The right threatens violence, the left points out those threats, and the media blames both

The right threatens violence, the left points out those threats, and the media blames both

“Bothsiderism,” in which media outlets bend over backwards (and beyond) in order to find something they can slap Democrats over before daring to point out Republican actions, is one of the most corrosive tendencies plaguing the press. Also known as “false balance,” it happens when journalists attempt to make everything “equal” between the two parties, no matter how unequal  statements or actions may actually be.

Anyone looking for an example need look no further than an article published by CNN under the utterly baffling title of “Talk of street violence and ‘semi-fascism’ turns up midterm election heat.” The epic mismatch of terms in the title is accompanied by an article that can’t really decide where it stands. Yes, those darn Republicans have genuinely initiated violence, and that’s scary. Sure, they’re threatening to get violent again. But … wouldn’t it be better to just look the other way rather than calling them out?

It’s just another in a series of pieces that suggests holding Donald Trump accountable for his crimes, and Republicans responsible for their threats, is what’s really “dividing the nation.” Which is a none-too-subtle suggestion from the media that Republicans are above the law.

The idea that investigating or prosecuting Trump for his crimes is a problem is so deeply embedded in the media at this point that that NBC is actually using Lester Holt telling Attorney General Merrick Garland that “the indictment of a former president, perhaps candidate for president, would arguably tear the country apart” as a promotion for their evening news. 

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How this differs from Sen. Lindsey Graham threatening that arresting Trump would result in “riots in the street” is, at best, a matter of degree. Very small degree. And the fact that news sources are pitching this as these threats should be considered before applying the law to Trump lends them both undeserved seriousness and credibility.

The CNN article from White House reporter Stephen Collinson takes pains to point out that Graham’s call to violence and President Joe Biden pointing out the growing threat are “hardly comparable.” But then it barely misses a beat before doing exactly that, treating both the normalization of political violence on the right and the raising of concerns from the left as if they are both responsible. 

Especially because just one paragraph in the latter article insists that “an already toxic political atmosphere ahead of November’s midterms has been further poisoned by the furious reaction to the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and residence” without bothering to mention that the responsibility for that search lies with Trump.

On Biden’s statement that the MAGA movement is moving toward “semi-fascism,” Collinson calls it both “an extraordinary thing to say” and an example of how “standards of decorum have been shattered.” He then devotes three full paragraphs to explaining how Biden’s statement is a problem for Democrats, in part because “Republicans will likely use the President’s comment to argue he harbors an elitist’s disdain for swathes of conservative Americans who abhor violence.”

Which conservative Americans would that be? Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger? Can anyone name two more? 

This is in an article that compared to most coverage of Republican threats is not that bad. Collinson points out that the threat from the right is demonstrably real. He highlights the way that Republicans are using these threats of violence as part of their campaigns (“I reject violence. I’m not calling for violence. Violence is not the answer, but I’m just telling you,” said Graham … while predicting violence). He acknowledges that the threat of Republican violence is demonstrably real. And yet he continues to underscore Biden calling attention to the threat as if it’s part of the threat.

Consider this single sentence:

Predictions of violence and warnings of extremism on the march are especially jarring given the mayhem that unfolded after the last time America voted for president, when insurrectionists incited by Trump ransacked the US Capitol and threatened to fracture the bedrock institutions of American democracy.

At first glance, this accurately points out that Trump supporters engaged in violence and attempted to overturn the election in 2020. But what is “and warnings of extremism on the march” doing in this sentence? No one would write this:

Predictions of more murders and warnings over the danger of strangulation are especially jarring should Green River Killer Gary Ridgway come up for parole given that the last time he was free he killed at least 48 people.

They wouldn’t write that because “warnings over the danger” are not part of the threat. Just like “warnings of extremism on the march” are not part of the threat.

To put it even more simply, “Threats of arson and warnings that fire is hot are concerning because the people making the threats tried to burn the house down before” does not make sense. It’s drawing a parallel that’s not just inaccurate, but distracting.

If the article had said “Predictions of violence are especially jarring given the mayhem that unfolded after the last time America voted for president, when insurrectionists incited by Trump ransacked the U.S. Capitol and threatened to fracture the bedrock institutions of American democracy,” it would have covered the same ground without implying that part of the issue is caused by people warning against the threat. 

All of this is still way more subtle than Holt challenging Merrick over whether prosecuting Trump was so scary that they should just give him an “all the crime you want” pass. But the way the article stretches on and solicits comments from Republican candidates in order to devote at least as much time to the idea that Biden’s statement is divisive and a boon for Republicans in the fall is far from subtle. The only politician who gets a chance to speak in the article is GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, who gets two paragraphs to repeat the idea that Biden is wrong to suggest that America can’t just hug it out.

It’s perfectly fine to point out that Biden said the MAGA movement was verging on “semi-fascism.” It’s even fine to report on how the members of that movement are upset at being (accurately) called out. It’s not okay to suggest that pointing out a threat somehow makes that threat more dangerous.

Threats have to be challenged. Not ignored. 

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