There are two kinds of blogs. The first is blogging to an event which happened. It’s isolated and about that one thing. The other is more of a commentary, and sometimes these brew for a very long time until a certain confluence of events causes it to rise to the surface and spill itself out into an entry. There’s been a blog brewing in me since I started blogging and that has to do with the whole notion of “balance” in political reporting, how this is different from intellectual honesty, and how much and how desperately we need much less of the former, and much more of the latter.
The way that political reporting is done now is that there are two talking heads that come on, one representing the “Republican” side and the other representing the “Democratic” side of things. Ergo everything that happens is seen in this prism. Objectivity then becomes defined as what lies in the middle, what is in between those two sentiments. Truth is not the goal, the center is. If we are searching for intellectual honesty though, truth matters, not the middle because truth and the middle might not always be the same. Much concerning the events of Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin in recent days demonstrate the difference here.
With Sarah Palin the “balanced” story that is beginning to take shape is that she was harangued by a host of meritless ethics charges that forced her to spend so much money on defending herself that she simply had to step down as governor in order to go on speaking engagements that would allow her to make the money to pay her legal bills. This has the semblance of neutrality in appearance, diminishing her fault in quitting. It also amplifies the effect of some of the more frivolous ethics charges. Additionally it lets slide a certain suggestion that the ethics charges and investigations are all the fault of the Democrats. Finally, by extension it provides that all of the “attacks” on Palin are unfair. Palin is being rendered a victim who is being forced into doing the only thing that she can.
As to the ethics charges the fact is that the laws are the reason that she has had so many of them filed against her. Certainly the majority of them are frivolous—and cheap to defend. I don’t know exactly how she’s spending her money on her legal team, but I don’t think that wearing the Arctic Cat logo is what cost her half a million dollars. The major allegation for which she has been investigated and not cleared of is the Troopergate scandal, where she was found guilty of breaking the law to unduly use her position to get a man fired for personal reasons. She launched her own investigation of herself and surprise, found herself innocent but she didn’t need to spend money to defend herself against her own investigation. So here’s the bottom line on this and the line that you aren’t getting from the mainstream media, the ethics violation she spent the majority of that money defending herself against was true! There’s no “balance” there, no middle ground, only truth. The truth is she acted unethically, got investigated for it and convicted for it, and now she has to pay for it. That’s the intellectually honest position here. It might be “biased” in the sense that it paints her in a bad light, but truth and bias can go together.
Furthermore the “unbiased” version has the media “unfairly attacking” her. Precisely which “attack” is “unfair” is hard to say. Often Katie Couric’s “hard-hitting” interview is cited as an example. Again though, we have to distinguish between truth and intellectual honesty here. One of the favorite tactics of the right is to question, “What if Obama….” Well, let me poise this question then, “What if Obama weren’t able to cite a single Supreme Court case other than Roe vs. Wade?” Would the Republican talking heads be all over that? (Being fair to Katie Couric, her question wasn’t “Can you name another Supreme Court case, it was “What other (than Roe v. Wade) Supreme Cases do you disagree with?” It never occurred to her that Palin wouldn’t be able to name any. She asked the same question to Biden, who answered it). It’s incredible to me that from the conservative crowd Couric took more heat for asking Palin the question than Palin took for not being able to answer it. It wasn’t a “Gotcha!” question, it was a legitimate question, and the outrage over again demonstrates that there is a difference between balanced and honest. Incredibly, the right wing spin machine is encompassing this, and other valid questions regarding her qualifications which arose during the campaign in with the unfair ethics violations. In essence what has become the middle ground is that any and all criticism of Sarah Palin is unfair. The truth is that the vast majority of the criticism of her is valid, but since that validity paints her in a bad light, it’s perceived as bias, and in order to remove the bias the msm has to remove the accusations.
Lest I get carried away with this train of thought though, my point here isn’t that Palin is an unqualified candidate, that she’s unlawfully used her position, or that she has all the curiosity of a 100 year old cat, it’s that there’s a different way of thinking that conservatives and liberals have, and we can see it in the Palin scenario. The conservatives begin with what they believe, then based on their belief, they form a thought process. Finally in order to support that thought process they utilize certain facts. For instance Palin quits. The right wing faithful “believe” that she is right. Therefore they need a thought process to vindicate her quitting. That thought process is that she was being unfairly attacked and she would do a better job of serving if she didn’t have to defend herself against these unfair attacks. Then, in order to qualify their thought process they point to some unfair attacks on Palin, and since some attacks are unfair, they all must be unfair. In their mind the only way to be fair is to be free of bias, even if that bias is steeped in fact.
Liberals on the other hand begin by establishing the fact, then based on the facts they form a thought process, and then based on that they form a belief. So here for instance, they begin with determining things about Sarah Palin. She isn’t able to answer basic questions about civics, she has been found guilty of using her position to get someone fired, and she quit her job Governor of Alaska in the middle of her first term. Putting those facts together (and they are facts) we form a thought process that suggests her interest is not in somehow bettering her state or the nation (as evidenced by a rudimentary knowledge or curiosity in civics) but rather in utilizing her position for gain (as evidenced by her history of doing so). Then based on all of this we form a belief or bias that her quitting is not due to her inability to adequately help her people out and pursue some higher calling as she suggests; rather it is base gain, again as her history suggests. This may be bias, but it is fair bias.
Taken from another perspective look at Obama’s recent trip to New York, and the cost it entailed. The Conservatives began with the belief that it was wrong, then they calculated the cost, and then they determined that Obama wasted that much tax payer money by going to New York. They don’t question their belief structure on this at all to determine whether their questions are fair or not. They don’t ask whether they (or for that matter the Democrats or anyone else) ever questioned Bush for doing similar things, when he took trips to Crawford ranch, or to Maine, or to anywhere else for that matter. They don’t question whether or not a sitting President should take a public airplane to get to New York, without any sort of security detail if he is on personal business, and they don’t question whether a sitting President should ever be allowed to go outside of DC for personal reasons. A new, bizarre and thoughtless standard is raised around a “belief” and only the facts that fit that belief are allowed to be considered.
Recently I was talking with an online friend about Palin quitting and in response he said that Obama had already spent more money than Bush. While this is so blatantly and completely untrue on so many different levels that it’s literally mind boggling that someone could believe it, people believe it. I Googled the argument just to see what would come up and sure enough, there’s all these “projections” of how much money Obama is going to spend verses Bush. How exactly these projections are targeted is beyond me, but somehow I don’t believe they are unbiased. What’s striking though is that these “projections” have turned into “already spent”. Now there’s one detail that is omitted in all of these things. Relatively speaking Obama hasn’t spent that much money, even considering the wars, the auto bailout and the stimulus package. The reason for this is that Obama has yet to pass a budget. The current fiscal budget was passed by Bush, so when I see these charts showing how much money Obama has spent, I note that it’s categorized as money spent “under” Obama. Yes, Obama is President, but that’s not his money he’s spending. Secondly, the higher the deficit goes, the greater the amount of money to pay off the interest on the debt goes. Ergo, Obama has less money to play with than Bush, but that’s on Bush, not Obama. Thirdly, more than 80 percent of the entire debt has come under Reagan or the Bushes. Now the Republicans want to make it out that they are these budget hawks, though they never were while Republicans were President. Again, their belief comes first, and the facts that don’t support their beliefs are not considered.
So then all of this ends up back to this whole middle ground argument, where the less curious voters say, “well you have you your talking points and they have their taking points.” The conclusion then is that since both have talking points, both sides must also have valid points. However, talking points are only valid if they are 1) true and 2) intellectually honest. Very often on the conservative side they are not—not because conservatives are stupid—but because they begin with belief. The ones making the points can either be deliberately deceptive (which I think is the case with the likes of Cheney and Rove) or ignorantly deceptive, such as with Bush and Palin. Either way though it is deceptive. Meanwhile, those like Obama, who go out of their way to be fair, to speak both sides, are portrayed as the other extreme. So the average, moderately informed voter sees that there is even truth and even deception in both sides, although one side is trying to deceive (or has been deceived and is honestly being deceptive) and the other side is trying to be honest. If you take the middle of that then you end up with something is unfair, and though it is midway, it is also biased in the sense that it paints the truth different than what it is, and this in turn has a more favorable representation to the deceiving party than the honest one.
The extreme right is dragging us down a path cloaked in fallacy and dishonesty and the MSM in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle seems eager to appease. Recalling the type of rhetoric that was used in Palin’s speeches, I hope that this gets curbed very soon. There’s only so much half truth the country can take. The media, not the blogosphere needs to be the place that checks the truth and reports it. They need to do so fairly, and without bias, and the best way to do that is to get away from talking heads and interpretations of the news, but to simply just get back to saying what the facts are. The truth may not be “balanced” but it is unbiased.