By Joe Romm / ThinkProgress / April 28, 2012
Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann tell the media “a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.”
Two leading political scholars — representing the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the centrist Brookings Institution – have published a must-read article, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”
I’ll excerpt the piece by Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann at length for two reasons. First, the problem they describe in detail is the central reason the United States failed to act on climate change when it had the chance in 2009 and 2010, and the central reason this country is poised to abandon any hope of maintaining leadership in what will certainly be the biggest job creating sector of this century — low-carbon technologies and strategies. Until it is fixed.
Second, they issue some advice to the media on the dangers of false balance in a world where there isn’t actually balance between the two “sides.”
The article opens:
Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.
It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
Yes, false balance is “simply untenable” these days, when one side is so “far out.” This, of course, is especially true in the case of the climate debate:
- WashPost stunner: “The GOPs climate-change denial may be its most harmful delusion.”
- National Journal: “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones”
The authors offer some specific advice to the media:
We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.
Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?
Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.
For the remainder of this article, please go here.