08/04/2010 01:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Right-Left Equivalency and the Inside-the-Beltway Stupidity of Howard Kurtz

In The Washington Post on Monday, media critic Howard Kurtz, whom I generally find fairly innocuous, had an appallingly stupid piece in which he lamented "journalism as blood sport, performed for the masses," and stated that the problem is the "crossfire culture" generally, with each side, left as well as right, guilty of "hyper-partisanship," "vituperation," and "ugly attacks," whether it's Breitbart, Beck, Palin, Gingrich, Buchanan, O'Reilly, or Erickson on the right or Dean, Walsh, Weigel, Olbermann, Carville, or Spitzer on the left.

And who gets it? Who understand the problem, according to Kurtz? Why, David Brooks, conservative at The New York Times, and John Harris and Jim VandeHei, editors of right-leaning Politico. That's the equivalency argument here. Both sides are guilty, but the sensible middle that Kurtz celebrates is really the center-right. What a distortion. No wonder anyone on the left -- and Kurtz's villains of the left are hardly wild radicals -- is compared to, and considered the same as, anyone on the extremist right.

There isn't much to say about this equivalency argument. It's popular in mainstream Washington, especially at the Post, where David Broder remains its champion. But who on the left is akin to Limbaugh or Hannity? Is it Olbermann? Really? I acknowledge that the rhetoric on both sides can be uncivilized, but when has he or any of his peers, such as Maddow, ever expressed the sort of venom and bigotry you hear on a regular basis from "mainstream" conservatives like Limbaugh and Hannity? One oft-cited exception is Michael Moore, but what has he ever said to compare to what, say, Beck says on a nightly basis? Moore sometimes goes too far in his efforts to uncover right-wing conspiracies, and sometimes overstates his case, but he isn't a racist and doesn't resort to the sort of ad hominem and propagandistic viciousness that characterizes most of today's GOP and conservative media machine.

If anything, all the left is doing -- and, again, we're not talking here about the far left (Carville and Spitzer are hardly radicals), which is generally shunned by the Democratic establishment (for example, Ralph Nader, as well as Moore) -- is responding to the attacks of the right. Presumably, in the name of journalism, Kurtz would rather liberals just rolled over and let conservatives have their way. But with all the power Fox News, Breitbart, and right-wing talk radio wield, what are they -- what are we -- to do?

For more on Kurtz's piece, let me quote Digby's post in its entirety:

Howard Kurtz is an utter fool for finding equivalence between Shirley Sherrod, Howard Dean, Joan Walsh and Andrew Breitbart for any number of reasons. I would defend Joan on this, but she's done it perfectly well for herself, and she makes the right point about Dean as well. He is not a journalist. Indeed, among those four named above the only one is Walsh and she is perfectly correct in labeling FOX racist when, among other things, they just spent two weeks ginning up a story about "black panthers" which has no basis and which can only be seen as a tool to sow racist animus.

What makes me want to slam my head into a wall repeatedly is the notion that there is any equivalence between Breitbart and Sherrod. It's so offensive on so many levels that I can only assume that Kurtz believes that Sherrod rightly pointing out that Breitbart is a racist is the same as Breitbart wrongly pointing out that Sherrod is one. I've seen cases of he said/ she said before, but this really takes the cake.

Unless you are a person who believes that racism doesn't exist --- or subscribe to some philosophical view that one can never know if someone else is a racist unless they come right out and admit it --- then this is an insulting position for any rational person to take. Sherrod's own words and deeds speak for themselves. And regardless of what's in his heart, Breitbart's do as well. Any fudging of the lines between the two is an act of intellectual obtuseness and/or moral cowardice.

Yes, that's right. According to Kurtz, Sherrod is just as bad as Breitbart. Both are part of the problem, even though it was Sherrod who was dragged through the mud, character and career destroyed, by Breitbart and Fox News and who had every right to be angry about it, and who isn't a journalist.

It's obtuseness and cowardice, but it's also the expression of a narrative that plays right into the hands of the right, which is why Brooks and Politico are promoting it. Jon Stewart objected to "crossfire" journalism too, of course, but what he objected to specifically was the destructive dynamic of CNN's show Crossfire, with right and left just arguing with each other for no other point but the argument itself. This is different. This, let's be clear, is about left and right being essentially the same thing, each an equal part of the problem regardless of the actual merits of what is being said on either side. In this sense, if Limbaugh says something racist, which he often does, and Olbermann simply calls him out on it, both Limbaugh and Olbermann are equally at fault for being hyper-partisan and un-journalistic.

Stupid? Yes, of course it's stupid -- dangerously, ignorantly stupid -- but it's what the likes of Howard Kurtz think passes for above-the-fray superiority, allowing them to feel good about themselves while they turn their eyes from what's actually going on, like the bad journalists they are, and enable conservatives to turn political discourse into a cesspool of right-wing poison.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)