It's a good song, but it's really not good journalism ... at all

We've got some serious cases with Big Media Suck this week, with the Washington Post going out of its way to muddle coverage with such ridiculous "both sides" framing that the Roman god Janus has asked them to kindly knock it the fuck off.

One story casually frames Republican efforts to undermine preventing the spread of the coronavirus as a political "win," and another blandly suggests that red and blue states are "moving in opposite directions" when it comes to letting their people vote, as if it were a high school "Compare & Contrast" assignment. A third purports to examine two different school systems' "radically different approaches to managing the pandemic" without saying right up front that one of those "approaches" doesn't so much manage the spread of the coronavirus as promote it, because what are face masks but a personal style choice?

Goddamn, WaPo, you're managing to suck harder than the New York Times when it was in full Cletus Safari mode. Let us castigate away!


Republicans Subverted Democracy. Will Democrats Do Something Rash?

Probably the worst of the three was this mess about how GOP "wins" on "abortion, voting and guns" in state legislatures have made for a "banner year" while Democrats at the national level struggle to get anything done, despite controlling " the elected levers of power in Washington." How deep is the quality of analysis? It features has-been anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist thoughtfully reflecting that both parties think they can control politics for the next 20 years, and Ralph Reed, another Reagan era throwback, getting awfully excited about what a bang-up job Republicans have done of filling federal courts with judges who'll do judicial activism to advance rightwing evangelists' agenda.

Democrats, we're told, have a difficult choice to make: They face "new pressures to wield their power more aggressively by breaking long-standing precedent," as if the last few decades of Republican norm-busting and consolidation of minority rule were somehow the American Tradition. It's an astonishingly bad-faith take.

Oh yes, and the Republican "victories," we learn, include this:

Republican governors in several states have also had success in undermining President Biden's efforts to require masks for schoolchildren and others in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Gosh, it's like they scored a touchdown.

Even weirder is that the article identifies the many ways in which Republicans game the system to maintain power, democracy be damned, as if that were simply evidence of how skilled the GOP is at mastering the nuances of the game:

The imperfect American commitment to majority rule has come into stark relief in recent decades as the nation's politics have polarized along geographic and educational lines. Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the last nine presidential contests.

In that same period, Republican presidents have appointed six of the nine justices who now sit on the Supreme Court, thanks to two Republican victors in the electoral college who received fewer total popular votes than their opponents.

The 50 Republican senators, who tend to hail from smaller states than Democrats, received 63 million votes in their most recent elections, while the 50 Democratic senators were the preference of 87 million voters, according to a calculation by Michael Ettlinger, the director of the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.

So the question for Democrats seems to be whether they'll break with norms and do something weird about all this, like adding justices to the Supreme Court or eliminating the filibuster. Wouldn't that be a shocking development?

Let Americans Vote Or Not? There Are Many Views!

The other WaPo dispatch from nowhere reframes the crisis facing American democracy as largely a matter of two parties pursuing slightly different approaches to governing:

Red and blue states are increasingly moving in opposite directions on how millions of Americans can cast their ballots, exacerbating a growing divide as Republicans in states across the country — most recently Texas — impose new voting restrictions, while Democrats in others expand access.

The conflicting trends are widening the disparities in election policy in the wake of the 2020 election, with Republicans heeding former president Donald Trump's calls to tighten rules and Democrats moving to make permanent many voting policies that helped turnout soar during the pandemic.

America: A Land of Many Contrasts. Some states think voting is good, and others have different priorities. The first suggestion that this might be actively evil comes in a quote from a representative of the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, six paragraphs in:

"We're seeing two different democracies developing in terms of access to the ballot," said Liz Avore, the group's vice president for law and policy, calling it a "fault line developing across the country."

Even as the story quotes mostly people who are alarmed at this, and notes that Donald Trump's claims of massive election fraud were "baseless," the piece blandly presents Republican excuses for restricting voting as sincere but ill-informed:

In many states, GOP officeholders have also rejected policies adopted last year to make voting safer during the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that the changes were illegitimate and could have allowed for illegal voting. There was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 general election, which saw the highest voter turnout in more than a century.

Sure, the fact check is there, but the claim is allowed to stand without any suggestion that it's entirely in bad faith; another section of the piece, on the new Texas voter suppression law, notes that "State election officials told the legislature that there were no significant incidents of voter fraud," but follows that with a long quote from the bill's sponsor saying there was too a lot of fraud, as if the two statements were equally valid assessments of reality. It just continues on in that vein; reality is mentioned, but the lies aren't really labeled lies. My, how these two sides disagree!

Should Schools Prevent Deadly Infections, Or Embrace Freedom?

Finally, there's this thoughtful look at two school districts where the school boards have taken very different approaches to the new school year. In Alexandria, Virginia, the schools are requiring all students and staff to wear masks, while in Clarion, Pennsylvania, the board and school administrators never even suggested masking as an option. Both decisions were nearly unanimous (the single Clarion board member who wanted a mask mandate never said anything, because he'd rather "pick and choose my battles" as one of only two Democrats on the board.)

Again, the actual science on masking only gets mentioned well into the piece, after we learn that the board in Clarion considered masks "a capitulation to what they believe to be hysteria over a pandemic whose dangers they say are hyped up by the government and the media," while Alexandria wanted "evidence-based" policies.

How did this come to be? Well, it seems both communities "firmly believe in their respective approaches" and are certain that their position is pretty uncontroversial.

Oh yes, in this one as well, reality finally gets a mention in the seventh paragraph, which notes that Alexandria is following guidance from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, while in Clarion,

there is suspicion of those same authorities, fueled by misinformation and by some politicians and personalities who have dismissed or downplayed the coronavirus's impact. There is also frustration with restrictions that gutted local businesses and a sense that the pandemic is more of a problem for urban and suburban settings than for their rural community.

Oh, those do seem to be different approaches, then. And both approaches seem to be just fine, since so far, there hasn't been an outbreak in the Clarion schools, and we're glad to hear that. Oh, but keep reading and you'll learn that "Clarion County's coronavirus statistics are worse per capita than Alexandria's by nearly every measure."

At least in this one, the Post does make clear that the science is on the side of masking and risk prevention, so that's a comfort.

In conclusion, there are many ways to do journalism. Some people believe egregious bullshit and lying should be called out and debunked, while others consider treating two sides as basically equally valid is fair, especially if you at least mention the real facts now and then.

There are strong beliefs on both sides. Let a thousand flowers be placed on ventilators.

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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