About That Media Notion Of "Balance"...

I had a very interesting tête-à-tête last week that I thought I'd share. As you may have guessed, I'm on the email distro lists for all the major

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I had a very interesting tête-à-tête last week that I thought I'd share. As you may have guessed, I'm on the email distro lists for all the major Sunday shows and cable news networks, and I get email notifications for who the scheduled guests will be as well as transcripts, p.r. pieces and the like. Last week, when ABC sent me an email that John McCain was going to be their guest again, I sent back a snarky reply asking if they ever had John Kerry on after he lost the election to George Bush as often as they've had McCain, and why, when there are so many actual issues about which the public needs to be informed, they gave so much air time to GOP obstructionism. Normally, I shoot off those emails just as a private protest, but this time, I got a reply back from the executive producer:

Thanks very much for your email. I’d have to take issue with your suggestion that “so much time is given to GOP obstructionism.” Week to week we maintain a balance between Democratic and Republican guests. It’s not always a perfect balance – airtime often tips toward the party in power because the mission of our program is to ask questions of those who are in decision making and policy making roles. Our guest selection is also determined by the news stories we cover. As the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Senator McCain is clearly the appropriate Republican guest to follow the Secretary of Defense in a discussion of US Afghanistan policy.

Well, if you've ever seen me in the comments, you have to know I'm not going to let a steaming pile of Village B.S. like that go unchallenged:

Thanks for your response.

The notion of a "balance" between Democratic and Republican guests is a false equivalence too often used in lieu of actual journalism. If you put brought on a creationist to discuss the fossil record with Stephen Jay Gould, are you serving your viewership well for balance?

With all due respect to Sen. McCain---and knowing full well how much he cultivates a good relationship with the media (I'm sure Mr. Stephanopoulos enjoyed his weekend in Arizona with the McCains when health care was the prime topic in the country)--his purpose as a follow up to Gates is to simply toe the GOP line of disagreeing reflexively with any agenda the President sets. My site, Crooksandliars.com, has been documenting this for the last five years.

How about instead of reducing every issue to a simplistic binary equation of Republican vs. Democrat, you seek to actually inform your viewership with people who have real background in Afghanistan or could bring a different (and not partisan) perspective? For example, Paul Rieckhoff of IAVA could discuss it from a soldier's POV. As a blogger involved in many journalism listservs, I personally could put you in touch with people far more versed in the history and the actualities in Afghanistan which would provide far more cogent and *informative* information than you will see from the man who tried to tell Americans that Baghdad was as safe as Main Street with his contingent of soldiers and helicopters guarding him.

Further, your insistence that this is the best person to follow up on Gates is disingenuous at best, when looked at the history of who THIS WEEK has booked. I've been a media analyst and political advocate for several years and my memory is not that short. John Kerry was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during Bush's presidency. How often did you ask Sen. Kerry on to discuss foreign policy as a response to Bush? Rarely.

And why is McCain on as *a response*? Why isn't he on first and then give Gates--as the person who can actually make policy, as opposed to the minority party--the opportunity to address the issues afterwards? Because air time tips to the party in power? Last time I checked, Americans have pretty decisively said that they weren't happy with the GOP being the party in power, not that we can tell from your bookings. It's bad enough that you give air time to George Will every week to spread disinformation (and if you'd like, I'm only too happy to provide you with at least 10 examples in the last year of things George Will has been factually wrong about), but to actually tell me that air time tips to the party in power when you have notoriously been favoring Republicans makes me question how forthright you're being about your booking choices. Let's see you book a Democratic blogger even once to "balance" your egregious booking of the completely factually-challenged Michelle Malkin. Or maybe it's just that *informing* your viewership is secondary.

Funnily enough, the producer didn't really have much response to that, simply thanking me for the input. Honestly, I wasn't really happy with the dismissive little pat on the head from the Villager who thought that little blogger me couldn't understand why McCain was a reasonable booking. So I thought I'd give him a suggestion as to real balance:

Here is a segment I would LOVE to see you do with Sen. McCain: why don't you invite my colleague, David Neiwert, author of The Eliminationists, on to discuss how the violent rhetoric that used to be relegated to the fringes of the Republican Party which has been mainstreamed since Obama's election and let Sen McCain respond to that? After all, he is the one who brought Sarah Palin to the national stage (and as I recall, actually said on your program that Palin was his "soul mate" after having only had one phone conversation and a short meeting with her before asking her on the ticket) and there is no other politician who has tapped so proficiently into that zeitgeist. I think it would be beneficial for Americans to hear someone of Sen. McCain's gravitas and stature disavow the kind of violent and racist rhetoric we've all seen. I'm more than happy to provide you with contact information for Mr. Neiwert if you are so inclined.

But if you're not interested in putting Sen. McCain on the spot, perhaps next time you do a show on the problems we're facing in Afghanistan, the "balance" you seek would be better achieved by putting on a politician who favors withdrawal, like Rep. Alan Grayson, instead of two hawks who will both say that the most important thing is "winning" in Afghanistan without actually explaining what "winning" means or how we can achieve it militarily. Where's the balance in that for your viewers?

Are you surprised that he had no response to that? Nah, me neither. I don't know if it impacted him at all, but I'm hoping that from now on he has a small voice inside his head reminding him that some of his viewers actually think critically and realize how badly he's--and all the rest of the bobblehead media--doing his job.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald looks at the sources that our liberal media uses to discuss the issues of the day.

About Nicole Belle

Nicole Belle's picture
Mom, Wife, Media Critic/Political Analyst, Blogger, Austen Fanatic, Unapologetic Liberal NicoleBelle@crooksandliars.com

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