Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Oh, the Asymmetry! the Asymmetry!

Two weeks ago we promised a post on the importance of the asymmetry debate, the argument that "both sides" are not equal and opposite - the "false equivalence" problem.  Actually, there is not much of a debate, which requires two sides that disagree actually engaging in a discussion on the topic.

Vox has an unusual, well researched article today contrasting the media treatment of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton foundation with the treatment of Colin Powell's foundation. Unusual because few media outlets take on the "meta" issue of faulty political reporting that shies away from clear interpretation of the political context - that is, how political news is being covered -- because that would violate the antiquated rule that objective reporting requires asking "each side" what they think without reporting the journalist's own objective interpretation. Got that?

In Colin Powell's Foundation and Hillary Clinton's are treated very differently by the media, Matthew Yglesias writes : 
"Because Colin Powell did not have the reputation in the mid- to late ’90s of being a corrupt or shady character, his decision to launch a charity in 1997 was considered laudable."

...and these other sentences that should sound familiar to longtime readers of this blog:

'Powell was presumed to be innocent — and since Democrats did not make attacks on Powell part of their partisan strategy — his charity was never the subject of a lengthy investigation'.  Which is lucky for him, because as Clinton could tell you, once you are the subject of a lengthy investigation, the press doesn’t like to report, 'Well, we looked into it and we didn’t find anything interesting.'
Hillary's problem is people "know" she is corrupt.  "

"The perception that Clinton is corrupt is one of her most profound handicaps as a politician. And what’s particularly crippling about it is that evidence of her corruption is so widespread exactly because everyone knows she’s corrupt."
"Because people “know” that she is corrupt, every decision she makes and every relationship she has is cast in the most negative possible light."
"The press should contextualize Clinton stories." [Emphasis added]

And so on.
Finally. Somebody gets it. Yes, context is everything.

One problem here is that we should not need the counterexample of Colin Powell's experience to demonstrate the unfair context of the persistent Clinton attacks. What if there were no Powell foundation and we had to make a convincing case of fairness for Clinton based on the fact of the endless stream of personal attacks over decades? Yes, what if we lived in a world where Republican former Presidents go off and mostly play golf while former Democratic Presidents start foundations and do charitable work? Hmmm. There's that pesky asymmetry again that we had best ignore. Instead, let's ask Donald Trump what he thinks.

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