Both Sides!

As much as I love my NYT, one thing I don’t actually read a lot of is there basic Trump/national politics reporting.  Talk about “both sides!” bias to the extreme.  Terrific column from Dan Froomkin laying this out in extensive detail.  Also worth following the link to the article where there’s a ton of great embedded tweets on the issue.

The New York Times’s three-year struggle to sustain its reporting algorithms, built for two political parties that have comparable relationships to reality, collapsed into sordid heap of nonsense over the weekend.

The two central political truths of the moment are the profound asymmetry between the parties – one relying mostly on facts and the other trafficking almost entirely in deceit and division — and the wildly abnormal nature of the Trump presidency.

But smart, capable Times reporters, corrupted by an editorial regime that prevents them from acknowledging those elemental truths, over the last few days put forth such epically, historically bad examples of pox-on-both-your-houses, boring-what-else-is-new, and self-contradictory political coverage that press critics on social media – including several former Times editors — were appropriately united in despair.

The fault, at the end of the day, clearly lies with New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, who has frequently defended the Times’s political coverage as appropriately non-confrontational and measured.

This is a collapse of leadership, and a disaster for American journalism at the most critical moment imaginable.

As I tweeted on Sunday, if you’d asked Times editors five years ago whether people who deny basic facts, traffic in conspiracy theories, demonize immigrants and otherwise fight against a pluralistic society should be given equal (or more than equal) time in their news columns, they would have said no.

Trump’s election doesn’t change the truth. What it did change was the way Baquet triangulates. And it shouldn’t have…

Exhibit A for Failure:

Michael Shear’s Saturday front-pager, “The Breach Widens as Congress Nears a Partisan Impeachment,” was about the “different impeachment realities that the two parties are living in.”

It established a new low in “both sides” reporting, which is really saying something. A few sample paragraphs:

Representative Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia, described Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine one way, saying it “shows that the president tried to get President Zelensky to interfere in the upcoming presidential election.” His Republican colleague, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, saw it differently: “We saw the call transcript, and there is no conditionality.”

And after Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, said it was “clear” that Mr. Trump cared about rooting out corruption in Ukraine, Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, scoffed: “The president never brings up corruption.”

How can anyone write something like that and not take sides?

Okay, here’s one terrific tweet featured therein:

What are the biggest differences between the Clinton and Trump impeachments? Well, if you ask me, for starters:

  1. Clinton’s offense didn’t involve the abuse of power to pervert the electoral process for personal gain.
  2. Members of his party actually listened to the evidence against him and quite a few of them found it persuasive.
  3. The public was soundly opposed to his impeachment.

But no, for Baker, the biggest difference is that this one is boring:

Back in 1998, the impeachment battle felt like the ultimate drama, so intense that the rest of the world seemed to have stopped spinning on its axis, yet so fluid and suspenseful that it was never entirely certain how it would play out.

This time it feels like one more chapter in an all-out clash that has been fought for three years, hugely consequential yet of a piece with everything that has come before, with less suspense and an outcome seemingly foreordained.

So there’s no suspense because the Republicans are paralyzed by unthinking fealty. And relative to everything else, it’s nothing special.

It’s almost like Baker’s saying: Three years of normalizing the Trump presidency, and we’re going to stop now?

There was plenty of false equivalence to go around in Baker’s piece as well. For instance, he actually likened Ken Starr, the obsessive independent counsel who relentless pursued the Clintons for over three years before springing a successful perjury trap, and Rep. Adam Schiff, who led a short, fact-based inquiry into bribery and abuse of power that he really had no choice but to launch.

And yet arguably the most poisonous assertion in Baker’s story was that, compared to the case against Clinton, the case against Trump is “for many Americans a little esoteric.”

There is nothing remotely esoteric – defined as “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest” – about what Trump has done. If only a small number of people understand it, the fault lies with the people whose job it is to help the public understand…

The Times and Trump are inextricably bound. The paper arguably helped him get elected by over-covering Hillary Clinton’s scandals and under-covering Trump’s. Trump rewarded it by calling it the enemy of the people.

Subscriptions surged after the election as readers craved solid reporting. And some Times reporting — particularly investigative and legal — has been outstanding. But its short-lived “Trump Urges Unity Against Racism” headline was emblematic of the credulous stenography and normalization of the Trump presidency that is so prevalent on its front pages.

With impeachment imminent and an election less than a year away, it’s almost a national emergency that it still can’t seem to get the Trump story straight.

The only way that will happen is with changes at the top.

Also, very much on-point, a nice Jay Rosen piece on what’s wrong with the NYT leadership that brought us to this point:

Recently the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, said something that I believe touched on this anxiety. 

We won’t be baited into becoming ‘the opposition.’ And we won’t be applauded into becoming ‘the opposition.’

By “baited” he clearly meant the taunts of people like Steve Bannon and President Trump. By “applauded” he meant, I think, the pressure coming from Times loyalists. For the most part these are people appalled by Trump who want to see him further exposed. They want the Times to be tougher on his supporters and more relentless in calling out his lies. They want Times journalists to see what they see — an assault on democratic institutions, the corruption of the American Republic — and to act accordingly. 

But these people are perceived as a threat by the Times newsroom. The fear is that they want to turn the Times into an opposition newspaper. This is not how the Times sees itself. The fear is that they want the Times to help save American democracy. This too is not how the Times sees itself…

The rising power of Times readers has, I believe, unsettled Times journalists. They are both grateful and suspicious. They want the support, they also want to declare independence from their strongest supporters. (And they do not want to open the box that is marked Coverage of Hillary Clinton, 2016.) They are tempted to look right and see one kind of danger, then look left to spot another, equal and opposite. They want to push off from both sides to clear a space from which truth can be told. That would make things simpler, but of course things are not that simple. The threat to truthtelling — to journalism, democracy, the Times itself — is not symmetrical. They know this. But the temptation lives. [emphasis mine]

These are matters of institutional psychology, which I observe from the outside. I am sharing my impressions as a close reader, a subscriber for 30+ years, a loyal critic myself, and a watcher of Times journalists. In any relationship, a shift in power alters the dynamic between the parties. In so many ways since the election, the Times has risen to the occasion and excelled. But it has a problem with its core supporters. Until it is put right, there will be blow-ups, resentments and a lot of misunderstanding.


Okay Gen Xer

Really enjoyed this from Derek Thompson as it very much hits home in my recent experience, “The Millennials-Versus-Boomers Fight Divides the Democratic Party: The young left has become a sort of third party.”

So, forget the Boomers, it’s actually Milennials and Gen Z versus everyone else– including Gen X like me (and, I know, many of you).

Young Americans demanding more power, control, and justice have veered sharply to the left. This lurch was first evident in the two elections of Barack Obama, when he won the youth vote by huge margins. And young Americans didn’t edge back to the political center under Obama; they just kept moving left. Obama won about 60 percent of voters younger than 30 in the 2008 primary. Bernie Sanders won more than 70 percent of under-30 voters in the 2016 primary, which pushed Hillary Clinton to the left and dragged issues like Medicare for All and free college from the fringe to the mainstream of political debate.

But upon closer examination, the Democrats aren’t really the party of the young—or, for that matter, of social-justice leftists. In the most sophisticated poll of the Iowa caucus, Joe Biden polled at 2 percent among voters under 30, within the margin of error of zero. Nationally, he is in single digits among Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996. Yet Biden is the Democratic front-runner for the 2020 presidential nomination, thanks to his huge advantage among older voters—especially older black voters—who are considerably more moderate than younger Democrats.

Bernie Sanders, by contrast, leads all candidates among voters under 30 and polls just 5 percent among voters over 65. In a national Quinnipiac poll asking voters which candidate has the best ideas, Sanders crushes Biden 27 percent to 4 percent among those under 35 and receives an equal and opposite crushing at the hands of Biden among voters over 65: 28 percent to 4 percent.

Age ‬doesn’t just divide Republicans and Democrats from each other, in other words; age divides young leftists from bothRepublicans and Democrats. Democrats under 30 have almost no measurable interest in the party’s front-runner. Democrats over 65 have almost no measurable interest in the favored candidate of the younger generation. ‬This is not a picture of Democrats smoothly transforming into the “party of the young.” It’s evidence that age—perhaps even more than class or race—is now the most important fault line within the Democratic Party.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

It might be most useful to think about ‬young progressives as a third party trapped in a two-party system. [emphasis mine] Radicalized by America’s political sclerosis and economic and social inequality, they are a powerful movement politically domiciled within a larger coalition of moderate older minorities and educated suburbanites, who don’t always know what to do with their rambunctious bunkmates.

What would this progressive third party’s platform look like? In one word, justice: Social justice, sought through a reappraisal of power relationships in social and corporate life, and economic justice, sought through the redistribution of income from the rich to the less fortunate.

One can make out the contours of this agenda in “Hidden Tribes,” a 2018 study of the political views of 8,000 Americans, which sorted the country’s voting-age population into seven political groups. The study called the youngest and most left-wing group in the survey Progressive Activists. They accounted for 8 percent of the population and as much as one-third of likely voters in the Democratic Party, due to their higher-than-average engagement in politics…

Compared with the average American, Progressive Activists—“young, secular, cosmopolitan, and angry”—were more likely to be under 30, college-educated, and white; twice as likely to say they never pray; and three times as likely to say they’re “ashamed” of the country. They are motivated by the existential threat of climate change, strongly pro-immigration, and more concerned about police brutality than about crime or terrorism. Perhaps most distinctive, they are attuned to structural challenges in society and skeptical of the individualist strain of the American dream…

Most Americans over 40 support several measures of both social justice and economic justice. But across ethnicities, many Americans have a deep aversion to anything that can be characterized as “political correctness” or “socialism.” And this might be the biggest challenge for the young progressive agenda.

For example, the Democratic presidential candidates who focused most explicitly on sexism and racial injustice have flamed out

The Medicare for All debate is a microcosm of a larger divide. The young left’s deep skepticism toward capitalism simply isn’t shared by previous generations. According to Gallup polling, Gen X is firmly pro-capitalist and Baby Boomers, who came of age during the Cold War, prefer capitalism over socialism by a two-to-one margin. (You can point out to your parents that Social Security and Medicare are, essentially, socialism for the old, but that’s not the same as converting them into Berniecrats.)…

Assuming Milburn’s analysis is correct, the young progressive movement will have to shed its first adjective in order to gain power. In 2016, voters older than 40 accounted for nearly three-fifths of all primary voters. It is impossible to win a national election by running a campaign of generational warfare that runs counter to, or directly indicts, a majority of the electorate. One way or another, America’s third party will have to grow up.

I found this particularly interesting as ideological disagreements I have with my own students are now far more likely to be with students well to the left of me than with those to the right. Only a matter of time, before I’m accused of conservative indoctrination instead of liberal indoctrination.

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