Chris Matthews broke a cardinal rule of phony-balance journalism on Morning Joe Monday: He stated an obvious but awkward truth -- in this case, that Mitt Romney is a race-baiter. (Watch the video below.)
Birther jokes. The false claim that the president has ended the work requirement for welfare. An insistent emphasis on Obama's supposed foreignness.
Romney and his campaign are following the well-worn path Republican presidential candidates have followed ever since Richard Nixon inaugurated the infamous Southern Strategy with appeals to "states' rights" and attacks on busing.
Matthews passionately and cogently laid it out for Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus. Priebus, of course, professed utter shock.
And -- just as predictably -- so did co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. They looked like guests at a society tea that's just been crashed by a loud drunk.
I like Morning Joe -- not least because it keeps debates civil -- and I find both Scarborough and Brzezinski very appealing. But like all too many mainstream journalists, they seem to feel bound to pretend that the two major parties are equally at fault for the sorry state of our politics.
The trouble is, this means pretending there's no difference between, say:
There is simple but ugly math behind that last point: Republicans can't win the presidency without the racist vote. So the GOP panders to racists, whether it's Ronald Reagan praising states' rights -- at the site of the murders of civil rights workers in 1964 -- or the George H.W. Bush campaign's Willie Horton ads, or Sarah Palin talking about how Barack Obama "doesn't share our values."
But Scarborough and Brzezinski, like so many of their peers, pretend they've never heard of such a thing -- and in so doing, they enable it.
Yesterday, Matthews refused to pretend.
Give fellow guest Tom Brokaw some credit for partially backing Matthews up. While disagreeing, somehow, that Romney's recent birther joke was racist, he did make the (again, obvious) point that in the Republican debates "there was a lot of stuff aimed at the President that... was not refuted by leaders of the party... 'He's a Muslim, he's a socialist, he's not an American'... "
Unfortunately Brokaw immediately followed this by invoking the mainstream reporter's bromide that Democrats are equally guilty -- a claim that is only true if it means that there are radicals on the left-wing fringe, with no role in the Democratic Party, who are as extreme as the Republican Party's core.
It's a sad development for our democracy, but the Republican Party -- the party that this year offered us Perry, Bachmann, Cain, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and now Romney-Ryan -- is no longer part of the mainstream. That's a very big story. The mainstream media must find the nerve to face it head on.
Follow Spencer Critchley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/scritchley