October 22, 2018

Kumbaya, Not Kevorkian, Will Kill Granny

I don’t know which is more dispiriting:  the New York Times’ failure to call Betsy McCaughey a liar, or Barack Obama’s failure to call Chuck Grassley a liar.  It’s tempting to think of both failures as cowardice, a mortal fear of being branded “liberal.”  But ironically it’s liberalism itself that makes them both mistake their cowardice for fair-mindedness.

Exhibit A is how the Times covered ” target=”_blank”>“Making Sense of the Healthcare Debate” was the Times’ heading for its coverage of the encounter.  But instead of telling its readers that Stewart caught McCaughey lying about the bill, the Times reported that “they could not agree on what it actually said.”  He said her reading of the bill was “hyperbolic and in some cases dangerous”; she said “Democrats intended to intrude on the medical decisions of dying people.”  He said, she said:  that’s what the Times means by “making sense” of a debate.

What requires the Times to castrate itself?  How did excellence in journalism come to mean impotence in the face of untruth?  Fox News, which excels in promulgating untruths, purveys its propaganda under an Orwellian banner:  “We report, you decide.”  It does, of course, the opposite; Fox decides, ideologically, and it cleverly packages its partisanship as reporting.  What makes the Times worship a Fox News definition of journalism – “fair and balanced” – that not only gets violated at Fox, but that cravenly substitutes stenography for adjudication?

The answer, I suspect, is liberalism – not the muscular democratic liberalism of civil rights and social justice, but the flabby postmodern liberalism of on the one hand and on the other hand.  The right is righteous; it claims to know what God wants.  But the secular response to fundamentalism isn’t science, it’s kumbaya, a campfire that requires reason and ignorance to pay mutual respect, a moral cowardice that values pluralism more than it values values.

That’s why it’s so dispiriting to watch Obama let Grassley play him.  Grassley ” target=”_blank”>Obama says Grassley is working “constructively” on health care reform.  ” target=”_blank”>Republicans crow that destroying health care reform will destroy Obama, ” target=”_blank”>as the Montana Standard reported, raised more campaign money from “drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical-supply firms, health-service companies and other health professionals” than any other member of Congress.

The people carrying loaded assault weapons to Obama’s events are not our swell fellow citizens simply exercising their rights, nor are the people carrying Obama-as-Hitler signs to town hall meetings merely a heartwarming demonstration of America’s commitment to free speech, nor are the moms and Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks saying “Nazi” just proof of the robust vitality of our democracy, nor are the Sarah Palins and Betsy McCaugheys and Chuck Grassleys only colorful players in the theater of politics.

If journalism had the courage to tell the truth, and if liberalism had the stomach to confront evil, maybe good leaders would be as willing to wield power as bad ones.

Sure – and if Granny had wheels, she’d be a bus. 

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.  Reach him at {encode=”martyk@jewishjournal.com” title=”martyk@jewishjournal.com”}.