This is going to be sloppy but I also can tell that if I try to clean it up, I’ll never get around to it. Earlier today on Twitter, Matthew Dowd pointed out that “the goal of the press should be the truth, not balance”, and it sparked a thought, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Separately today, Jay Rosen noted that often in the institutional press “pushback from readers is not a signal that something may be off, but a confirmation” of their approach. Criticism is seen as proof that they actually are on the right track. It’s every bit the convenient dodge and excuse as is “if both sides are angry at you, you must be doing something right”.
Whenever questions of journalism come up, inevitably I turn to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel and their “elements of journalism” (alternate version), the first two of which are that “journalism’s first obligation is to the truth” and “its first loyalty is to citizens”. When instead of these you combine in the institutional press a preference for balance over truth (because sometimes the truth inherently is imbalanced) and an equation of criticism with validation, you end up where we are today.
(Not for nothing, but their Elements speak of needing “accurate facts put in a meaningful context”, and context is the glaringly-missing ingredient in “balance”, and we know from other, well, contexts here that I’m big on the idea of context right now.)
What I suggested after Dowd’s tweet was that this is how we end up with the Overton window moving so far to the right as to invite the creeping fascism which is bearing down on us.
As I’ve said before, for at least forty years Republicans and the right in general have been acting in an increasingly unreasonable manner, in increasingly obvious ways. But the institutional press’ fetishistic obsession with balance meant an increasing disregard for reporting the truth.
Bit by bit, year by year, conservative movement by conservative movement, the Republican Party became more callous, more cruel, and more cynical, and for the institutional press, “balance” required them to report this as a reasonable position, as if the mere existence of these things in the halls of another institutional power itself was all the validation it, and they, required.
So, years from now, presuming we come out of the constitutional and cultural crisis of creeping fascism, and the institutional press tries to stake its claim at writing the “first rough draft of history”, remember that they were complicit in getting us to this point to begin with.