Republicans Win And Democrats Lose As Journalists Peddle False Equivalence

Well, it worked. Paul Ryan’s extremist budget offering has done its job. Now, the mainstream press can do what it does best—peddle false equivalency—and Republicans will be set to win major concessions from Democrats.

Pursuing the appearance of neutrality to the point of absurdity, journalists can now compare Ryan’s grim and sinister and obviously stillborn budget plan to the fair and sensible and potentially fruitful budget plan put out by Senator Patty Murray and the Democrats in the Senate. And when they make that comparison, using absurdist neutrality as their guide, the result will look like this:

It’s clear that both House Republicans and Senate Democrats have decided to lead with their worst budget offers first.

That was how NBC’s Chuck Todd, my favorite of the mainstream journalists, began his analysis this morning of the politics of the latest budget war. Todd’s opening this morning on The Daily Rundown illustrates perfectly how successful was Paul Ryan’s tactic of putting out a budget only Ayn Rand could love.

Both budget offerings, you see, are equally bad. Both are “their worst…first.” Both sides are equally guilty of extremism. I promise you that will be the message you hear from the mainstream press from now until the end, if there is an end, of this process. As if there is an exact symmetry between the two, as if the Senate Democrats’ budget was just as extreme as that monstrosity Paul Ryan authored.

Chuck Todd’s analysis ignores the fact (even though he pointed out the fact on his show this morning) that the Democrats are offering a budget that is essentially balanced between spending cuts and revenue increases, and it ignores the fact (even though he also pointed this fact out too) that Ryan offered us all spending cuts with no new revenue.

Can’t you see the symmetry? The fiscal and moral equivalence? The Democrats give us a mix of spending cuts and higher taxes on the wealthy and the Republicans give us a mix of spending cuts and, uh, spending cuts, with lower tax rates for the wealthy. What dreadful nonsense.

In Todd’s mind, those two positions represent “their worst budget offers,” and that is how he, as well as his mainstream colleagues, will present it to news consumers. He also said this morning:

Neither budget seems to reflect the reality of where things are in D.C.

Mind you that the “reality” in D.C. is that Democrats control the United States Senate and the White House, which is two-thirds of the governing apparatus. Todd’s analysis seems to define reality in a way that ignores the last election and the Democrats’ standing both in Washington and in the country, and if Democrats seek to get a fair and sensible budget deal they are, in Todd’s estimation, simply asking too much.

That is why I suggested on Tuesday that Democrats use their budget to demand free health care and a free college education for everyone. That would have been roughly the extremist equivalent of what Ryan did and it would have been a better place to begin negotiations, rather than start on essentially Republican budget-cutting turf.

But Democrats didn’t do that. They offered a balanced approach, which is why Paul Ryan and the Republicans are more politically savvy than Patty Murray and the Democrats, and why Democrats always end up sacrificing more than they should to reach a deal.

Fortunately, although he has lately been meeting with Republican lawmakers, President Obama hasn’t yet lost his way. He told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

I think what’s important to recognize is that– we’ve already cut– $2.5– $2.7 trillion out of the deficit. If the sequester stays in, you’ve got over $3.5 trillion of deficit reduction already.

And, so, we don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt. In fact, for the next ten years, it’s gonna be in a sustainable place. The question is, can we do it smarter, can we do it better? And– you know, what I’m saying to them is I am prepared to do some tough stuff. Neither side’s gonna get 100%. That’s what the American people are lookin’ for. That’s what’s gonna be good for jobs. That’s what’s gonna be good for growth.

But ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide. It may be that ideologically, if their position is, “We can’t do any revenue,” or, “We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,” if that’s the position, then we’re probably not gonna be able to get a deal.

obama and stephanopoulosHearing that was good news. And I heard other good news from the President, especially when he told Stephanopoulos—who like other mainstream  journalists has a major jones for the Republican talking point of a “balanced budget”—that,

No. We’re not gonna balance the budget in ten years because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucherize Medicare; you have to slash deeply into programs like Medicaid; you’ve essentially got to either tax middle-class families a lot higher than you currently are; or you can’t lower rates the way he’s promised. So, it’s really– you know, it– it’s a reprise of the same legislation–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Balanced by any point?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: –that he’s put before. No. I think that there is a possibility. Look, balancing the budget in part depends on how fast you grow. You remember– you were in the Clinton administration. The reason that you guys balanced it was a combination of some tax hikes, some spending cuts, and the economy grew.

And, so– you know, my goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work, and if we do that we’re gonna be bringin’ in more revenue. If we’ve controlled spending and we’ve got a smart entitlement package, then potentially what you have is balance. But it’s not balance on the backs of, you know, the poor, the elderly, students who need student loans, families who’ve got disabled kids.

That’s not the right way to balance our budget.

And that, my friends, is how any discussion about the Ryan budget should end.


Here’s part of the opening segment from Wednesday’s The Daily Rundown on MSNBC, oozing with false equivalence:

Vodpod videos no longer available.



  1. Duane,

    This Editorial on TruthDig by Chris Hedges, “The Day That TV News Died,” seems very apropos for this post. (See

    Now Hedges is something of a extremist and is prone to hyperbolic rants. But if you can get through the screed, he does have something to say. And I think it underscores and amplifies your observations above. I especially like this little nugget:

    “The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid of self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil.”

    False equivalence is just part of the problem. But it’s the cynics like the estimable Chris Hedges who make me wonder just how much is being left on the cutting room floor; there to be kept from the light of day thereby avoiding a possible embarrass the bosses. So our monetizing of the first amendment goes on. First with the freedom of speech as decided in Citizens United and now in the freedom of the press. Think of that as you watch your favorite newscast tonight.



    • The problem with Hedges, and people like him, is they don’t know when to stop with the “corporate conspiracy” stuff. I am as willing as anyone to buy into the argument that there is a corporate influence on the news, but then this line goes too far:

      The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script.

      No, they don’t. There are some very good liberal commentators on MSNBC who don’t read from any corporate script. I would submit to you Maddow and O’Donnell for starters. Now, that’s not to say that MSNBC, like any commercial network, isn’t driven by ratings. But the viewer that channel is after is much different from the viewer Fox is trying to attract, thus they can’t be reading from the same corporate script.

      Finally, Hedges rightly criticized TV journalists for not being sufficiently serious and doing things like “long-form documentaries,” then, once again, he goes too far by saying:

      They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd. They play clips of their television rivals ridiculing them and ridicule their rivals in return.

      Is there some of that? Certainly. But is that all there is? Nope. If you turn on Rachel Maddow any night, and Chris Hayes on the weekend for two hours each day (except now he is moving to week nights), as well as others on MSNBC, you would get the kind of serious programming that Hedges says he wants. But he goes and tosses everyone under the same bus, thus ruining his point.

      Yes, there are some journalists and some programs that ought to see the underside of the proverbial bus, but when you throw Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes under the same bus with Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, you are merely showing that you have no ability to discriminate. And that’s what Hedges shows, in my opinion.



%d bloggers like this: