Tucker Carlson launched his new website, The Daily Caller, today. He says he wants it to be like HuffPost, which he told the Wall Street Journal he reads every day. That's not why I said yes when he invited me to write a post for his opening day -- but it didn't hurt.
Predictably, his new site has been positioned in the media as "the conservative answer to The Huffington Post," just as, when we launched, we were positioned as "the progressive answer to Drudge."
But I was glad to hear him say that he is "trying to think through what comes next in journalism." As he and his team are thinking that through, I hope they'll keep in mind that one of the greatest contributions the digital media can make is to counter the traditional media's obsession with looking at every issue through the cobweb-covered lens of right vs. left.
Last year at CPAC, Carlson said that journalists "need to get out, find out what's going on, and not just analyze things based on what the mainstream media has reported." That's particularly true when the mainstream media are reporting and analyzing the news of the day in terms of right vs. left -- the fallback canard of lazy journalism everywhere.
Anyone looking at today's political landscape with clear eyes can see that on issue after issue -- the war in Afghanistan, the bailout, health care, the war on drugs, etc, etc -- the binary division of the debate into right vs. left obscures more than it reveals.
John McCain and Maria Cantwell are joining forces to bring back Glass-Steagall-type banking regulations. Ron Paul and Alan Grayson are pushing through legislation to audit the Fed. George Will agrees with Russ Feingold that we should not escalate in Afghanistan. Howard Dean and Michael Bloomberg are both down on the health care bill. And on and on it goes.
The outrageous news last week that the New York Fed under Tim Geithner told AIG to withhold from the public key details about payments that put billions of dollars into the coffers of major Wall Street players, including Goldman Sachs, offers a perfect example of just how archaic the right vs. left framing is.
Many progressives, including me, have been very critical of the administration's coddling of Wall Street. Indeed, I called for Geithner's resignation back in March. But, as of late, the loudest calls for further investigation of the AIG bailout - and Geithner's role in it - have come from Republican lawmakers including Rep. Darrell Issa (who blogged about it on HuffPost) and Sen. Charles Grassley.
Yet, afflicted with a kind of mental Tourette's, the traditional media just can't help shouting "Right" or "Left" any time a contentious issue arises.
Take Ron Brownstein. Writing about the fight over health care in the National Journal, he declared that those who oppose the bill - which he admits "bears all the scars and imperfections of its arduous advance" -- are either members of a furious right or of what he dubs, by turns, the "aggrieved left" and the "internet-based left."
Sounds pretty extreme. And fringe-y.
But according to a Quinnipiac poll taken last month, 53 percent of the country disapproves of the health care bill. So, is over half the country furious right-wingers or aggrieved lefties? Or are they, y'know, the majority of the American people?
Of course, it's so much easier for the mainstream media to designate themselves as being in the center and assign anyone who disagrees with them to the fringe -- the fringe right or the fringe left. Even if that's over half the country.
We should be used to this -- after all, for years now most of the country has been opposed to the war in Iraq yet, in the traditional media, that opposition is assigned only to the left.
In the New York Times, Adam Nagourney writes of "a time of strains between Mr. Obama and the left. Mr. Obama has come under fire on several fronts, like health care [and] escalation of the war in Afghanistan."
According to a CNN poll, 55 percent of the country opposes the war in Afghanistan, but the strain is only between Obama and "the left?"
Or does the left now include George Will, who recently chided "Obama's halfhearted embrace of a half-baked non-strategy" in Afghanistan or former Bush State Department official Richard Haass who says, "If Afghanistan were a war of necessity, it would justify any level of effort. It is not and does not."?
Carlson originally supported the war in Iraq. But a year after the invasion, he told the New York Observer: "I think it's a total nightmare and disaster, and I'm ashamed that I went against my own instincts in supporting it. It's something I'll never do again. Never."
Does this make him part of "the left"? The "aggrieved left"? Or, given his new endeavor, "the internet-based left"? Or does it just point up how ridiculous this framing is? And how about the argument yesterday between George Will and Liz Cheney about both terrorism and our response to racism: did Liz Cheney represent the right and George Will the left? Mostly, it showed that the fault line no longer runs cleanly down the middle of the political spectrum.
I have no doubt that there will be many things on The Daily Caller that I disagree with, just as I am sure there are many things on HuffPost that Tucker disagrees with. But I hope that there will also be many things that we can agree on -- the kind of things we file on HuffPost as "Beyond Left and Right."
I hope that sort of thinking is a big part of "what comes next in journalism."