That he emerged from that assault as reasonably successful, and re-elected by a grateful (and hopeful) nation, are twin triumphs.

Pundits who gave equal status to GOP ‘anti-Obama’ positions solely based on the lame attribution “some people say” with no presentation of irrefutable facts were victims to agenda-driven pressure tactics (hello Fox News).

The attribution “some people say” was and is a poor defense (alibi) for shoddy and possibly partisan journalism. What ‘they say’ should be backed up by a solid case.

The power brokers who influenced media pundits to echo their contrived and brash but cleverly constructed talking points did a disservice to their candidates, their party, and ultimately the nation.

The Big Lie Technique

To me, this deceit had the aura of the infamous big-lie technique. Closer examination would have (should have) revealed that many of those brokered talking points were misleading or bogus.

The R’s became dominant in fomenting this assault on fairness through pressure-tactics aimed at the financial interests of network owners, who then directed their executives to ensure that the reporters and commentators spoke to the party line. Their Machiavellian machinations abounded.

The Dems used tactics and activities of a different kind through their own political connections, but in what seemed to this observer to be in a much fairer manner.

Evidence to support my criticism consists of:

1) The R’s false or misleading claims that the president’s stimulus funding didn’t create jobs,

2) That he doesn’t believe business owners built their businesses,

3) That he tried to eliminate work requirements from welfare reform,

4) That his Wall Street and auto industry bailouts weren’t productive . . . need I go on?

Top that off with the refusal of the GOP candidate to release his tax returns, or his tax reform plan in detail, and the unrelenting ad attacks using 1-through-4 above, and I rest my case.

Another Meritless Attack

Coincidentally, as I write this column unfolding on TV is the latest chapter in the McCarthy-esque smear campaign against Ambassador Susan Rice by Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte. McCain, one of my heroes before he traded his credibility and dignity for extremist right-wing support some years ago, said during one of his diatribes against this very accomplished and educated woman that she was “not very bright”.

Sir: Susan Rice is an honored Stanford graduate and Rhodes Scholar who has excelled in her career, especially as United States Ambassador to the United Nations! You and your ranting cohorts will lose badly in your sneak attack on this dedicated public servant, a woman of extraordinary value, and a credit to this nation and herself. Why? Because of the lack of ‘merit’ in your mendacious argument that even the most jaded observer can innately see is fueled by your inability to accept defeat in presidential elections.

Is this one-sided on my part? Maybe, but I’ve racked my brain and cannot think of any comparable hi-jinx coming from the democratic side (I’m open to being educated on this).

Sad to Say . . .

I’ve concluded that many Republicans and the Grand Old Party as an entity aren’t so grand these days. Skewer me if you must after you read why I believe this: it’s because the GOP has emerged as the ‘party of no’ that too-often tries to control the message with fabrications and falsehoods, even when their intransigence grievously costs the nation.

The electronic talking heads who reside professionally (word used advisedly) within the Fourth Estate should hang their noggins in shame if their reporting or opinions gave life to misleading or false claims. Now is the time for the guilty ones to straighten up and fly right!

The case for my foregoing conclusions, as nebulous or disagreeable as they may seem to some readers, had been building to a crescendo. Thankfully on November 6th unfairness in the media, and even by some politicians, may have met their Waterloo – we will see.

On that day our president averted his own Waterloo, sadly and erroneously predicted by a deluded senator who thought he had him cornered two years ago via the GOP attack on Obama-care. Not so, Jim DeMint, it is now the law of the land!

Fairness and Veracity Ratings

Sure, political dialogue is always tit-for-tat, and that’s the way it should be. But it is time for the media to report and opine about both sides in a context that gives emphasis to the position with the most ‘fact-based merit’, and less to a contrarian response that is more made-up than truthful.

That said: I judge the two parties on a ‘fairness and veracity ratio’ of 80-to-20 in favor of the D’s. So, I cast a pox on both houses for their shortcomings, but mostly on GOP mansions.

Before you conclude that I’m the unbalanced one by making such a strong negative appraisal of the media I formerly belonged to and mostly admired, and the political world I served for so long in bygone days of civility, let me explain what I mean in more specific terms:

My personal fairness and truth ratings are educated guesses; that is all I can validly claim about them. But they were born through avid cable-TV viewership, a fervent attempt at keeping an open and independent mind, and three decades as a professional, serving members on both sides of the aisle (at different times, of course). Oh, add in my 50 years as a hopeless political junkie.

Keep an Open Mind and Act!

You in the viewing and listening audiences are smart enough to absorb facts and constructive opinions from credible sources.

Rest assured, there can and will be fewer complaints (and groans) about rapidly escalating media-ocrity (hey, I coined a new word) when and if more and more of you/us keep an open mind, and tell muddle-minded media messengers they need to stick to the facts and fact-based opinions, or they will face a final click of the remote off button.

The media front-men we have verbally assaulted in this column are not necessarily brainiacs, but most surely know exactly what the ‘real story’ is, even when their reporting or opinion output includes less-than meritorious partisan bromides. Or they should know. If not, we should let them know!

If they don’t begin to measure up, nail them on their failures via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, telephone or mail (you remember snail mail, right?)

A final thought: extremism is a sorry mental condition for any one at any time for any reason. Besides that, it really burns my buns. (Admission: I gave up trying to be sophisticated about politics a while back. Sorry.)

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Media's false sense of equivalency
Reporters scrum earlier this year (Reuters photo)
Jack J. Prather is based in Asheville, North Carolina, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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