Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Thursday, September 30, 2004

This debate primer in the Washington Post is the perfect example of what one of Kissinger's "Revolutionary Powers" can do to an independent(-ish) press corps.

The gold standard for "mainstream" journalism is not accuracy but balance. So clearly, if you're a revolutionary power, the best strategy for paralyzing a press operating under these rules is to become so unglued from any kind of responsible behaviour that it becomes impossible to describe what you are doing in a balanced way, because there's simply no equivalent on the other side.

So as a result we get pieces like this one, which tries its damndest to offer us a balanced view of all the misleading things each candidate has said leading up to the first debate.

When presented in this prose format, you get the sense of balance. But let's make a list of the "misleading" claims chronicled in this piece and see how they stack up.

1b) Bush says Kerry would "Nationalize" health care.
1k) Kerry says the Iraq War has already cost $200 billion.

Bush's claim about Kerry's health care plan is simply a screaming lie. No aspect of Kerry's health care plan could be construed by an honest observer as "nationalizing" health care beyond the level to which it is already nationalized.

Meanwhile, what's misleading about Kerry's assertion that the Iraq War has cost $200 billion? Well, it turns out that while Congress has indeed appropriated $200 billion for the Iraq War at the request of the president, not all of it has actually been spent. So this is a tiny bit misleading, but is Kerry really supposed to stand up and say "This war has already caused Congress to appropriate $200 billion worth of funds from the Federeal Treasury?" Wouldn't that sound, I don't know, a little wooden, and complicated, and even nuanced?

Or, more to the point, if we opened up the Bush misstatement canon to this level of scrutiny, how many "misleading" statements do you think we could turn up?

So, #1 we have a screaming bald-faced Bush lie vs. a Kerry statement that's maybe a little imprecise.

2b) "I went to the United Nations, because I was hoping that diplomacy would work," [Bush] tells audiences, adding that "it is documented" that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "systematically deceived the inspectors the United Nations sent in."
2k) "The administration misled America, the United Nations and the world. This administration rushed to war without a plan to win the peace."

Bush went to the United Nations because Colin Powell threatened to jump ship on the invasion if he didn't at least try to get a Security Council authorization. Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein's "documented deception" of weapons inspectors happened a long, long time ago. There is no evidence that Iraq deceived weapons inspectors during the run-up to the Iraq War - the allegations of "denial and deception" were based on the false assumption that Iraq was hiding an active nuclear and bioweapons program that Iraq in fact did not have.

Meanwhile, the Kerry statement is, well, completely true. Using the standards of this very Post article, Bush's wild claims about Iraq in the run-up to the war were clearly misleading. The Post notes, somewhat generously, that there is "little evidence" that the Bush adminsitration directly, materially lied in claiming that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of bioweapons and an active nuclear program. But "misled" and "lied" have different standards, as the authors of this article clearly understand.

The rest of the article, to be fair, is not as bad. But this debate is, after all, about foreign policy, and here we see why Kerry is having such a tough time of it in the press. Bush is totally untethered from any need to tell the truth, because no one can point out his lies without pretending Kerry does the same thing.

Newsweek had a bit this week on blogs and how awful they are because they are so fiercely partisan and unbalanced. But in a very real sense, "balance" is killing us. When one party, or one candidate, has gone completely off the map and is destroying the country with lies and idiotic schemes based on paranoid fantasies, a balanced perspective on that reality only serves to reinforce the illusion that everything is pretty much okey dokey.

Well, I for one, refuse to participate in such nonsense.

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