A couple of interesting pieces out today from Aljazeera America and the New Republic.
First, Noam Scheiber’s Fox observations at the New Republic:
My headline,: Emoprogs Do Republican/Fox Bidding (my emphasis):
“… Republicans had exactly one hope for weathering the shutdown fight: turning it into a debate on the merits of Obamacare (as opposed to the merits of defunding Obamacare). That’s the one aspect of this confrontation where they hold an advantage, since more Americans oppose the president’s health care law than favor it. And, as luck would have it for the GOP, the central feature of the law went online Tuesday morning, at the precise moment the lights were going out on the federal government.
Scheiber may have pointed out that the Shutdown and ensuing rhetoric achieves one thing that hasn’t been discussed with any relish – how the Shutdown sabotaged the Affordable Care Act’s debut.
As if to mock the despairing apparatchiks, every half hour brought another report from a correspondent in the field surveying the landscape of shuttered facilities. The Statue of Liberty. Bunker Hill. My favorite was a group of WWII veterans who’d trekked to Washington to tour the World War II memorial, only to find it barricaded when they got there. Fox played the footage over and over, clearlly sensing a prime Kulturkamp opportunity – aging war veterans made to suffer indignities by socialist president. But none of the Foxies narrating the story could quite figure out what to do with the fact that it takes government money to build memorials, and government money to keep them open. And so it just hung there as an implicit rebuke of Republicans.
It was all enough to make your average Fox anchor a little… sad. “There’s all this infighting, people are blaming Republicans,” protested Gretchen Carlson, late of “Fox and Friends,” now of her own daily 2 o’clock show, evincing none of her trademark perky menace. “We should be talking about Obamacare, instead we’re talking about the shutdown.”
Carlson’s right: Fox and its political arm (aka the Republican Party) really should be talking Obamacare if it hopes to tread water these next few weeks. That it can’t tells you all you need to know about which way this thing is headed.
Bonus Link: The Scholarly flaws of Liberal Fascism
Dan Froomkin at Aljazeera, with an equally important point about what the Shutdown means to us and more importantly, to the global community: The GOP’s shutdown of American government demonstrates the failure of America’s democracy.
U.S. news reports are largely blaming the government shutdown on the inability of both political parties to come to terms. It is supposedly the result of a “bitterly divided” Congress that “failed to reach agreement” (Washington Post) or “a bitter budget standoff” left unresolved by “rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers” (New York Times). This sort of false equivalence is not just a failure of journalism. It is also a failure of democracy.
When the political leadership of this country is incapable of even keeping the government open, a political course correction is in order. But how can democracy self-correct if the public does not understand where the problem lies? And where will the pressure for change come from if journalists do not hold the responsible parties accountable?
The truth of what happened Monday night, as almost all political reporters know full well, is that “Republicans staged a series of last-ditch efforts to use a once-routine budget procedure to force Democrats to abandon their efforts to extend U.S. health insurance.” (Thank you, Guardian.)
And holding the entire government hostage while demanding the de facto repeal of a president’s signature legislation and not even bothering to negotiate is by any reasonable standard an extreme political act. It is an attempt to make an end run around the normal legislative process. There is no historical precedent for it.
What makes all this more than a journalistic failure is that the press plays a crucial role in our democracy. We count on the press to help create an informed electorate. And perhaps even more important, we rely on the press to hold the powerful accountable.
That requires calling out political leaders when they transgress or fail to meet commonly agreed-upon standards: when they are corrupt, when they deceive, when they break the rules and refuse to govern. Such exposure is the first consequence. When the transgressions are sufficiently grave, what follows should be continued scrutiny, marginalization, contempt and ridicule.
In the current political climate, journalistic false equivalence leads to an insufficiently informed electorate, because the public is not getting an accurate picture of what is going on.
Journalists have been suckered into embracing ‘balance’ and ‘neutrality’ at all costs.
But the lack of accountability is arguably even worse because it has the characteristics of a cascade failure. When the media coverage seeks down-the-middle neutrality despite one party’s outlandish conduct, there are no political consequences for their actions. With no consequences for extremism, politicians who have succeeded using such conduct have an incentive to become even more extreme. The more extreme they get, the further the split-the-difference press has to veer from common sense in order to avoid taking sides. And so on.
The political press should be the public’s first line of defense when it comes to assessing who is deviating from historic norms and practices, who is risking serious damage to the nation, whose positions are based in irrational phobias and ignorance rather than data and reason.
Time to think about Media Accountability and it’s time to take up John Nichols’ call for publicly funded journalism.
Perhaps the Washington Post can read the writing on the wall – the public will have to demand more from the media. Maybe WP got wind of Froomkin because it seems to have changed its standard tune of false equivalence-rightward lean. The editorial board yesterday ran this headline:
AMERICANS’ RESPECT for their Congress has, sad to say, diminished in recent years. But citizens still expect a minimal level of competence and responsibility: Pay the bills and try not to embarrass us in front of the world.
By those minimal standards, this Congress is failing. More specifically, the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives are failing. They should fulfill their basic duties to the American people or make way for legislators who will.
Below this headline is another surprise perspective: Federal Workers deserve better than Congress’s disregard
And one last must-read: Defending the health of our democracy
These last three are probably the most important reads of all.