If you haven’t had the opportunity, you should check out Thom Hartmann’s book Cracking the Code. Essentially, the book breaks down how politicians and political commentators are able to control what we might call the political narrative. Hartmann calls it “issue framing.”
Dragon highlighted this by talking about Chuck Todd’s recent comments on Morning Joe. The blow up over Todd’s comments was both cathartic and interesting. It was cathartic in the sense that it is something those of us left of center have been complaining about for some time. It is interesting from a purely political science perspective. Essentially, it is an example of how the right has been able to get a majority of the public to buy into a political narrative hook, line, and sinker.
Political narratives by themselves aren’t evil. It is basically a simplified version of the story that either side wants to you to buy. These stories both sound good and they both sound like truth. As they say, the devil is always in the details. In this case, the right has managed to sell the narrative that the press is inherently liberal and cannot be trusted. It’s a nice story and like most stories there is probably some kernel of truth in there.
Some polling data has been done to indicate that more journalists consider themselves to be liberals than conservatives. However, there is a difference between personal beliefs and an industry wide bias. After all, most newspapers, radio stations, and television statements are owned by large corporations. Large corporations tend to be conservative in nature. I could just as easily claim that those with the power to make decisions are controlling what is coming out.
The conservative narrative on a liberal media has had a dramatic effect on media coverage. Members of the media don’t want the public to discount them as liberal lapdogs, so they have bent over backwards to provide “balanced” coverage. Mind you, a comprehensive study of the media is more difficult than it might seem. There is more than just how a story is covered. There is also a point about which stories are covered and which ones get the most emphasis.
However, Todd’s comments highlight a particular problem that stems back to the conservative narrative. Media outlets want to report lies, but feel compelled to offer lies from both sides to make the story seem more balanced. The problem is that this creates a narrative in of itself that is not necessarily a reflection of the truth. It does not reflect that one side lies more often than the other and that they lie for different reasons. Moreover, the scope of their lie is usually far different.
The example I used in reply to Dragon hits the mark here. One man lied to his wife about going to the corner store to buy a beer. Another lied about going to the street corner to buy some heroin. The current media narrative only indicates that both lied. They have avoided the obvious point that one’s lie is more serious than the other’s.
Now, if I were to be serious for a moment, I would readily admit that my interpretation of what is currently transpiring is its own narrative. If an honest accounting of facts were reported we would see that one side is lying far more often than the other. From there, we are left to our own devices to attach our own interpretation to those facts. Those of us in the commentary business share that interpretation with the viewing public.
Admittedly, my audience is likely a lot smaller than most, but I would offer this. I think the lies on the right serve a different purpose than the lies on the left. The right simply is on the downside at the current moment. No, they will not always be there and if they were smarter they probably wouldn’t be now. Their lies and antics serve to stave off the effects of being on the losing end of the idea bubble. Simply put, they really don’t have any. At least, they don’t have any that haven’t been tried before.
Critics of Todd accuse him of being a glorified sports reporter. So, to borrow the sports analogy, a team with inferior talent cannot fight their opponents head on. They must use trickery and slight of hand to win. So, they obfuscate, change laws and procedures, and disenfranchise in order to win. More importantly, they shame the fourth estate into standing idly by while they do all of this. After all, if you report the real facts you will be shown to be the liberals you really are.
The mainstream press really doesn’t have to offer my narrative. After all, narratives are often only based in some truth. Many conservatives believe strongly in the idea of limited government and don’t practice the politics of cut and burn. Most rank and file tea partiers believe strongly in their cause without the sinister undertones. All the mainstream press has to do is report facts and point out when either side isn’t offering them. You don’t match one for one. If one side lies ten times for every one from the other then you report that.
If as an average American I see that one side is lying ten times as much as the other then I’m going to reach my own conclusion. One narrative might have the other side as a bunch of lying SOBs that can never be trusted. Some might be inclined to believe that. I personally don’t, but it’s one plausible narrative. Without an honest reporting of all of the facts, that narrative doesn’t have a chance.