Friday, August 27, 2010

Coddling Conservatives

Dean Baker speculates about the obviously different treatment of op-ed essayists at The New York Times, namely the welcome for the often-wrong David Brooks versus Paul Krugman or Bob Herbert. Baker's points can be generalized to the mainstream media and politics.

The obvious question is: When do 'mistakes' rise to something more serious? On a host of issues, Brooks has been corrected again and again, by people like me and by people with infinitely more public presence. Yet he has frequently gone on to repeat [i]exactly[/i] that on which he was corrected. So is he just lying for propaganda purposes?

Brooks does this on international issues, economics, politics — you name it. Unlike a Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann, Brooks is more decorous in his misrepresentations (lies) — as is the New York Times generally.

Dean Baker is quite right, but he poses his case rhetorically, neither raising nor answering another obvious question: Given that liberals would indeed be treated as he describes and given that conservatives get just the opposite treatment, why is this the case? (There's a perfectly good reason for Baker to write so — we all know the answers!)

There is a parallel case with Barack Obama. Obama has coddled conservatives like Alan Simpson. He has packed his team with the likes of Geithner, Bernanke, Summers. He has systematically excluded liberals from discussions on labor, financial reform, education and health care. Currently, he is hunting for an excuse to [i]not[/i] nominate Elizabeth Warren.

The most simple — and plausible — explanation is both cases is that the executives [i]agree[/i] with their conservatives. Times editors agree with Brooks or Douthat (the far dimmer Brooks clone). Obama agrees with Summers, Geithner, Bernanke, Rubin — despite his vague and infrequent gestures in the direction of liberals and progressives.

What concrete evidence we do have confirms this. The Times has pretty clearly joined the Clinton-style 'moderates' against social security. It has been dragged into a tiny handful of stories revealing Israeli crimes, but largely continues to ignore them. It has repeatedly misrepresented issues of housing, banking, etc. Former reporters like Chris Hedges, John Hess, Sydney Schanberg have provided first-hand accounts.

And a handful of inside-reports on Obama — from people who have been in touch recently (e.g., Rashid Khalidi) and in the past (e.g., Penn professor Adolf Reed, Jr.) — confirm the same with the administration of President Zero.

The process of critics of the Times or Obama can be treated as a scientific one. We have a set of observations of consistent behavior. What explains it? What explains the near-total absence of Palestinians from the op-ed pages of the Times or the Post but the regular and frequent appearance of Israelis and their supporters? What explains the total absence of single-payer advocates from Obama discussions on health care reform? What explains the continued employment of Timothy Geithner or Alan Simpson but the quick abandonment of Charles Freeman? One or two isolated cases would allow endless speculation. The uninterrupted pattern of the Obama administration or The New York Times leaves far less room for interpretation.

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