IT'S TOO EARLY - AND WRONG - TO BURY THE DEMOCRATS
I WOKE THIS WEEK to a kind of advance obituary, a pre-funeral dirge that was blasting from the radio next to the bed. It sounded depressingly
familiar. Here are the basics of the story:
Who: As in, who's almost dead?
Answer: Democrats who control Congress.
What: What’s ailing them?
How: How's the prognosis:?
When: When will it happen?
Answer: Nov. 8, mid-term Election Day.
No one should have to wake up to this.
It’s Spring, and the first thing you want to hear in the morning are songs by our feathered partner-creatures, chipping their little brains out in the backyard. Absent that, how about a joyful chorus from the street, garbage crews banging the rubbish cans slowly as they they make their weekly rounds.
Frankly, anything would be preferable to the relentless river of gloom pouring out of the radio:
Democrats are toast, America.
And there’s nothing you can do about it.
In fact, the only uncertainty according this sort of "news" is who’ll get to the cemetery first: the squabbling, clueless congressional Democrats, or their stumble-bum geezer-leader, Joe Biden, the almost octogenarian, whose shelf-life had expired even before he was sworn in Jan. 20, 2021.
This funeral run-through was conducted by two undertakers: A Martinez (“A” is his first name, no period), who is a host for NPR’s “Morning Edition” program, and “Charlie” Cook, introduced as “a political analyst.”
Martinez got things rolling by lamenting the calamity of the government’s March inflation report, which he described as “the worst” in decades. (I'd have preferred a neutral adjective, like “highest”).
Cook opined that “inflation has an enormous, enormous impact on people,” (Isn't one “enormous" enough?). Cook said Democrats would try to divert the country’s attention from inflation by crowing about the low unemployment rate. But that was a fool’s errand, since only the unemployed care about unemployment stats, Cook said; whereas, inflation affects one-hundred percent of everybody.
Here’s more from the NPR transcript:
OKAY, ENOUGH of that. Maybe you’re wondering if I think there’s a problem here.
Yes, there are enormous, enormous problems. This was one-sided reporting. It told only half the story, in addition to being unfair, misleading and dangerous.
First, it's true that Democrats could lose both houses of Congress in November. Inflation, indeed, is Worry # 1 for many voters, especially those for whom a missed rent or mortgage payment could make them homeless.
Then there’s Joe Biden’s “popularity.”
As of this writing, Biden’s approval rating is only 43.3 percent; 51.8 percent disapprove. Better figures are for, guess who: D. J. Trump, 44.9 percent approve; 50.4 percent don’t.
Covid remains a killer – 513 deaths every day, and the country is closing in on the 1 million mark for the pandemic total. Eco-Cassandras are predicting the end of the planet any day, unless Vladimir Putin hurries it along by lobbing a couple of nukes at those scrappy Ukrainians.
So, you can argue that Martinez and Cook were on the money, giving it to us straight, the bad with the badder; unblinking, just the facts, life is hard, then your party dies reporting. It's just regular old-fashioned objective, journalism. Don't like it? Turn off the radio.
Which is enormously, enormously wrong.
What was being served was costume journalism, reporters dressing up as fair, fact-based and objective messengers, when actually their stories - repeated over and over and over - abet a toxic outcome, not just for Democrats, but for democracy.
LET ME START with with a relatively minor point. The NPR interview made it sound like Biden is helpless in confronting inflation. But my own experience – and yours, too, if you own a car, motor scooter or gas-powered lawn mower – shows the opposite.
In mid-March, Biden did what most presidents do when gas prices rise: released oil from the national reserves, hoping an increase in supply would force prices down. Did Biden succeed?
I looked over my recent gas receipts. On March 18, a few days after Biden’s announcement, I paid $4.43 a gallon. A month later, the price dropped to $4.09. That’s 34-cents less, for a savings, if I bought 10 gallons, of $3.40. The price went down 4-cents a little later. Gas is still expensive, but shouldn't Biden get a little credit for “feeling our pain” and supplying an aspirin or two? Did I hear anything about that from the NPR doomsayers? Nope, Martinez and Cook were going full alarm in their “Morning Edition” version of the Doomsday Clock.
NOW, LET’S REVIEW MARTINEZ’S election day scenario. He imagined a voter, enraged by being “gouged” first at the supermarket, then at the gas pump, storming into the "voting center" to take his revenge on the Democrats.
But, is that the only possible scenario?
I know at least one voter for whom this isn't true.
When I vote, I’ll be furious, not about inflation, but at the thought of Republicans in control of Congress. Long ago, Republicans belonged to a legitimate political party, but now they're a seditious cult. These are people who nearly brought down our government on Jan. 6, and who are hoping to do so in the future.
It bothers me that Martinez and Cook were insistent that inflation would rule the election, when it’s possible – maybe not likely, but possible – that others will have the same motives that I do when they vote.
Maybe a bunch of voters will share my continuing gratitude to Joe Biden for defeating Donald Trump, the worst president in history and one of the world’s most vile leaders. Maybe they'll agree with my increasing admiration for the way Old Joe has restored sanity and competence to the federal government.
Don’t get me wrong. Joe’s not perfect. He’s made mistakes, and he'll make lots more. There's no such thing as a perfect president, both because (most) presidents are human, and because the job is impossible for any man or woman to do completely error-free. But you just have to compare Joe’s Supreme Court pick, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the three scoundrels Trump imposed on our and future generations to understand the stakes in November and 2024.
Maybe there are more voters than Charlie Cook thinks, who are disgusted by how Republicans have condoned Trump’s stolen election Big Lie. There could be voters who object to how the GOP smeared Jackson, pretended that the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol was a tourists’ picnic; who are bullying transgender kids and turning classrooms into culture war battlegrounds.
HERE'S ANOTHER THING that alarmed me about the Martinez-Cook Doom Report. There was no hint in their discussion of what it means if the election is won by Republicans.
It matters who wins. The elections are not a meaningless contest in which it doesn’t matter who wins: whether the Red Shirts defeat the Blue Shirts, AT&T sells more iPhones than Verizon and who smacked whom at the Academy Awards.
Donald Trump and his zombie Republicans want to turn our country into an authoritarian hell.
I DON’T EXPECT MARTINEZ-COOK or any story or any news organization to carry the Democrats’ water or lionize Joe Biden. But they should note the peril if the balance of power changes, just like we expect weather forecasters to tell us when the hurricane that's on its way is more than just a rain storm.
The Martinez-Cook discussion is just one example of what we hear, read and watch every day: supposedly fact-based journalism that documents Democrats’ failures and their inevitable defeats, without mentioning the looming threat of a Trumpian dictatorship.
The cumulative effect of this defeat-is-certain news could also have an unintended result: discouraging Democratic and Independent voters from showing up at the polls. If it’s a foregone certainty that Democrats and Biden can’t win, why bother?
All of which means we'll wake up one morning, and there won’t be any authentic news coming out our beside radio, only the sound of songbirds in the backyard, and the rubbish crews doing their thing out front.
The Republicans will see to it.
4/17/2022 07:04:21 am
Brian, you nailed it, and thanks for writing. It is so depressing to witness the endless rending of garments among the journalistic woke. I mean, WTF? I have to think they are aware of all the dire possibilities you list and are scared shitless, so they think by getting all apocalyptic they will motivate independents to embrace the one truth faith, or something. It's nonsense. They're not considering the upcoming hearings and trials, the fact Biden will move heaven and earth to bring inflation down, and growing pressure against Fox and the right-wing lie machine. One of the reasons I left DC was the pack reporting. They live and die by the conventional wisdom. And finally, I just went through a 30-minute poll, apparently on behalf of McKee, which left me really angry. The questions are so structured that it's very hard to give a true answer, and saying "I don't know enough about that to answer" is not an option. So what are we really measuring? After 2020 the same sheep reporters were bitching endlessly about how awful polling had become, and yet we're right back at near-daily poll reports allegedly shaping the discourse. I could go on for hours, but well done! and Happy Easter.
Brian C Jones
4/17/2022 10:55:37 am
I actually didn't mean this to be a press critique, especially because I think Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post has been an early and consistent town crier. As I think about it, NPR and PBS NewsHour, which are excellent otherwise, are among the worst offenders of destructively "neutral," bloodless political analysis. I wish the would worry less about convincing the right they aren't biased, and look more deeply about what it means to be reporting in the age of Trump.
4/17/2022 11:33:55 am
A cheerful column, in a way. You express hope that Americans do care about their real freedom and will turn aside the authoritarians. I think (or hope) that can happen. Lots of work remains.
Brian C Jones
4/17/2022 11:47:47 am
5/27/2022 11:11:43 pm
Glad to see a positive, optimistic piece from you.
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BRIAN C. JONES