This past Sunday, on "Meet The Press," panelist Tom Brokaw made a statement that was so utterly eye-popping that one had to conclude that it was either a clear sign that the man was showing symptoms of the early stages of senile dementia or had chosen to embark on a new career as an ignorant and horrible person:
This is not just a Democratic problem or a Republican problem -- the whole country was in on this to get us to this stage. Now, we're in a huge spending binge in this country. Everybody was along for the ride for a long, long time. President Bush started a war on a credit card. It's been going on for 10 years. We have prescription drug benefits for the seniors that are not paid for. SEC wasn't looking at what was happening on Wall Street. Democrats were pushing house ownership for people who didn't really deserve and shouldn't be buying houses. At the same time, they were not willing to step up on reforming Medicare and on Medicaid and Social Security. The country itself, they were spending money like crazy, and they were -- they'd gotten used to having Washington take care of whatever they needed.
Wow. It's usually sufficient to just submit the false equivalence into the record and be done with it. Brokaw fulfills that need admirably. The GOP is responsible for some wars and a terrible prescription drug benefit and, via the Bush-era SEC's cluelessness, the financial crisis. Then he squints his eyes and shades his point of view just enough to hang the entirety of the home ownership push on the Democrats, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure I could at least argue that they weren't the ones driving that train, and almost certainly the party that coined the term "ownership society" was. (Naturally, the Democrats are monsters for seeking to preserve Medicare and Social Security.)
But Brokaw takes things much, much further. This isn't a pox on both houses, it's a pox on the entire country! We spent money on things! Too much money, purchasing things, as if we were capitalists, or something. And every day, we live with their personal indebtedness, and the consequences of the same. But as Brokaw points out, the American people never apologized for the giant structural deficits their lawmakers incurred. I can only guess that the future book written by the man who once identified "the greatest generation" will be titled History's Greatest Monsters.
But here's a curiosity. If you handed me a listicle that contained the following items:
-- War in Afghanistan and Iraq
-- The 2008 financial collapse
-- The housing/foreclosure/credit crisis
-- The unambiguously budget-busting prescription drug program
-- The real world impact of Social Security and Medicare on ordinary Americans
I would respond, "Well, I'll phrase my answer in the form of a question, Mr. Trebek! What are important topics that the modern media was completely asleep at the switch in covering? Obviously, you omitted the massive unemployment crisis as well."
This is what the majority of our journalists believe about the debt crisis. It was created by both sides. It will have to be resolved by both sides. The American people are hugely to blame, as well. The division of responsibility is thus miraculously equal: one third to the Democrats, one third to the Republicans, one third to the public.
No distinctions between the parties are tenable. It's 50-50 all the way down. Symmetrical. Equal and opposite. Neat and clean. Exquisitely balanced.
To the press? Zero responsibility.
This is what a majority of our political journalists believe. Therefore, they should go to war for this interpretation. They should own it. For it is theirs.
They should drop the fiction of themselves as chroniclers, referees and interlocutors and get down in the muck with the rest of us. Here's what we think and goddamnit we think we're right!
That is one hundred percent correct. Journalism is about choices. With millions of Americans out of work, the press decided to put all of its labor into creating the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. Because journalists had become so inured to being led by the nose by the important people to whom they needed "access," they abandoned the American people. Their excuse? "Well, no one in Congress is doing anything about unemployment, so what's to cover?"
Way back when this whole saga started, the GOP's gambit was, "Give us what we want or we will put the full faith and credit of U.S. Treasury bonds into default." It shouldn't have been necessary to point out to the press that this was an utterly insane, from-the-furthest-reaches-of-Mars position to take. After all, the debt ceiling had been raised many, many times before, without any fuss worth mentioning. If you cannot say objectively that threatening to blow up the world's economy was an extreme position, then the word "objectivity" is meaningless.
But far from taking an immediate stand against the insanity, the press treated the threatened demise of global society as just another interesting point of view among many. It was an exciting tactic, sure to cause waves in the political waters of the Imperial City. Pop some popcorn and let's see where this takes us! Well, where it's taken us is "past the brink." Our political culture has been permanently altered. It has now been deemed an acceptable tactic, in politics, to take hostages and make demands.
By God, everyone is now so fond of having guns pointed at their heads that they've abandoned any notion of maintaining a system of governance that is remotely functional. Rather than having two elected bodies that present policy, stage debates, and take votes, lawmakers now want to offload the duty of making tough choices to a "Super Committee." And if that fails, there will be a trigger that shoots everyone where it hurts them most. That's what it takes, in 2011, for our elected officials to be forced into performing the bare minimum of their job descriptions.
It's utterly bonkers. And the press just thinks it's genius! Nowhere can you find the article titled, "The Proposed 'Super Committee' Is An Insane Idea," or the article that holds lawmakers responsible for making default threats, on the grounds that it is an objectively horrible thing to propose. You won't see these articles because the press doesn't agree with these things.
Well, as Rosen says, they should own this great mess. The media has ENDORSED: default threats on the American people as a means of making policy. The media has ENDORSED: a permanent state of governmental dysfunction. The media has ENDORSED: their own absolution in failing to adequately cover the unemployment crisis.
And their message to you? "Kiss our ass, America. You're on your own."
READ THE WHOLE THING:
"We know what our journalists believe about the debt crisis. Time for them to man up and own it." [Jay Rosen]