NY Times Scolds Media to Avoid ‘False Equivalence,’ Democrat Scandals at GOP Convention

July 18th, 2016 10:25 AM

On Monday, economist turned partisan hack Paul Krugman recycled his pompous lecture against what he calls “false equivalence," by which he means journalistic fairness toward Republicans. Every one of his examples of “false equivalence” coincidentally involves a Republican allegedly getting a free-ride in the news media -- which would come as quite a shock for NewsBusters readers -- while Hillary Clinton is unfairly slammed at every turn. And media reporter Jim Rutenberg warned the television media off of potential coverage of Benghazi and Bill Clinton’s sex scandals at the Republican convention.

Krugman mounted his high horse:

When Donald Trump began his run for the White House, many people treated it as a joke. Nothing he has done or said since makes him look better. On the contrary, his policy ignorance has become even more striking, his positions more extreme, the flaws in his character more obvious, and he has repeatedly demonstrated a level of contempt for the truth that is unprecedented in American politics.

Yet while most polls suggest that he’s running behind in the general election, the margin isn’t overwhelming, and there’s still a real chance that he might win. How is that possible? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that voters don’t fully appreciate his awfulness. And the reason is that too much of the news media still can’t break with bothsidesism -- the almost pathological determination to portray politicians and their programs as being equally good or equally bad, no matter how ludicrous that pretense becomes.

....the fact is that voters who don’t have the time or inclination to do their own research, who get their news analysis from TV or regular news pages, are fed a daily diet of false equivalence.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. During the 2000 campaign George W. Bush was flatly dishonest about his policy proposals; his numbers didn’t add up, and he claimed repeatedly that his tax cuts, which overwhelmingly favored the 1 percent, were aimed at the middle class. Yet mainstream coverage never made this clear. In frustration, I wrote at the time that if a presidential candidate were to assert that the earth was flat, news analysis articles would have the headline “Shape of the planet: Both sides have a point.”

And Mr. Trump is far from being the only current political figure who benefits from the determination to find balance where none exists. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, has a reputation as a policy wonk, committed to fiscal responsibility, that is utterly incomprehensible if you look at the slapdash, fundamentally dishonest policy documents he actually puts out. But the cult of balance requires that someone on the Republican side be portrayed as a serious, honest fiscal expert, so Mr. Ryan gets slotted into that role no matter how much a con man he may be in reality.

“Con man” is slightly more appetizing than Krugman’s previous appellation for Ryan, which was "a flimflam man" whose policy work was "drenched in flimflam sauce."

To be fair, some reporters and news organizations try to point out Trump statements that are false, frightening, or both. All too often, however, they still try to maintain their treasured balance by devoting equal time -- and, as far as readers and viewers can tell, equal or greater passion -- to denouncing far less important misstatements from Hillary Clinton. In fact, surveys show that Mrs. Clinton has, overall, received much more negative coverage than her opponent.

One wonders what color the sky is in Krugman’s world.

In his “Mediator” column Monday, Times reporter Jim Rutenberg warned the television media off of potential coverage of Benghazi and Bill Clinton’s "infidelity" at the Republican convention, dismissing the credible rape allegations of former Arkansas nursing home administrator Juanita Broaddrick as “the most lurid claims” in “G.O.P. Convention Will Push the Limits of a Candidate and the News Media.”

Rutenberg dismissed examples of Democratic corruption as “hot-button topics from talk radio.”

He has been planning to make full use of his time in his trademark way, with daily themes that will weave in staples of hot-button topics from talk radio and the Fox News Channel’s opinion programs: Bill Clinton’s infidelity, Hillary Clinton’s response to the attack on the American compound in Benghazi, and immigration.

Rutenberg hoped the media would find itself just in time to “provide context,” which seems mostly to mean dismissing Democratic scandal-airing as meaningless.

It could be one of those events that we look back on as a defining moment in American media, especially for the television networks: Did they once again this year hand themselves over to a Trumpian infomercial -- the ultimate Trump infomercial -- and bask in the ratings?

Or did they rediscover their vital role of providing context, perspective and truth in a contest that is not a countdown-clock-worthy sporting event or reality show, but a competition for the presidency of the United States in fraught and dangerous times?

Truth will not come to the fore without hard work and, potentially, a fight.

Again, Rutenberg waved the Republicans and the press off of Democratic scandals, implying the convention was a "test" of media integrity that could only be passed by dismissing controversies involving both the potential president and the potential First Spouse.

[Trump's] convention could surprise everyone and stick to only verified attacks, while coming off as a more traditional affair. But many of Mr. Trump’s expected convention subjects have generated their share of false, unsubstantiated or wildly exaggerated assertions -- that Mrs. Clinton “slept through” the Benghazi attack (false); that the current administration is financing illegal immigration (false); and that it is not vetting refugees from the Middle East (false).


This is where the big test comes in.

If the convention airs the most lurid claims made about Mr. Clinton -- such as the rape accusation made against him by the former Arkansas nursing home administrator Juanita Broaddrick, which Mr. Trump recently raised and Mr. Clinton’s lawyer publicly denied long ago -- will the shock value overwhelm live news judgment?