Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan has a plan to save American democracy — just stop treating the Republican and Democratic Parties as political equals, deserving of impartial coverage.
After all, Sullivan argues, the GOP is basically an extremist group that poses a significant threat to the country. As such, newsrooms need to cover both groups now in terms of pro- and anti-democracy.
Of course, this is what someone thoroughly wedded to and biased toward the Democratic Party would say. Setting this aside, however, Sullivan's argument has two problems.
First, it ignores that the GOP is not the only party to become more extreme — Democrats have moved sharply to the left, to the point that they now openly conspire to destroy the filibuster, defund the police, pack the Supreme Court, and support abortion up to the moment of birth (and even beyond).
This leads to the second point. Sullivan’s argument is premised on the belief that the media don't already treat the Republican Party as an existential threat. But the truth of the matter is that press’s coverage of the GOP is so clearly biased and one-sided that it's risible to claim otherwise. This was evident throughout the Trump and the Bush eras.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, enjoys glowing news coverage, despite that it has similarly embraced extremism. That the Washington Post’s media columnist is calling on newsrooms to treat only the Republican Party as an fanatic group, ignoring all the while the Democratic Party’s proportional descent into left-wing radicalism, sort of proves the point about media bias.
"Mainstream journalists want their work to be perceived as fair-minded and nonpartisan,” Sullivan writes. “They want to defend themselves against charges of bias. So they equalize the unequal. This practice seems so ingrained as to be unresolvable. There is a way out. But it requires the leadership of news organizations to radically reframe the mission of its Washington coverage. As a possible starting point, I’ll offer these recommendations.”
She adds, “Toss out the insidious ‘inside-politics’ frame and replace it with a ‘pro-democracy’ frame. Stop calling the reporters who cover this stuff ‘political reporters.’ Start calling them ‘government reporters.’ Stop asking who the winners and losers were in the latest skirmish. Start asking who is serving the democracy and who is undermining it. Stop being ‘savvy’ and start being patriotic.”
Sullivan’s remarks come not too long after NBC News’s Chuck Todd argued elsewhere in an interview that the press do not have a “liberal bias” and that it’s supposedly misguided to attempt to appear “balanced” is simply a timid, fear-based response to the “GOP talking point” that the national media favor Democratic politicians and policies.
“Making this happen will call for something that Big Journalism is notoriously bad at: An open-minded, nondefensive recognition of what’s gone wrong,” the Washington Post columnist writes. “Top editors, Sunday talk-show moderators and other news executives should pull together their brain trusts to grapple with this. And they should be transparent with the public about what they’re doing and why.”
She adds, “Is it unlikely that the most influential Sunday talk shows, the most powerful newspapers and cable networks, and the buzziest Beltway websites will change their stripes?”
Nevertheless, Sullivan writes, it’s necessary for the press to stop treating the Republican Party as if it were a legitimate political group, representing the legitimate interests of a significant segment of the country, and move in the direction of covering U.S. politics in terms of who is pro- and anti-America.
“For the sake of American democracy, it’s now or never,” she concludes.
Sullivan may be delighted to learn that the corporate press is way ahead of her in this regard. It has been treating the Republican Party as an extremist threat to the nation since at least the 1980s. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, endures no similar scrutiny. The difference in coverage is evident in nearly every given political battle. Republicans are framed as villains, Democrats as a bulwark against tyranny.
There’s a reason why Democrats are given a free pass to describe GOP-led voter laws in the most absurd, hyperbolic terms possible, including even referring to recent election integrity measures as the new “Jim Crow," while similarly hyperbolic rhetoric by Republicans is met with swift and fierce condemnation.
There’s a reason why Republicans who challenge the results of the 2020 election are portrayed by the press as threats to democracy, while notable Democrats, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, are given a free hand to allege legitimate elections were stolen by Republicans.
There’s a reason the Washington Post fact-checker did a weird deep-dive recently into Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s family history, challenging his narrative without actually finding any errors while also shuttering its presidential fact check database upon President Joe Biden's ascent to power.
There’s a reason the Associated Press sent out a company-wide memo this year instructing its staffers to avoid calling the border crisis a “crisis,” even though that the global newswire had no problem using this exact term during the Trump-era to describe similar conditions and chaos on the U.S.-Mexico border.
There’s a reason Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is the target of unrelenting pandemic-related media hit jobs, including the media's elevation of obvious anti-DeSantis nutjobs, while the press treated Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York as the hero of the pandemic, despite the fact he led possibly the worst state response to the virus. And let’s not even get started on the fact that Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia was allowed to wait out a scandal involving him dressing in blackface and/or KKK robes (hilariously enough, we still don’t know which costume he wore) long enough for the Washington Post to publish a glowing post-mortem cheering his ability to come “back from the political dead.”
There’s a reason major newsrooms conspired last year to smother a legitimate news story alleging Biden family corruption — the same newsrooms that promoted every rumor and piece of gossip (including several complete falsehoods) alleging similar wrongdoing by the Trump family.
These are just a handful of recent examples that immediately come to mind. Never mind the media's coverage of the Russian collusion hoax, their slandering of a Covington Catholic High School student, the promotion of outrageously dubious allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or the reflexive promotion of Chinese Communist Party propaganda regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “both-sidesism” issue Sullivan describes is, at best, only a perfunctory and occasional problem. There is hardly any veneer of objectivity left. The corporate press are entirely deferential to the Democratic Party, despite its increasingly extreme positions.
If you can't see that, then I just don’t know what to tell you.