ABC’s Bogus Big Government Debate

On Sunday (12/18/11), ABC‘s This Week presented an installment of what it’s calling “The Great American Debates.” What it really was, though, was a perfect example of how corporate media adopt right-wing assumptions when framing a discussion.

In this case, it was a debate over Big Government. The show’s opening sounded like a Tea Party rally:

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: This week, a special program on the defining issue of 2012. Has Uncle Sam become too big, too powerful? A bailout bonanza, a welfare state? A tax-and-spend Goliath crushing the entrepreneurial spirit when America can’t afford to fall behind? That’s the rallying cry of the Tea Party, the mantra of Republican candidates everywhere.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-TEXAS: Washington doesn’t need a new coat of paint. It needs a complete overall.

AMANPOUR: At the heart of Ronald Reagan’s famous declaration.

RONALD REAGAN: The government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.

AMANPOUR: Today, ABC News and the Miller Center of the University of Virginia present The Great American Debate. Facing off here in Washington, the intellectual heavyweights of both parties. For the right, Congressman Paul Ryan and ABC‘s own George Will. And from the left, Congressman Barney Frank and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

About all you can say about this is that it’s relatively balanced in terms of ideology.

But all the rhetoric about a “welfare state” and a “tax-and-spend Goliath” are staples of right-wing talk radio. Has the government gone on a spending binge in the Obama years? Not really, as Paul Krugman has explained a few times. Government spending as a share of GDP has gone up, but there are reasonable explanations–a massive recession, the cost of unemployment insurance–that have nothing to do with enterpreneur-crushing Big Government.

Reich tried to point out the flaws in the framing of this discussion at least once: “The idea of big government as a framing device in terms of a debate such as this inevitably sets it up kind of in favor of the side that doesn’t want big government.”

To suggest this is the “defining issue” of 2012 is rather remarkable. Most people think there’s a jobs crisis, and understand that government spending might be the most efficient way to fix the problem. But I don’t expect ABC to convene a “Great Debate” that is premised on a question like, “Why isn’t the government spending enough money to create jobs?”

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.