April 7, 2010

Glenn Greenwald catches Ross Douthat inventing a false claim for "balance" on cable news.

In his New York Times column today, Ross Douthat laments the lack of real political debates on cable news shows, and writes this:

What might work, instead, is a cable news network devoted to actual debate. For all the red-faced shouting, debate isn’t really what you get on Fox and MSNBC. Hannity has ditched Colmes, and conservatives are only invited on Rachel Maddow’s show when they have something nasty to say about Republicans.

Here we find two of the most common pundit afflictions: (1) a compulsion to assert equivalencies even when they don't exist, and (2) a willingness to spout anything without doing the slightest work to find out if it's true. Douthat's claim about Maddow -- that "conservatives are only invited on [her] show when they have something nasty to say about Republicans" -- is completely false.

The real problem is not that Maddow fails to invite conservatives on her show; she does exactly that relentlessly. The problem is that most leading conservatives refuse to be interviewed by anyone -- such as Maddow -- who will conduct adversarial interviews. They thus restrict themselves to the friendly confines of Fox News or to television interview shows where the hosts refuse to question them aggressively due to a fear of being perceived as something other than "neutral." Indeed, as I noted before, after Maddow had interviewed GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty (who said nothing "nasty about Republicans"): Maddow is constantly attempting to lure right-wing and other Republican guests to her show, but they almost always refuse. As she put it after the Pawlenty interview:

Governor Pawlenty represents Minnesota and I will just say -- we ask a lot of Republicans to be on the show and they almost always say no. So, I am particularly grateful whenever anybody says yes. And to any Republicans out there who we ask -- see -- I'm not so bad...read on

I've often said that it's not a bad idea to let right wingers come on TV and enter into a heated debate on the issues because then their crazy views would be exposed to the world instead of covered up or softened up. You do need a skillful person like Rachel Maddow to be there to expose the lunacy because talkers like say a Bill O'Reilly are very talented at framing and controlling the debate. I guess they recognize Maddow's grasp of the facts and it must scare them.

The fact that War hawks like Dick Cheney are too afraid to go on Maddow's show is quite revealing. Also what's very disturbing is that the Villagers always draw these false equivalances between the right and left. What are they afraid of?

UPDATE: Douthat's reply is here. I actually agree with the overall point of his column -- that cable news is basically a wasteland, even when it purports to present "debates," and that it could benefit greatly from much more substantive and meaningful discussions among those who disagree. But the claims he made to rope Maddow into that point --- all in order to present her as the liberal counter-example to Sean Hannity -- are simply inaccurate. He also ought to print a correction in his next column.

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