In case anyone was wondering why we've got so many completely clueless and misinformed Americans who don't have the slightest idea who is to blame for this government shutdown, and which party is the one taking hostages and being unreasonable, look no further than CNN's Don Lemon this Saturday and his interview with Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Jeff Denham (R-CA), where he was doing his best to contribute to the problem this Saturday.
Despite the fact that Lemon had previously admitted in a radio interview earlier in the week that it is the Republicans who are responsible for the shutdown, he played his best game of "why can't everyone get along and compromise" in the segment above, and completely ignored the substance of Rep. Cohen's arguments when he told him that Democrats had already compromised when they agreed to Republicans' spending levels, but that wasn't good enough for them as they kept continually moving the football with their list of demands.
Mediaite covered the exchange with absolutely no reference whatsoever to who is lying, who is playing games with real people's lives and the fact that Lemon did his best to play the false equivalency game here and give the audience the idea that "both sides" are being equally intransigent.
Dan Froomkin summed up wonderfully exactly what is wrong with this segment from CNN in an article he wrote earlier this week: Shutdown coverage fails Americans:
Commentary: We need journalists to hold politicians accountable for extremist actions, not to enable them
U.S. news reports are largely blaming the government shutdown on the inability of both political parties to come to terms. It is supposedly the result of a "bitterly divided" Congress that "failed to reach agreement" (Washington Post) or "a bitter budget standoff" left unresolved by "rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers" (New York Times). This sort of false equivalence is not just a failure of journalism. It is also a failure of democracy.
When the political leadership of this country is incapable of even keeping the government open, a political course correction is in order. But how can democracy self-correct if the public does not understand where the problem lies? And where will the pressure for change come from if journalists do not hold the responsible parties accountable?
The truth of what happened Monday night, as almost all political reporters know full well, is that "Republicans staged a series of last-ditch efforts to use a once-routine budget procedure to force Democrats to abandon their efforts to extend U.S. health insurance." (Thank you, Guardian.)
And holding the entire government hostage while demanding the de facto repeal of a president's signature legislation and not even bothering to negotiate is by any reasonable standard an extreme political act. It is an attempt to make an end run around the normal legislative process. There is no historical precedent for it. The last shutdowns, in 1995 and 1996, were not the product of unilateral demands to scrap existing law; they took place during a period of give-and-take budget negotiations.
But the political media's aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides — combined with its obsession with process — led them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the votes. If you did not already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand.
What makes all this more than a journalistic failure is that the press plays a crucial role in our democracy. We count on the press to help create an informed electorate. And perhaps even more important, we rely on the press to hold the powerful accountable.
That requires calling out political leaders when they transgress or fail to meet commonly agreed-upon standards: when they are corrupt, when they deceive, when they break the rules and refuse to govern. Such exposure is the first consequence. When the transgressions are sufficiently grave, what follows should be continued scrutiny, marginalization, contempt and ridicule.
In the current political climate, journalistic false equivalence leads to an insufficiently informed electorate, because the public is not getting an accurate picture of what is going on. Read on...