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Equivalating

vastleft's picture

Equivalation may not be a real word. But it's a real problem — quite possibly the single biggest problem in our national media and discourse.

Let's define it thusly:

1. The knee-jerk assumption that competing sides, especially political parties, are equally extreme, equally guilty, etc.

This approach minimizes public outrage when one side has blatantly or repeatedly misbehaved. It is beneficial not only to wrongdoers and their supporters, but also to media outlets that thrive on continued argument, rather than on problem resolution.

2. Treating a dubious position as arguably equivalent to a legitimate one.

Dignifying questionable claims and disreputable agendas provides sensational fodder for an increasingly entertainment-focused news media. It also brings those claims and agendas within striking distance of acceptability.

A good example of the former is Joe Klein's comparing the Daily Kos blog to right-wing shock-jock Rush Limbaugh, after Limbaugh mocked Michael J. Fox's physical impairment.

The latter variation was instrumental in queering the last presidential election, with the incessant repetition of the Swift Boat Veterans' claims against John Kerry, despite overwhelming evidence that those claims were false.

Equivalating is, IMHO, one of the prime ways in which the right wing has been turning fair into foul and vice versa for these many misbegotten years.

An outgrowth of the devolution from news to infotainment, equivalation is more powerful than such time-honored bullshitting techniques as "the straw man," because it is propelled by the media itself. The incentives are obvious: they have far more to gain from chewing on a story for days or months, regardless of its truth, than from nipping it in the bud. Yes, there's the old "public good" ideal, but I wax nostalgic.

It's quite clear that it matters little to today's news outlets that equivalation confers broad legitimacy to ideas, claims, and people that otherwise could not possibly earn such credibility. Perhaps you can think of some examples of this.

As Jon Stewart said so aptly in 2004, "we need help from the media and they're huuuuuurting us." (video)

NOTE: This was written back when DailyKos was part of the reality-based community.

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