Salon tries to offer examples: Has bogus “he said-she said” reporting led to the (impending) government shutdown?
That’s what it says in the headline to a new piece at Salon. The piece, which strikes us as very weak, is reprinted from BillMoyers.com.
The piece is lousy work. It’s the kind of work in which liberals copy Fox News techniques while lacking the skill of Fox News.
Without any question, the coming shutdown is idiocy in action. That said, should “Beltway reporters” be blamed? This is the way Joshua Holland begins his piece:
HOLLAND (9/30/13): It’s almost certain that we’ll see the government shut down on Tuesday. The last time that happened, in 1996, it cost $2.1 billion in today’s dollars. Breaching the debt limit would be far, far worse—nobody knows how bad, exactly, but everyone agrees that it would be really bad. The risk of finding out has never been greater. This showdown is by far the most dangerous of a series of fiscal “crises” that have been contrived during the Obama presidency.That sounds bad—real bad. With only “a few exceptions,” the media have obscured the nature of this lunacy. According to Holland, “Beltway reporters...bear an enormous amount of responsibility for encouraging this perversion of democratic governance.”
Beltway reporters who see their professed neutrality as a higher ground bear an enormous amount of responsibility for encouraging this perversion of democratic governance. With a few notable exceptions, the media have framed what Jonathan Chait called “a kind of quasi-impeachment” in typical he said-she said fashion, obscuring the fact that the basic norms that govern Congress have been thrown out the window by a small cabal of tea party-endorsed legislators from overwhelmingly Republican districts. The media treat unprecedented legislative extortion as typical partisan negotiations, and in doing so they normalize it.
That sounds very bad, and the indictment is sweeping. But when Holland gets around to giving examples, he only gives three from “Beltway reporters,” though you might think you’re seeing four. And if you actually click his links, two of his three alleged examples turn out to be very soft:
HOLLAND: In the past, a few minor sweeteners have been tacked onto debt-limit hikes. Debt limit increases have also been added to budget bills negotiated separately by the parties in order to avoid a vote altogether. What makes the current ploy novel is they are offering essentially the entirety of Mitt Romney’s agenda—in essence, a demand to do over the 2012 election and, while they’re at it, 2008 as well.Let’s run through these alleged examples, in which “Beltway reporters,” through their “standard Beltway coverage,” must be assigned “an enormous amount of responsibility for encouraging this perversion of democratic governance.”
Yet you wouldn’t fully appreciate the audacity of this tactic by reading standard Beltway coverage. As Brian Beutler notes in Salon, Time Magazine reporter Zeke Miller calls this “negotiating technique...is by no means novel. Hostage taking—by promising harm if you do not get your way—has long been a standard way of doing business in Washington.” James Fallows, decrying what he calls a “failure of journalism,” flagged the headline, “Parties Digging in Their Heels as Hourglass Empties.” (The Courier-Post, a Gannett paper, similarly went with, “Lawmakers dig in their heels; government shutdown nearer.”) And Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan described the ransom note as simply a set of “demands for reform.” All of this coverage reeks of false equivalency, implying yet again that “both sides do it.”
First example: The piece by Miller at Time is fairly lame. It’s also a four-paragraph blog post. Somehow, we don’t think the public discourse was deeply affected.
Second example: The headline cited by Fallows isn’t from Miller’s piece, although you might think so from Holland’s remarkably hazy writing. According to Fallows, the headline “is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.”
That headline certainly isn’t false; nor is it part of the “Beltway reporting” to which the public has access. Beyond that, it’s impossible to evaluate the work which ran beneath this headline, in part because Fallows wouldn’t say who the newsletter came from. Darlings, it just isn’t done!
Two examples are left. Holland cites a headline from a news report in a (relatively insignificant) Louisville paper, the Courier-Post. The headline sits above a report which seems unobjectionable to us. Indeed: right in paragraph 3, the Courier-Post reporters pin the blame for the impending shutdown where it belongs, on John Boehner. Just that quickly, they go beyond normal press conventions in telling us who is at fault.
That leaves a single three-word phrase from a lengthy Politico report—a report which is very uncomplimentary about the ongoing Republican tactics. By the way:
In the course of that unflattering report in Politico, how does a single reference to “demands for reform” (in paragraph 15) “reek of false equivalency, implying that both sides do it?” Like you, we don’t have the slightest idea. To us, that report in Politico seems rather uncomplimentary regarding the GOP’s conduct.
Are there any major examples of this sort of Beltway reporting? According to Holland, almost every Beltway reporter has engaged in this type of reporting, with only a few exceptions. And yet, with the exception of a four-paragraph blog post, he doesn’t seem to have examples from any major news org.
If everyone has been doing this, where are the major examples from our major news orgs? All reporting matters, of course. But this list of alleged offenses is pathetically thin.
Holland’s piece represents complaining for complaining’s sake. It’s lousy, lazy work. It strikes us as an embarrassment to Moyers and as an indictment of our lazy, floundering tribe.
After all these miserable years, is this the best our team can do? Sadly, indications keep suggesting the answer is yes.