False equivalencies are the real ‘shame’

Long time readers may recall that I had some concerns about Ron Fournier’s coverage of the 2008 presidential race, back when he was the AP’s Washington bureau chief. The high-profile political reporter, who admitted in 2007 that he entered talks to join the McCain campaign as a paid staffer, and later sent encouraging emails to Karl Rove, covered the Obama-McCain race with a series of questionable pieces.

Fournier is now with National Journal, publishing pieces like these on the breakdown of the super-committee process.

Shame.

Shame on Republicans for a stubborn unwillingness to seriously consider tax increases.

Shame on Democrats for keeping a closed mind to significant benefit cuts.

And shame on President Obama for standing idly by as Washington failed again to get the country’s fiscal house in order.

Well, one of those sentences makes sense. The rest are just lazy and superficial arguments that aren’t supported by the facts.

By now, even those with passing familiarity with recent developments can probably spot the glaring errors of fact and judgment in Fournier’s piece. Democrats on the debt-reduction panel made far-too-generous offers to cut spending and entitlements, and asked for modest tax increases on the wealthy in exchange. Republicans not only refused to consider Dems’ plans, but also refused to make comparable concessions. (They did the opposite, demanding more tax cuts that would have made the debt worse.) What is it about this that makes Fournier think Democrats should feel “shameful”?

For that matter, GOP members of the super-committee specifically asked President Obama not to intervene, arguing that progress would be more likely if he kept his distance. The president honored their request — Republicans have already proven they aren’t going to listen to him anyway — but Obama nevertheless outlined a variety of ambitious debt-reduction plans that the members could consider. Republicans rejected these efforts, too. Who acted “shamefully” in this scenario?

Greg Sargent, who named Fournier a winner in today’s “false equivalency sweepstakes,” ran a takedown that was spot on. The conclusion especially rang true:

I maintain that the above represents a set of facts that can be consulted, in the quest to judge who’s most to blame for the supercommittee’s failure. We can determine in factual terms whether each party’s offers involved roughly equivalent concessions by both sides. We can determine in factual terms whether the desire for the wealthy to pay less in taxes towards deficit reduction was the top priority of Republicans, and whether this was the central sticking point that made agreement impossible. This sort of line of questioning is often dismissed as mere opinion. But ultimately, what we’re really talking about here is the quest to establish factual reality, which is what journalists are supposed to be doing.

Some reporters’ obsession with blaming “both sides” at all times is getting out of control. We know the truth — Democrats offered major concessions and moved to the right, and instead of meeting them half-way, Republicans moved even further to the right. And so, to no one’s surprise, the process broke down.

There is no mystery here. As a New York Times editorial explained this morning, “The only reason the committee failed was because Republicans refused to raise taxes on the rich, and, in fact, wanted to cut them even below their current bargain-basement level.”

This isn’t opinion; it’s fact. The real “shame” comes from reporters who are eager to give the public the wrong impression.