September 23, 2020

Published with permission of PRESS RUN, Eric Boehlert’s new must-read media newsletter. Subscribe here.

Watching Republican senators publicly and unapologetically contradict a stream of forceful declarations in 2016 about how under no circumstances should the Senate hold United States Supreme Court hearings during an election year, ought to finally convince the Beltway press that the GOP can no longer be trusted on any topic. A party that has detached itself from reality and now occupies a Trump-inspired alternative universe where facts don't matter, Republicans no longer deserve the media's professional respect.

Lied to relentlessly about all topics, reporters and producers should grasp that one of our two major political parties in this country will no longer engage in rational debate. Yet the press refuses to make that crucial acknowledgement.

Still clinging to the idea that the GOP is filled with honorable men, the press won’t tell the truth about today's radical Republican Party. The denial is driven by the fact the press won’t concede that the two parties are no longer mirror reflections of each other, occupying opposite sides of the political spectrum. Firmly committed to an outdated Both Sides approach to the news, the press realizes that if the GOP is identified as a radical outlier, news outlets then have to find an entirely different way to cover the news. They also understand that accurately labeling the GOP as an extremist vehicle will make them the targets of "liberal media bias" attacks.

Instead of being honest, the press has wasted four years pretending behind closed doors that leaders of the Republican Party are aghast at Trump's un-democratic and corrupt behavior. Assuring readers and viewers that Republicans "privately" remain deeply concerned, the press has done its best to normalize the party in the face of Trump's extremist tendencies.

The press thinks the GOP should be unnerved by Trump's obvious racism and authoritarian ways, therefore the press presents that assumption as fact, often with coverage that doesn't include a single important Republican player who's actually upset by Trump's racist or authoritarian behavior. The media's Moby Dick-like pursuit of outraged Republicans always comes up empty.

By ascribing claims to Republicans that don't exist — they're "unnerved" by Trump — the press normalizes today's GOP, which has remained silent in recent weeks regarding stunning revelations about Russian intelligence offering up bounties on the killing of U.S. soldiers, Trump's admission that he lied to the American people about a cataclysmic public health crisis, and his blatant campaign to raise doubts about free and fair elections in America.

As for the Ginsburg fallout, "hypocrisy" doesn't begin to describe what's happening in terms of Republicans reversing course on election-year nominations. Instead, we're seeing an entire party announcing there are no rules of conduct. They have embraced the nihilist idea that nothing they say should carry any weight because they can, and will, change their minds without reason or justification, which gives politicians an extraordinary leeway. All this, while Democrats adhere to traditional guidelines of behavior, and get penalized by the press in the process. They're penalized because by playing dumb about the GOP, the press pretends the same rules apply for both parties. They don't, and Republicans know that — they know they have effectively rigged the system. And the Ruth Bader Ginsburg coverage proves that.

Refusing to tell the truth about the GOP has been a decade-long failure of the Beltway media, and served as a hallmark breakdown during President Barack Obama's two terms in office. For years, the press danced around Republicans' incessant obstructionism. Eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are responsible for sparking conflict (i.e. center-right Republicans vs. center-left Democrats), the press gave one side a pass. Over and over, the media narrative was that Republicans were being savvy in thwarting Obama, who simply couldn't figure out the ways of Capitol Hill.

We saw it with the GOP's gun law obstructionism, the sequester obstructionism, the government shutdown obstructionism, the Chuck Hagel confirmation obstructionism, the Susan Rice secretary of state obstructionism, the Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstructionism, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees. ("If he was for it, we had to be against it," former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.)

The 2014 obstruction of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was especially galling, as a single Republican senator blocked a vote on the crucial veterans bill. At the time of the bill's blockade, Media Matters noted that there was virtually no coverage of the radical barrier on CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS, as well as news blackouts in the nation's six largest newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, and Chicago Tribune.

There's no question it's easier for news outlets to continue pretending that Trump's Republican Party adheres to traditional guidelines of public discourse. But that’s a fantasy the media should stop peddling.

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