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American Dualism

Just as the Obama campaign begins to rebut the obvious bare faced lies repeatedly trotted out by the McCampaign (TM) the debate on the media role as the uncritical echo chamber of lies begins to get specific. The debate between Marc Arbinder and Yglesias takes shape:

Yglesias

Ambinder

and both sides make good points.

Ah ha! Caught you nodding your head, didn’t I?  The old “two sides to every story” banality of binary equality. The curse of American political journalism.

And a lot more.

Americans – more strongly and distinct  from most similar cultures – have a dualistic notion of how everything is organized that is so deeply ingrained as to be a perverse blinder to the truth. It is pervasive.

“There are two sides to every story”

Right and Left

Rural and Urban

North and South

Religious and Heathen

Rich and Poor

Good and Evil

Black and White

Democrat and Republican

“There are two sides to every story”

Equal Time.

Point-Counterpoint.

He said, she said.

On the other hand…

“There are two sides to every story”

Maybe not. Maybe there are 400 sides to a particular story. Maybe there is only one – objective reality. Maybe picking out a subset of “two sides” from the available data is arbitrary and unhelpful. But it always happens.

The American mindset is so fundamentally dualistic that it facilitates this lazy binary sorting. It affects -or rather infects – everything. And is has been getting worse for 50 years, as the political institutions reinforce the existing cultural tendencies. Look at impediments to the creation of political third parties (voter registration, the primary system). They all favour the entrenched established two party system to the point where most Americans interpret democracy – rule by the people – as a scheduled choice between Democrat and Republican.

So when journalists play this game, I understand the cultural forces behind it.  I understand it, but I don’t excuse it. I can forgive Entertainment Tonight using the “two sides” crutch to make it easier to report a pointless story about Jennifer Aniston. But we deserve better from real journalists. Its not that hard.

I cringe every time I use the term mainstream media. I cannot bring myself to use the contraction “MSM”, which seems tainted by the chip-on-the-shoulder blogosphere ideologue crowd. I think i first saw the term on Matt Drudge more than 10 years ago. Yeah.

But if the establishment professional class of journalists who heap such scorn on the work af “amateurs” cannot even remove the blinkers of cultural dualism to look behind the horse race inside baseball mixed metaphor of coverage, can they be surprised at the scorn returned in heaps by the public?

And regarding the inside baseball metaphor.  Political discourse is not a game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, an American League East Division rivalry in which mention of the Los Angeles Dodgers and SanFrancisco Giants and Washington Nationals and St Louis Cardinals and and and… could be dismissed as extraneous. Different league. Different Divisions. Not applicable.

What is so odd is how specific this is to America. You get a profound sense of this spending your entire life 20 miles away from the United States, sharing a common Geography, economy, language, culture, value system.  A common life, really.

But “Two sides to every story?” That is just weird.

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Filed under Election 2008, Media Coverage, Politics