The Media Need to Focus on Context, Not “Balance”

In writing about Democratic opposition to the electoral college vote yesterday, the only mention from Jonathan Martin and Michael Wines of the fact that he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million comes in a quote from Bill Clinton. Eventually, they report this reaction to the opposition from Kellyanne Conway.

“The professional political left is attempting to foment a permanent opposition that is corrosive to our constitutional democracy and ignores what just happened in this election,” she said. Liberals cannot, she added, “wave magic pixie dust and make this go away.”

As for whether Mr. Trump would now begin to offer a hand of friendship to his critics, Ms. Conway noted that he had met with multiple Democrats and spoken with President Obama “several times.” “He said, ‘I’ll be president of all people,’ but the left is trying to delegitimize his election,” she said. “They’re trying to deny him what he just earned. So why is the burden always on him?”

We have no way of knowing whether there was anymore to this discussion they had with Conway because that is where they leave things in their reporting. One wonders whether or not they reminded her of the way Republicans fomented a permanent opposition to Bill Clinton via everything from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky. Or if they brought up the permanent opposition to Barack Obama that began the night of his 2009 inauguration. It would have been particularly interesting to know how she would have reacted to a reminder that Donald Trump tried to delegitimize Obama’s election via his obsession with birtherism.

None of that historical context was included by Martin and Wines, even though they found the space in an article of more than 1,500 words to mention the Gingrich revolution in 1994 as well as Democratic opposition to the election of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

It might seem like a small matter, but this is the kind of reporting that so many of us have found negligent from the New York Times. If we are going to talk about the political divide that currently exists in this country and give space to a Republican operative to talk about opposition and delegitimization efforts…let’s talk about it in the context of how we actually got here. As Mann and Ornstein wrote a while ago, once that kind of context is provided, it becomes obvious that what this country is experiencing is “asymmetric polarization” fueled by right wing extremism. Unless and until our mainstream press recognizes that, they simply cling to both-sider-ism and delegitimize themselves.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.