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National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform co-Chairmen Alan Simpson (L) and Erskine Bowles (R) speak at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Just because one's a Republican and one's a Democrat it doesn't mean they're the "center."
Hallelujah to Brendan Nyhan at the Columbia Journalism Review for this:
Under the norm of objectivity that dominates mainstream political journalism in the United States, reporters are supposed to avoid endorsing competing political viewpoints or proposals. In practice, however, journalists often treat centrist policy priorities—especially on fiscal policy—as value-neutral. That’s wrong. While it’s widely accepted that the federal government faces limits on what it can borrow in the financial markets, there is significant disagreement, including among experts, over the priority that should be given to reducing current deficit and debt levels relative to other possible policy objectives. It is, in other words, a political issue. Reporters often ignore this conflict, treating deficit-cutting as a non-ideological objective while portraying other points of view as partisan or political. That’s why it’s not accepted for reporters to explicitly advocate, say, abortion bans or recognition of gay marriage, but criticism of the president for not advocating entitlement cuts with sufficient fervor can run in a “factcheck” column. [...]

The same pattern often crops up in the sourcing for budget stories. I’ve questioned the media’s insistence on “he said,” “she said” reporting about matters of fact, but there’s no reason to think that centrist deficit hawks have a monopoly on wisdom about the nation’s federal budget priorities. So why are the claims of groups like the Concord Coalition or the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget presented in articles like Montgomery’s and Lightman’s as neutral, non-ideological perspectives that don’t need to be balanced with offsetting quotes from other points of view? The same deference is rarely given either to conservatives who want more aggressive cuts in the size of government or liberals who would give greater priority to public spending.

Just like conventional wisdom is not necessarily actual wisdom, and "centrism" as it is defined by the specific political class that is embracing the term isn't even close to the center when it comes to this specific economic and domestic set of policies. Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—for whatever purpose—has always been right-wing policy. A handful of Democrats giving it lip service doesn't make it a "center" kind of thing.

And it sure as hell isn't the "center" when it comes to public opinion, which time after time has reiterated its support for Social Security and Medicare. That's the left, right, and center.

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Comment Preferences

  •  smashing the "Overton Window" (15+ / 0-)

    Dudehisattva...

    "Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Effort, Concentration, and Wisdom"

    by Dood Abides on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 06:33:15 PM PST

  •  Oh, those liberal academics (7+ / 0-)

    don't understand who the VERY SERIOUS PEOPLE are.

    Tyrion Lannister: "It's not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do it if it were easy."

    by psychodrew on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 06:36:53 PM PST

  •  I've written about this before... (10+ / 0-)

    ...here, to be exact.

    The mainstream media is trying to shove an agenda of economic conservatism down our throats under a cloak of "centristism".

    My parents made me a Democrat. Scott Walker made me a progressive.

    by DownstateDemocrat on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 06:37:18 PM PST

  •  A "Centrist", is that sort of like (5+ / 0-)

    a "Technocrat"?  Was Bloomberg a centrist mayor of NYC? I think the definition of centrist is: whatever the people sponsoring the MSM want us to think is Normal, Serious, and Reasonable.

    One of the myths the MSM likes to perpetrate (and which most of us here act like we but into) is that there is only one political continuum.  The truth is there are several dimensions of political difference.

    Why sit there looking out at the world through the Overton Window when you can just open the door and walk outside?

  •  The pendulum has swung so far right (5+ / 0-)

    ..that the clock-spring snapped and today's "Centrists" are to the right of Nixon.
    At best -It's lazy journalism.

    No. It's not actually journalism at all.

    There's almost no-one except weak-suck propagandists and stenographers and lick-spittles "covering" Capitol Hill.

    Please support The War on Christmas. Do it for the Reindeer Troops.

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 06:58:37 PM PST

  •  The Obama/Romney debate (9+ / 0-)

    When Romney repeated the falsehood that the President hadn't characterized the Benghazi attacks as terrorism (for whatever in hell difference it makes what you call it) during the second presidential debate, Obama disagreed.

    An objective, verifiable fact that the two men disagreed on could have very easily slipped through the discussion, except that moderator Candy Crowley did a little searching and found the text of Obama's remarks. Lo and behold, Romney was wrong. Objectively, verifiably, demonstrably wrong. To her credit, Crowley spoke up in real time and corrected the record on the spot. A true and rare act of journalism.

    Go and Google "presidential debate crowley," though, and you'll get a full page of denouncements of Crowley from such luminaries as Twitchy and News Busters, but also from sources often quoted with approval in the popular media. And here I'm talking about Politico, Town Hall and even ABC, all of them complaining about Crowley "injecting herself" into the debate.

    This is what passes for journalism today: If someone's lying right to your face, you're supposed to just be quiet, expect someone else to point out the truth, and then in the best centrist tradition observe that reality must exist somewhere between the lie and the truth.

    And that's bullshit.

  •  Lake Wobegon tipped on its side. (8+ / 0-)

    I can understand the concern of the centrists, but if their position is to have any intellectual rigor, they must consider the concept that the body politic is like Lake Wobegon tipped on its side: instead of all children being above average, all politicians are to the right of center.

    Consider the centrist position on taxes now, and 13 years ago. Was the change because of the success of Bush's elitist tax cut, or was it because Democrats did not remind everyone that Clinton had balanced the budget with higher taxes (and unemployment reached a post-Vietnam War record low) because they're afraid of sharing Walter Mondale's fate?

    There are lots of other such positions where the Democratic leadership stands to the right of any logical center in the political debate.

    Freedom's just another word for not enough to eat. --Paul Krugman's characterization of conservative attitudes.

    by Judge Moonbox on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 07:08:42 PM PST

  •  There are so many media owners out there (5+ / 0-)

    with so many delivery variations broadcasting a very narrow corporate agenda developed over 35 years ago by Reagan-era Rand cultists, it's virtually impossible to find anyone capable of broadcasting actual facts anymore.

    Add to that the general unwillingness of current broadcast outlets to do or say anything that might sully the reputation of even marginally conservative luminaries while declaring open war on anyone who dares to offer a dissenting position.

    "Centrist"?  What a steaming load.

  •  Obama (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gharlane, contrariandy, kyril

    Sadly, Obama often tries to sound centrist--offering social security adjustments to make the program more "sustainable."  What a crock.  

    Actions speak louder than petitions.

    by melvynny on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 07:14:47 PM PST

    •  He can barely even say the word "Republicans." (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      contrariandy, kyril

      Every time he talks about nothing getting done in Washington, it's because "Congress didn't act" or "Congress refused to act" or some such nonsense.  He does not name names on why "Congress" didn't act on something.  It's infuriating.

      I'm sure he thinks it makes him sound all Centrist, Reasonable, Bipartisan and Serious.  It also increases public hatred for Congressional Democrats.  Nice going, Mr. President.

      "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home." - James Madison

      by gharlane on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 10:58:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The "center" is what the public is told it is (5+ / 0-)

    by the Owners of the media.

    All political discourse in the US is manufactured: that is what the the media -- and countless talking head "experts" -- are paid to do.

    This isn't "lazy journalism". It is bought journalism. Journalists are flacks for the 0.01%.

  •  The centrist position ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    contrariandy, kyril

    The place on the cliff one stands to avoid falling off either side.

    Or a way to get a job on MSNBC daytime.

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” ... Voltaire

    by RUNDOWN on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 07:41:50 PM PST

  •  'Centrist' when I grew up was the New Deal (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Egalitare, contrariandy, kyril

    Really, what is 'centrist' is very relative. I, personally, still consider FDR and the New Deal to be the political center. Many would disagree with me, obviously.

  •  That's why Chris Hayes is a journalist and (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    METAL TREK, AJayne, contrariandy, kyril

    an excellent one to boot and Dancin' Dave Gregory is a corporate shill.

    48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam> "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Edna St.V. Millay

    by slouching on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 07:47:59 PM PST

  •  Glenn Kessler responded in the comments (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Just Bob, emal, Nailbanger, contrariandy, kyril
    I must confess i have been surprised at some of the vitriol expressed about this column. I thought I was making the unremarkable observation that you can judge how serious a politician is about a plan by how hard he or she pushes for it. I thought I could marry that thought with an explanation of why I did not fact check Boehner's statement, but clearly my execution was off! (Kevin Drum at Mother Jones wrote that I was making a "reasonable point," so at least one reader understood what I was trying to say.)

    Brendan makes some very good observations, which I will reflect on. I will note that if you look at the "About the Fact Checker" page, my mandate extends beyond just vetting statements: "We will not be limited to political charges or countercharges. We will seek to explain difficult issues, provide missing context and provide analysis and explanation of various 'code words' used by politicians, diplomats and others to obscure or shade the truth." I thought this column was in that realm but perhaps such columns should be better labeled in the future.

    #2 Posted by Glenn Kessler on Wed 13 Mar 2013 at 09:41 AM

    That is 100% Grade A Villager right there.

    "I'm not actually wrong, you are not actually right, look, somebody else said something that validates me, perhaps this be a labeling matter, but, I shall ponder thy gnat buzzing like missive"

    I am a Loco-Foco. I am from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.

    by LeftHandedMan on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 07:50:41 PM PST

  •  Credentialism (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    contrariandy, kyril
    "While it’s widely accepted that the federal government faces limits on what it can borrow in the financial markets..." -B. Nyhan
    This isn't true at all.  Where are his reasons, logic or evidence supporting this conclusion?

    This is what the whole Reinhart-Rogoff uproar was about.  Their tipping point of 90% debt to GDP ratio for slower GDP growth was found to be based on a spread sheet error and correlation instead of causation.

    Japan has a debt to GDP ratio of over 200%.  The US had one well over 100% after WWII and we grew out of it.  

    This is a very serious problem with journalists.  They don't take the time to understand an issue, they just pick up on ideas floating in the ether, whether they're true or not an report them as fact.

    If I was a communist, rich men would fear me...And the opposite applies. The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

    by stewarjt on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 08:02:07 PM PST

  •  If I may summarize: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AJayne, contrariandy, bartcopfan, kyril

    "Republican politicians have no credibility, but for some reason, mainstream journalists feel compelled to pretend like they do."

    "One of the boss' hangers-on sometimes comes to call, at times you least expect. Tryin' to bully you, strongarm you, inspire you with fear--it has the opposite effect."--Bob Dylan, "Floater"

    by oldmaestro on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 08:41:01 PM PST

  •  Journalists do not describe our monetary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    contrariandy, kyril

    system:  Things like how the US creates dollars out of thin air, and T Bonds are no longer necessary to fund the fed gov.

    Rather, they are a self imposed constraint, ie, a law states that for every dollar spent by Treasury, a corresponding bond must be issued.

    The fed gov, by issuing our currency out of thin air, is self funding.

    Bonds no longer represent borrowing, rather, they are now like  a CD or any other time deposit.

  •  when i look (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    contrariandy, kyril

    for the center of today's politics i always have to look to the right.

  •  important discussion. keep the subject alive. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bartcopfan, kyril

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