The “both sides” apotheosis

This AP Fact check. Oh my.  Go ahead and click the link to see how the AP gets totally pwned by the twitterverse.

Also, here’s a nice round-up of some of the best responses via HuffPo.

But on the serious side, a nice piece from Vox’s Aaron Rupar on the reflexive “both sides!” of journalism and how noxious it is for an informed political discourse:

Vox did its own fact check of Trump’s speech, pointing out the entire basis of his case for the border wall is rooted in two false premises.

Yet inherent in the mainstream media’s fact-checking is a sense that they need to even the score. [emphases mine] This was the subject of some tweets from Democratic superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who pointed out the Washington Post’s fact-checking team assigned the same number of “Pinocchios” to false claims about the military budget as they did to Trump’s flat denial of the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria…

Ultimately, that prominent news outlets are now struggling to “fact check” claims that don’t even try to express facts suggests that a certain model of “calling strikes and balls” isn’t really working anymore. Trump has changed the rules of the game, but in some cases, the umpires still haven’t figured it out.

Also enjoyed Cale Weissman:

There is, of course, nothing wrong with holding the president accountable. Trump spouts lies probably more often than he drinks water, and it is good to inform the public about this. But often hidden in these attempts is also the antiquated notion that, in order to remain neutral, you must signal that both sides are equally at fault. Thus we have the Associated Press’s Politics Twitter account, which tweeted this bizarre post:..

But larger than the pesky facts the AP is trying to report yet failing to contextualize (as well as the poor imagery) is this idea that the only way to remain objective is to find equal and opposite flaws in dissenting views. Sometimes, that’s simply just not the case–and more often than not, these cases involve Trump. The AP here is trying to make itself look neutral (likely in an attempt to seem palatable to people on the right), but in the outlet’s very pursuit of fair journalism, it’s skewing facts…

The AP’s tweet is symptomatic of a pervasive trend plaguing journalism: a knee-jerk reaction to create a false reality that there’s a more centered middle opinion, when sometimes there just isn’t. This saga is also an example of how fact-checking as a stand-alone form of journalism–as opposed to being part of the process–can actually degrade truth.

Let’s try and use this as a lesson for when pandering to both sides hurts your original intention. Or at least to do away with hackneyed figures of speech like “it takes two to tango.”

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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