Journalism, Liberalism, And The Deal

There are very few liberal voices heard on television news, particularly cable television news. Very few. Oh, there are a few liberals here and there, but few liberal voices.

To support that assertion, and, more to the point, to demonstrate how mainstream journalists ignore the liberal voice, I give you an example related to the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations. I will excerpt a tiny part of the opening segment from this morning’s “Jansing and Company,” an MSNBC program hosted by award-winning journalist Chris Jansing.

The segment featured two of her regular guests, Dana Milbank, a liberalish columnist for The Washington Post, and Jackie Kucinich, a political reporter for USA Today, and the daughter of uber-liberal Dennis Kucinich. The topic, and title of the segment, was the “Fi$cal Cliffhanger,” and Jansing introduced a clip of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who had appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday:

JANSING: When it comes to cuts, especially on Medicare, you know that whole conversation has to be had. Here’s what Dick Durbin said on Meet the Press:

DURBIN: I do believe there should be means testing. And those of us with higher income in retirement should pay more. That could be part of the solution. But when you talk about raising the Medicare eligibility age, there’s one key question–what happens to that early retiree? What about that gap in coverage between their workplace and Medicare?

JANSING: Jackie, are Democratic getting away with giving away less on this deal?

I’ll stop it right there because neither Jackie Kucinich, to whom this ridiculous question was addressed, nor Dana Milbank, bothered to point out how ridiculous a question it was, mainly because they, as Washington insiders, buy into its premise.

And that premise is that for people like Chris Jansing, it’s all about “this deal.” It’s all about the mechanics and politics of this deal. For her, and for most journalists covering this sorry episode in American history, what matters is who wins and loses the political game, not who wins and loses as part of what the political game is supposed to resolve.

In other words, few journalists are actually focused on what the wheeling and dealing is about, in terms of its potential effects on real people. And because journalists like Chris Jansing are fixated on the political deal-making mechanics (“are Democrats getting away with” ), they don’t see that they are perpetuating a false equivalence: that Republicans protecting wealthy constituents are morally on a par with Democrats protecting an old-age health insurance program that non-wealthy people depend on to live out their lives in relative security.

Go back and look at Jansing’s intro to Durbin’s argument against raising the retirement age for Medicare:

When it comes to cuts, especially on Medicare, you know that whole conversation has to be had.

Who says it has to be had? And, if it has to be had, who says it has to be had right now? You know who says that? Republicans, particularly Tea Party conservatives in Congress. The public isn’t clamoring for it. In fact, the latest poll from National Journal found,

a full 79 percent of those surveyed want the fiscal-cliff negotiators not to cut the program at all.

Do you know how hard it is to get almost 80% of the people to agree on anything? And it’s not just Democrats in that poll. It’s Republicans, too. So, it’s clear that the enthusiasm for cutting Medicare doesn’t come from the American people but from right-wing politicians and pundits.

And television journalists, because they like to cover a good fight (and perhaps because most of them don’t worry too much about what it would be like doing journalism in their old age), push as unquestioningly legitimate the Tea Party thirst for cutting Medicare (extending the eligibility age is most certainly a cut), as if quenching that thirst is the price Democrats have to pay to make any deal over the fiscal cliff a “fair” deal.

And the fact that some Democrats are stepping up to protect Medicare from some intolerable cuts is not morally equivalent to a demonstrated Republican willingness to protect rich constituencies by threatening the country with fiscal peril. That’s what we are talking about here. Republicans forced this fiscal cliff nonsense on Obama last year by holding the country hostage over the debt ceiling.

And even if they were to momentarily concede defeat on the issue of raising tax rates for the wealthy, it is only because they see another opportunity to force Democrats to help them do nasty things to Medicare: the debt ceiling will come up again in a couple of months and they have expressed willingness to hold the country hostage again to get what they want.

And what conservative Republicans actually want is for Democrats to get in bed with them as they do nasty things to Medicare. Republicans can read the polls. They know how unpopular what they want to do to Medicare is. And by playing the game the way they are playing it—which means journalists will cover the game (“this deal“) and not their motives—they hope to achieve a diminution in value of a program they have long hated and long wanted to reign in, if not outright kill. And they hope to achieve it with Democratic cover, as Democrats realize some changes need to be made to keep the program solvent.

Republicans, of course, claim they want to “save” Medicare. Hardly. That’s even laughable. Republicans have already demonstrated that they don’t want it to survive in its present form by voting en masse to voucherize the program (the first Ryan budget plan). And they have demonstrated that they want to dramatically shift Medicare costs to the less affluent (the second Ryan budget plan).

Thus, instead of focusing on the tactics or strategy in the political game, what Jansing and other journalists should be asking is this: What really motivates Republicans, as they appear so willing, so often, to hurt the financial and economic standing of the country?

4 Comments

  1. Excellent post, Duane, and when you asked this,

    “Thus, instead of focusing on the tactics or strategy in the political game, what Jansing and other journalists should be asking is this: What really motivates Republicans, as they appear so willing, so often, to hurt the financial and economic standing of the country?”

    I say the answer is the same as the one Mitt Romney expressed in Boca Raton last May when he described the 47%. Wow, was that ever revealing. I could be induced to discount it even now if I hadn’t heard it confirmed in his post-election conference call. 47%!

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  2. It’s getting harder and harder to take corporate media seriously these days. Even after scores of economists and the GAO pointed out the numerous flaws in Paul Ryan’s economic plan, Time Magazine has an article considering his opinion (as though it were actually valid) in the 12/17 issue. Most corporate media types (print or broadcast) seem motivated by the idea of ginning up battle lines of some sort. The “Smack Down in DC Town”. There are some solid liberal (when I say “liberal” I mean honest, well-researched, thoughtful) voices at The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, AltertNet, Current TV, and a few others. And there are Paul Krugeman, Jim Hightower, Gene Robinson, and part of the MSNBC crowd. That’s it. Oh, and Duane Graham. “Balance” is a horseshit term.

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    • You are right. There are corporate media and people-oriented media. If it weren’t for mainstream corporate outlets, who would take these Republicans seriously? But in order to keep the money rolling in from both sides, corporate types have to make out like both sides are equally praiseworthy or equally guilty. So sad.

      And thanks for lumping me in with the good guys.

      Duane

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  3. Rae Yearnd

     /  December 12, 2012

    many pundits reporters and hannitys are in love with the process and the players and love their position as inside observers. I find them tedious and self important bores.

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