New York Times Drives ‘Both Sides’ Journalism Over The Cliff

The New York Times building

The New York Times building on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Pushing the implausible claim that America faces symmetric threats to democracy today from conservatives and liberals, the New York Times' Nate Cohn on Monday uncorked a wildly misguided Both Sides foray that highlighted the anxious tradition of the Beltway media to position Republicans and Democrats as being equally at fault for today's political turmoil.

Instead of forcefully pointing out the conservative movement's dangerous and proud turn toward authoritarianism and paramilitary violence, Cohn tried to argue that what's happening with extreme polarization represents a move towards "political sectarianism," and that the right and left are now caught up in a ceaseless war featuring equal attacks from each side. At every turn, Cohn could only find examples of right-wing behavior that threatens our democracy, yet he insisted Both Sides were to blame.

Here's his bewildering opening paragraph [emphasis added]:

New limits on voting rights. The corrosive effect of misinformation. The rise of domestic terrorism. Foreign interference in elections. Efforts to subvert the peaceful transition of power. And making matters worse on all of these issues is a fundamental truth: The two political parties see the other as an enemy.

After detailing the many threats Republicans pose to democracy, Cohn announces Both Sides are to blame for the political suspicion in this country, or the rising sectarianism. Cohn notes that the term is often associated with violent, religious-based conflicts, such as Sunnis vs. Shiites in Iraq, or Catholics vs. Protestants in Northern Ireland. He stresses that with sectarianism, there becomes clearly defined generational hatred between identity groups: "It's the antagonistic feelings between the groups, more than differences over ideas, that drive sectarian conflict."

Cohn frames American politics today as the battle between two unbending factions. But it's not. Instead, it features a struggle between a mainstream center-left party trying to pass an infrastructure bill, and a party that has divorced itself from reality, embraced a cult-like devotion to a pathological liar in Trump, opposes free and fair elections (and welcomes foreign interference), sponsored a deadly insurrection, surrendered itself to lunatic ravings of a conspiratorial Q cabal, and spent the last year spreading deadly misinformation about a public health crisis.

Instead of a generational battle underway, what's unfolding in America is a specific reaction to the Republican Party's aggressive embrace of anti-democratic and racist initiatives, as led by Trump. Liberals aren't alarmed and vocal because they were taught by their parents to despise conservatives. They're alarmed and vocal because of what they've seen unfold everyday for the last five years, and they're watching the extremist trends continue unabated.

Look at this astonishing passage, as Cohn strains to Both Sides everything in sight:

That contention helps make sense of a lot of what's been going on in American politics in recent years, including Donald J. Trump's successful presidential bid, President Biden's tortured effort to reconcile his inaugural call for "unity" with his partisan legislative agenda, and the plan by far-right House members to create a congressional group that would push some views associated with white supremacy.

In Cohn's eyes, Biden's inability to bring "unity" to the country is on par with Republican members of the House weighing the idea of starting a white supremacy caucus. Forget that Cohn uses the media's ridiculous "unity" charade to attack Biden (when he ran for office promoting "unity," Biden wasn't signaling he'd abandon his agenda in order to placate Republicans), it's disturbing that Beltway journalists can't see how those two examples of behavior by Biden and far-right members of Congress are in no way similar. (Note that Cohn also equates MSNBC with Fox News.)

He goes on: "[Sectarianism's] an outlook that makes compromise impossible and encourages elected officials to violate norms in pursuit of an agenda or an electoral victory."

So the reason every Republican member of the House and Senate voted against the Covid relief bill was because they view Democrats as the enemy? Even though the bill enjoyed overwhelming public support. The reason every Republican will likely vote against the infrastructure bill is because they see Democrats as the enemy? Even though that bill also enjoys bipartisan support. The reason Republicans categorically oppose every common-sense gun safety bill as America drowns in mass murders is because Republicans view Democrats as the enemy?

What have mainstream Democrats done to cause Republicans to view them as monsters, to demonize them? Cohn doesn't provide a single example or insight, which suggests that's not what's happening with today's radical Republican Party.

In an effort to normalize the increasingly extreme and dangerous actions of Republicans, Cohn stresses, "the minority often poses a challenge to democracy in a sectarian society. It's the minority who bears the costs, whether material or psychological, of accepting majority rule in a democracy. In the extreme, rule by a hostile, alien group might not feel much different than being subjugated by another nation."

In other words, conservatives and Republican supporters are anxious about being in the political minority under Biden, which is why they're acting out and posing a threat to democracy. Right, but Democrats just spent four years in the minority during the Trump presidency and Cohn can't point to a single instance of anti-democratic behavior by them.

The media's biggest challenge during the Biden administration is being honest and accurate about today's extremist Republican Party. It's a test the press continues to fail.


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