Monday, December 6, 2010

Neither Fair, Nor Balanced

If Fox News were to air a segment in which a talking head from, say, the Family Research Council was interviewed alongside some creep from the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) about lowering or eliminating altogether the age of consent, would you consider it, thereby, an episode of fair and balanced reporting?  The visual image would certainly suggest that it was: Two men, from opposing positions, asked essentially the same questions, allotted equal amounts of time to answer.  They report, you decide.  Right?

Wrong.  It would neither be fair nor balanced because the whole presentation would leave you with the impression that the issue was a more or less 50-50 proposition, reflecting, as it were, a similar division of opinion across the country.  That impression would be incorrect because, as we know even without polling data to prove it, the real disposition of opinion is more like 99-1 (or even less than 1) against lowering the age.  Therefore, airing the episode in the manner I suggested would, in effect, communicate a falsehood.

I say all this to point out a similar problem with a piece by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat praising the efforts of the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission. (BTW, for this piece and another he penned last week about ideology and partisanship, I'm placing Douthat alongside David Brooks and several other "conservatives" in the "take'em-with-a-grain-of-salt" category.)   

In the piece, Douthat breaks down the issue of tackling the deficit into the need for simultaneously raising taxes, or increasing revenue as liberals euphemistically call it, and cutting spending.  No real news there, but he presents the champions of both positions, liberals for raising taxes and conservatives for cutting spending, as basically two entrenched antagonists who, sooner or later, must compromise if they are to save the country from fiscal ruin.

But that, like my imaginary Fox News segment, misrepresents the problem entirely.

Does anyone still seriously think, other than a few from the shrinking and recalcitrant Left, that our problem is essentially one of taxing too little, that we don't send enough money to Washington already?  What makes the efforts of the Bowles-Simpson Commission laudable thus far is that even its leaders, a tax-and-spend Democrat and a tax-and-spend-just-a-bit-less Republican, agree that the lion's share of the problem is over-spending, that for every $1 of tax increases, there must be something like $3 of decreased spending.

To frame the issue, as Douthat does, as one in which both sides are caricatured as stubborn adolescents who, wether they realize it or not, will one day have to meet in the middle, is not only wrong because, in the end, it aids and abets the Left, it's wrong because it's not true.  And because it not true, neither will it solve our problem.

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