False equivalence

Recent polls suggest that Trump and Clinton are even. I find that difficult to stomach. How could an obvious buffoon, a modern-day P.T. Barnum, pull as much support as a woman with years of service in the public spotlight, from accomplished lawyer to first lady to U.S. senator to secretary of state?

I have long suspected that journalism as currently practiced explains much of this phenomenon. First of all, mainstream media—which include the New York Times, the Washington Post, and major television networks—are fundamentally profit-seeking corporations. They thirst for revenues as they endeavor to trim costs. Thus, their decisions as to what to report and how have nearly everything to do with generating sales, through subscriptions, of course, but increasingly through online advertising. (John Oliver recently lambasted media on this point.)

So, if I’m in charge of one of the principal outlets I treat elections as horse races, craft headlines intended to attract readers’ impatient eyes, and pounce on controversy, though I’m not averse to creating my own. Ethics be damned.

In a post today the blogger known as “tristero” takes on Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times. Kristof, while bemoaning journalism’s penchant for “false equivalence,” engages in some false equivalence of his own.

Of course, the point Kristof’s trying to demonstrate is that Trump is a scoundrel.  But no one will bother to wade through or remember the details of Nick’s comparisons.

What’s important is the fact that Kristof writes as if Trump actually is comparable to Clinton. It doesn’t matter whether Trump doesn’t compare – Nick Kristof made the comparison anyway. 

Therefore, Trump=Clinton. The details? Let’s not argue about the details, that’s just partisanship.

Yes, Nick intends well, but this column is a textbook example of how not to write about our bizarre election.

Then we have the CEO of CBS, Les Moonves, admitting the obvious: Trump is “damn good for CBS,” even if he is “not so good for America.”

And who is this America, exactly?


UPDATE (Sep. 15, 2016):

Vox‘s Matthew Yglesias suggests that the polls are close because of Clinton’s historically high unfavorable ratings. The question begs itself: Why is she viewed so unfavorably? Could it have something to do with how the press treats her?