In their rush to be 'fair and balanced', media outlets often resort to the "both sides do it" claim. As a result, the public has absolutely no clue as to who they should blame when they suffer the consequences of political games.
September 24, 2013

That's a segment from last December, where Ezra Klein deconstructs the "both sides do it" myth with regard to Starbucks' campaign to write "Come Together" on customers' coffee cups. You remember that one, right? That was the campaign designed to encourage everyone to sidle up to the budget and tax reform table and sing Kumbaya.

It never stops our illustrious media outlets from trying that theme over and over again. As recently as Sunday, we had Candy Crowley pressuring Nancy Pelosi to "negotiate and compromise" over the debt ceiling and the tea party terrorists' ill-guided effort to defund the Affordable Care Act.

That 'both sides do it' campaign is bearing fruit. Via Pew Research:

If the federal government shuts down because Republicans and the Obama administration fail to agree on a budget, there will be plenty of blame to go around. About as many say they would blame the Republicans (39%) for such a standoff as say they would blame Obama (36%), with 17% volunteering that both would be equally to blame.

This parallels the divided sentiment on the eve of the budget standoff in the spring of 2011, which was ultimately averted. But opinions are notably different today than they were during the budget battle of 1995. A November 1995 Washington Post/ABC News survey asked a similar question and found that 46% said a shutdown would mainly be the fault of the Republican Congress; just 27% said the bulk of the blame would fall on the Clinton administration.

The blame for any government shutdown should factually be laid at the feet of the Republicans. Factually.

It is a fact that Republicans spent their money and effort during the break stirring up support to hold the budget and even the debt ceiling hostage to stop the implementation of the Affordable care Act.

It is a fact that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, led by Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, passed a short-term continuing resolution to fund government at current levels while stripping funding away from the Affordable Care Act.

It is a fact that Republicans, and Republicans alone have said over and over again that they are committed to destroying the Affordable Care Act and are willing to not only shut down the government, but hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to do such a thing.

These are not theoretical. They are hard, cold, provable facts. How can it possibly be that over 50 percent of those polled would hold both sides responsible?

Answer? Questions like this one from Candy Crowley to Nancy Pelosi:

No chance you would agree to put it off as some are thinking of with the debt ceiling some Republicans are thinking why don't we attach a year long delay for people to sign up?

Crowley gives legitimacy to an idea that is entirely a Republican invention and then lays it at the feet of Pelosi to reject, giving viewers an impression that mean old Nancy Pelosi is the problem, not the lunatics who proposed such a thing in the first place. That will give her room to make the pronouncement that both sides are to blame.

Let's talk about the messaging machine on this one, too. We see Republicans repeating over and over again that they don't want a government shutdown and look over here! See, the House Republicans passed a budget resolution so it's totally not their fault. Here's a segment from MSNBC on Monday:


“We’re not proposing closing down the government,” said RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer to MSNBC. “What the bill that Speaker Boehner and House Republicans passed last Friday said [was] fully fund the government, every service, except for that piece of Obamacare.”

A GOP-led House budget bill passed on Friday is expected to go nowhere in the Senate, setting up the potential for a shutdown if the two sides can’t agree on a spending measure before their Sept. 30 deadline.

Spicer’s is an argument reiterated by several Republicans, including Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, California Rep. Buck McKeon, and Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon. But it is indeed that last clause–refusing to fund “that piece of Obamacare”–that’s driving the government toward shutdown. AsSlate’s David Weigel pointed out, one Republican has already failed to toe the GOP’s cleverly crafted party line.

Now there's an example of doing it right. Identify the real culprit, debunk the messaging baloney, and let people know who is really behind any government shutdown. Of course, the problem is that this blog post and video clip is in no way representative of the mainstream. Here's what circulates among the Big Boys:

NBC News: Reid: Bill Defunding Obamacare dead on arrival in Senate (Subtext: Democrats will shut down the government)

CBS News: Budget bill battle over Obamacare opens new GOP schism (Subtext: It's all about the politics and not the reality)

ABC News: Showdown Over CR Starts With Reid vs. Cruz Battle (Subtext: Dems v GOP! Game on!)

By the way, of the Big Three there, ABC News had absolutely nothing about the budget battles on their front page. By the look of their front page, you'd think the biggest news of the day was the Emmys, Blackberry Sale, and the new iPhone. The only mention of politics above the fold was a reference to Obama possibly meeting with Iran Foreign Minister Rouhani. A possible government shutdown? Not even worthy of below-the-fold mention.

On the cable news front: 10 ways shutdown would affect you. Here's the teaser text splashed on their half-page size banner for that:

We've been here before. If Democrats and Republicans don't stop bickering, the federal government will shut down on October 1. Will you notice?

See, it's just that these kids can't quit bickering. If we could just make BOTH SIDES stop bickering, we wouldn't have to worry about these things. Zero mention -- none whatsoever -- of who is stonewalling and who is not. They also had this under their related stories: Obamacare Showdown Update. If Monday Night Football isn't your thing, maybe an Obamacare Showdown is just the ticket! - Lawmakers seek way out of ObamaCare showdown. Use of the generic term "lawmakers" suggests BOTH SIDES are involved in this travesty.

That story, by the way, is located way below the fold. Their giant banner story is about IRS official Lois Lerner's retirement, which they call a "Scandal Getaway."

Al Jazeera America (formerly Current TV) is the only site to get it even a little bit right, Unfortunately they also buried the story deep beneath the fold on their front page. Their story is entitled "GOP obstruction tactics on health care reform are working" and it points the blame right at Republicans, with no false equivalent aimed at Democratss.

I'm leaving MSNBC out because I already mentioned their story, and because they're also in the process of separating from

The false equivalence narrative never goes away, and it's gotten far worse since Republicans decided to lose their collective minds. It is as if writers and editors lack the critical thinking skills to discern whether advancing policy ideas like setting up another debt ceiling battle -- policies which are absolutely terrible for the political process and the American people -- can be attributed to a specific group.

How about just being straight up about facts for a change? This "showdown" is the product of a Republican strategy to do everything they can to stop Americans from accessing affordable health insurance. That's all they need to do.

Instead they treat everything as though it must be legitimate and must be counterweighted. No. Insane is insane. Call it that.

Update: And like magic, this turns up in my news feeds. Title: GOP offers smaller budget cuts on debt measure

Served up by the AP, it is intended to leave readers with the impression that holding the debt ceiling hostage is somehow quite normal. Here's the tease:

House Republicans are far less ambitious this week in their demands for spending cuts to erase new debt issued to pay the government's bills than they were during a budget battle two years ago.

Advice to the AP in three words. Emperor. No. Clothes.

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