The death of “bothsidesism” in journalism and its less-educated social media cousin “whataboutism.”
And what is “bothsidesism?”
To quote conservative American Enterprise Institute scholar Norm Ornstein it’s “a larger ingrained journalistic habit that tries mightily to avoid any hint of reporting bias…the reflexive ‘we report both sides of every story,’ even to the point that one side is given equal weight not supported by reality.”
Ornstein’s thoughts are in a five-year-old essay published in “The Atlantic.”
Ornstein continued: “Saying both sides are equally responsible, insisting on equivalence as the mantra of mainstream journalism, leaves the average voter at sea, unable to identify and vote against those perpetrating the problem. The public is left with a deeper disdain for all politics and all politicians, and voters become more receptive to demagogues and those whose main qualification for office is that they have never served, won’t compromise, and see everything in stark black-and-white terms.”
Veteran newspaper editor Geneva Overholser expands on Ornstein’s thoughts in this Nieman Lab piece, taking to task her former employers at “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post”.
[I]n day-to-day political reporting, the Times is hopelessly stuck in the past. Its proud allegiance to presenting “both sides” in a time of political breakdown renders it a handmaiden to the degradation of truth.
Here’s a recent example: One politician makes an appeal to hold a president accountable. Another responds by telling the first to put aside partisan politics. One statement will stand as historic; the other is nonsense. But the reporter solemnly adds: “But the appeals to rise above the tribalism of the moment from the two veteran lawmakers fell on deaf ears.” The distortions in the name of balance grow more painful as the article continues.
If you’ve spent any time on social media, you are familiar with “whataboutism.”
This poorer relation shows up in the comments sections of posts on the various social media sites.
A post may note the number of mass shootings committed by white men across the country and the “whatabouter” points to one incident that involved a minority gunman.
The goal is to try and change the subject or negate the original (true) observation.
Both have to go.