Earlier this year I heard a newscast on CNN begin with this intro:
"Who's more extreme? Rush Limbaugh or President Obama?"
Now, I don't want to put too much stock in cable news segways... but really? Is that even a question?
Exhibit A: Rush Limbaugh
Millionaire shock jock who has made a career out of inflammatory statements.
Exhibit B: President Obama
Nobel Peace Prize recipient who ran for President on a platform of Hope and Change.
Let me ask you CNN... who is more extreme?
CNN's ridiculous segment fits into the broader pattern of the media sacrificing truth in pursuit of balanced coverage. It supports the conventional wisdom that there are extremists on both sides of the political divide in equal measure.
The narrative is terribly, terribly wrong.
While there are undoubtedly extremists of all stars and stripes, this myth of equivalency between right and left-wing zealots is patently false in American politics and our national media environment. Today, right-wing partisans are going beyond the pale to a greater extent and far more often than their left-wing counterparts. Unfortunately, the mainstream media has peddled the myth of equivalency instead of calling a spade a spade.
This type of thinking says, "Well sure, Glenn Beck's a bit much, but so is Keith Olbermann."
On one hand, Keith Olbermann can be way over-the-top. I find it impossible to watch his show on MSNBC, despite the fact we agree on most political issues. Ditto for Michael Moore. But, while Olbermann and Moore do little to heal America's partisan divide there is no comparison between them and Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and most of the right-wing commentariat.
Glenn Beck regularly compares the Obama administration to Nazi Germany and has called on the American people to take up arms against their government. Rush Limbaugh refers to our commander-in-chief as "Imam Barack Hussein Obama", has questioned his citizenship and insinuated that he is sympathetic to Al-Qaeda.
What defines left-wing extremism anyway? A Canadian-style, single payer healthcare system? Cap-and-trade legislation? Taxing the richest Americans 39 percent of their income instead of 37 percent? That's not exactly the makings of the Bolshevik Revolution - is it?
Contrast those ideas with talk du jour on the right; interning Muslim Americans in camps (Michael Savage), revoking First Amendment rights to freedom of religion (Newt Gingrich), repealing Fourteenth Amendment rights to citizenship (Rush Limbaugh). That's some pretty heavy stuff. The right-wing media is so out there that Bill O'Reilly passes as FOX's sensible elder statesman nowadays.
The myth of equivalency between right and left has a devastating effect on policy debates. It is why we talk about death panels instead of healthcare and anchor babies instead of immigration. When members of the media let their quest for balance overshadow the truth then they are no longer fulfilling their role as public watchdogs. Instead, they are helping to propagate the same misinformation they should be disproving. We cannot expect to have a sensible political discussion in America until they change that paradigm.
Until then all we can do is remind CNN that Rush Limbaugh is more extreme than President Obama. It's a shame we have to answer that question.
Contact Jeremy Berrington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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