False Equivalency Around the Government Shutdown

Friday, October 04, 2013


With the federal government grinding to a halt this week, the specter of false equivalency rose up around the media landscape. The Atlantic’s James Fallows talked to Brooke about his quest to have the media stop over-prizing ‘objectivity’ and start communicating reality.


James Fallows

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [17]

Marc from New York


Fallows comment is the counter to the general false equivalency often used by media, not the final arbiter. When commentators speak of political issues, they never seem to speak objectively about those issues even when we have irrefutable evidence of someone words or actions.

Example: Republicans have been recorded saying they were willing to shut down the government to dismantle/defund the AFA, some even saying they are looking forward to doing it. And a few who are on record as saying they are glad they did it. No Democrats are on rcord as wanting to shut down the government. The Democrats have called for a clean resolution (one which already operated under a compromise solution). Republicans now blame Democrats for the shutdown, even though it is the Speaker of the House who blocks a vote on a clean CR. Most of the Pundits out there still blame both sides equally for the shutdown despite the verifiable record of who has been angling for the shutdown from the beginning.

Oct. 11 2013 07:31 AM

dale. I did cite Sowell as the source for the part he was responsible for. Sorry, pal.

Oct. 08 2013 11:32 PM

plagiarize much?

reads amazingly like Thomas Sowell's published rant. at least attribute your source if you don't have an original thought of your own...

Oct. 08 2013 02:21 PM

striking segment illustrating the false equivalency and James Fallows quest to have the media stop over-prizing ‘objectivity’ and start communicating reality...how perfect hearing only his perspective voiced to inform the listener...with such editorial control not to have a counter weight to Fallows view, the hosts/program clearly agrees with his comments, only reinforcing Brook's statement about the liberal leaning media...all hail as Fallows is the final and sole arbiter of the narrative therefore there is no need to foster curiosity...so sad for npr’s tattered reputation and its otherwise, informed listeners

Oct. 06 2013 08:37 PM

Maybe we should all take a step back:


FORD: 10

Oct. 06 2013 08:14 PM

Well how about that?


Oct. 06 2013 08:09 PM
Martha Crunkleton from California

Thank you so much for airing this segment. Mr. Fallows description is acute and accurate. For an excellent piece of reporting (not mentioned in this segment) on why we are where we are, please read Elizabeth Drew's article in the current New York Review of Books, "The Stranglehold on our Politics".

Oct. 06 2013 06:07 PM
Katherine from Brooklyn, NY

Thank you for this segment! Finally, FINALLY, NPR and other media outlets are starting to report on the FACTS of the shutdown rather than blaming both sides. The Tea Party Republicans in the House, one small segment of our government, is infuriated that the Affordable Care Act has become law, so they're attempting now to defund it, insisting that it's a bad law before it's even gotten started. If "the American people", whom they claim to represent, are so dead-set against it, why are millions of people trying to sign up for it? The TP reps are afraid that Americans will grow to love and depend on it as they do Social Security and Medicare.

Whether Tea Party Republicans see the light or not really doesn't matter--when have they ever paid attention to facts? What we also know is that the TP House representatives took a pledge to Grover Norquist (a man with immense, undeserved power) to shrink the government until there is nothing left, and that they've been bought by the Koch brothers and powerful corporations who would like nothing more than to do away with any regulations.

The real fight will begin if the shutdown lasts until Oct. 17, when the government is unable to pay its bills without raising the debt ceiling. The list of demands that Boehner intends to present to Obama at that time, in return for a one-year suspension of the debt ceiling (quoted below from an article by Joshua Holland at BillMoyers.com) is mind-blowing and hair-rising and amounts to a hostile takeover of our government:

"In return for a one-year suspension of the debt ceiling, House Republicans are demanding a yearlong delay of Obamacare, adoption of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s tax-reform plan, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, more offshore oil drilling, more drilling on federally protected lands, looser regulations around ash coal, a suspension of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of carbon emissions, more power over the regulatory process in general, reform of the federal employee retirement program, changes to the Dodd-Frank Act, more power over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s budget, repeal of the Social Services block grant, expanded means-testing for Medicare benefits, repeal of the public health trust fund and more."

The House knows they won't get all of it, but that they're even starting from this radical point is crazy. TP voters will start screaming when the government "touches" their Medicare and Social Security. Maybe some of them will even admit that their representatives don't give a damn about them.

Oct. 06 2013 11:50 AM
John from Texas

Read the conservative listeners' comments here...

not one of them can admit the truth discussed in the segment:
that a CLEAN CR would pass the "REPUBLICAN CONTROLLED HOUSE" AND the Senate, if a clean CR were actually put up for a vote!

The shutdown is ENTIRELY a Republican concoction, NO DOUBT ABOUT IT!!

The rabid right really needs to spend a little time combing the ____ out of their hair!

Oct. 06 2013 09:45 AM

This segment was almost laughable. In every news source that I consumed this week, including NPR, there was no objectivity. It was clearly put on the shoulders of the GOP. It was a constant loop of the President getting up there and making comments about disaster scenarios mixed with a plethora of comments from everyday people who used an alarmingly similar phraseology "tea party hostage situation" in their rhetoric. I'm not sure what Mr. Fallows was watching, but we clearly had the opposite experience. In fact, I was sick of it being so one-sided that I tuned out by Thursday evening.

Oct. 06 2013 09:13 AM
paul from panama city beach, fl

To make myself inescapably clear : I do not want the media to tell me who is right. I want them to tell me what is happening.

Individuals like Mr. Fallows would have us believe that the unprecedented nature of the shutdown or that the speaker's ability, willingness, our lack thereof, to bring a clean CR is the story. Wrong. For whatever reason, speaker Boehner feels it necessary to follow the path laid out. And he does so with the approbation of his members and of of the founding fathers in as much as they have given congress the right; 1) to set the rules for governing itself-which is why 'deem and pass' worked-and, 2) the power of the purse-which necessarily includes the right to NOT spend money.

Mr. Fallows, and others who hue and cry about "false equivalency" in the media always do so with a particular political point of view-that "the media" should embrace it's political nature. Again, wrong. In a world full of bloggers, pundits, radio and tv show hosts, politicians, etc. the very purpose of the mainstream media is to "bend over backwards" to remove to taint of partisan influence.

So yes, I would say all IS fair in love and war-it HAS to be. If the media is to parse any congressional motivation, they are to parse every congressional motivation, and that will quickly exceed ther public's desire to stay informed, low as is already.

Oct. 06 2013 06:41 AM

Sigh. This is one of Brooke’s favorite memes: “reality has a liberal bias.” Not surprisingly, she brought this up during the last debt ceiling debate:
In this segment she only implies it. But she doesn’t have to: she can get a former Jimmy Carter speechwriter to do it for her. So the argument seems to be the Boehner could’ve avoided this by bringing a clean CR to a vote. It obviously would’ve passed, and we never would have been here.
True! But what follows leaves out is that it is also the House of Representatives' right to grant or withhold money. All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives, which means that Congressmen there have a right to decide whether or not they want to spend money on a particular government activity. Whether ObamaCare is good, bad or indifferent is a matter of opinion. But it is a matter of fact that members of the House of Representatives have a right to make spending decisions based on their opinion.
ObamaCare is indeed "the law of the land," as its supporters keep saying, and the Supreme Court has upheld its Constitutionality. But the whole point of having a division of powers within the federal government is that each branch can decide independently what it wants to do or not do, regardless of what the other branches do, when exercising the powers specifically granted to that branch by the Constitution. So Fallows blames the Republicans (though it really isn’t only Republicans who were voting this way!) because they’re voting their conscience rather than agreeing with Fallows.
But he left something very important out of his analysis: The hundreds of thousands of government workers who have been laid off are not idle because the House of Representatives did not vote enough money to pay their salaries or the other expenses of their agencies -- unless they are in an agency that would administer ObamaCare. We know who had the option to keep the government running and chose not to. The money voted by the House of Representatives covered everything that the government does, except for ObamaCare. If Senator Reid and President Obama refuse to accept the money required to run the government, because it leaves out the money they want to run ObamaCare, that is their right. But that is also their responsibility. As Thomas Sowell says, “You cannot blame other people for not giving you everything you want. And it is a fraud to blame them when you refuse to use the money they did vote, even when it is ample to pay for everything else in the government. When Barack Obama keeps claiming that it is some new outrage for those who control the money to try to change government policy by granting or withholding money, that is simply a bald-faced lie. You can check the history of other examples of "legislation by appropriation" as it used to be called.”

Oct. 05 2013 04:36 PM
marty siegrist from Lansing, MI

Thank you for this segment. I am fed up with the government shutdown, and with the false equivalency reporting that surrounds it. I had believed that the Republicans were primarily (if not all) to blame for the impasse. That belief was bolstered by this interview--the second time this week that I've heard that Speaker Boehner refused to simply allow the Senate bill to be voted on in the House. To allow a minority within one party to dictate what can and cannot be discussed or brought to a vote is cowardly. To assert that legislation would be somehow flawed if it were to pass only because of bipartisan support is to make a mockery of the concept of republican government.

Oct. 05 2013 07:25 AM
Carol from Red Bank, NJ

Here, Here for James Fallow's analysis of the media's coverage on the gov't shutdown

Oct. 05 2013 07:22 AM


"All is fair in (political) love and war."

The equivocation proposed that the tactics Republican legislators have adopted justify any and all resulting harm as moral byproduct.

As is oft the case in war, the justice professed in the justification are nowhere found in the execution- with victims ranging far beyond the partisans. If we are to have a productive political franchise, our assessment of circumstance must exceed the bounds of trite truisms.

Answering the health care conundrum has long been thwarted by demands to concede pragmatism to ideologic values. At long last, this legislation, the ACA- a response, in part, to impending national financial doom -has propelled the issue into common concern; yet, the opportunity presented by so many motivated parties to craft something effective is being squandered.

Is all fair? No- no it is not. The ACA, failing on many levels, inspires no love. For those who have long gone without healthcare, however, there is more than gratitude: the difference is not about favor, but life and death.

What we have now is an imperfect answer; the onus is on those who respond with neither love nor gratitude to offer something better- and this war is not it.

Oct. 05 2013 04:29 AM

Paul, your equivocation proposes that a failure of the democratic process that brought us the ACA justifies the tactics Republican legislators have elected- that any and all resulting harm are a necessary byproduct.

As is oft the case in the referenced war, there is no justice in the justification here, and victims range far beyond the partisans. If we are to have a productive political franchise, our assessment of circumstance must exceed the bounds of trite truisms.

The conundrum of finding health care solutions that concede to ideologic values has long thwarted answer. At long last, this legislation- a response to impending national financial doom -has propelled the issue into common concern. The opportunity presented by so many motivated parties to craft something effective is being squandered.

Is all fair? No- no it is not.

Oct. 05 2013 04:08 AM
paul from panama city beach, fl

True, the particular demands of conservatives are unprecedented vis-a-vis the shutdown.
But I wonder how questionable it is to implement such MAJOR LEGISLATION via "deem and pass"?

All's fair in love and war?

Oct. 05 2013 03:24 AM

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