New York Times reporter Matt Bai had a long piece Sunday (10/31/10)that argued that Tea Partiers are really the right-wing version of Bush-era MoveOn activists and bloggers (the “netroots”). Bai writes of “the larger forces that unify many self-styled activists on both the left and right,” and suggests that “the recent uprisings on both ends of the ideological spectrum shouldn’t be viewed as opposing trends, but rather as points on the same cultural continuum.”
The only way topull this offwith a straight face is to decide that political beliefs that motivate both groups are not worth inspecting or critiquing. Thus activists who coalesced aroundopposing the war in Iraq are basically no different than Tea Party activists who believe Barack Obama is a socialist. (As the Tea Party activistBai profiles puts it: “He’s a socialist…. There’s no question. He’s a statist.”)
In a more rational media system, one would point out that one group was motivated by an actual policy decision–one that killed hundreds of thousands of people and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The other group believes Barack Obama adheres to a political philosophy that he most certainly does not.
The ability to see these two political movements as being roughly comparable requires the suspension of critical judgment–an example of media “false balance” of the most extreme variety. At one point Bai writes: “Ideology, of course, presents an unbridgeable chasm between the progressives and Tea Partiers.” So does reality. Journalism that seeks to muddy up this inescapable truthdoes a great disservice.