The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Friday, June 03, 2005

On Balance? The Media's Strange Idea of Balance

This post goes right to Bill Moyers point, posted yesterday, that what passes for objective in Washington and in journalism these days is not pulling out the truth but presenting both sides of an argument. To understand it a bit more, let's take a look at economic theory, in particular, location theory.

Say there is a beach somewhere and it's a mile wide. There are a lot of people there and you decide to move in to sell ice cream. You want to be where you can reach the most people and make the most sales. Where do you locate? The middle, since this ensures that no one part of the beach will be farthest from you. Now say you want to move in to sell ice cream but someone already beat you to it and is parked right there in the middle of the beach. What do you do? You don't just quit and go home, so you move in too. But where do you locate? It turns out that the best place to be is right in the middle, right next to your competitor. If you were teammates and moved in at the same time you might carve the beach in half and take each half and then each of you would locate in the middle of your half. That would be best for each of you and best for the customers. But you are not teammates and he got there first. If you move into the middle of one of the halves of the beach, say the right, everyone to your competitor's left will go to him and everyone to your right will go to you. But the group between you should divide in half so that your competitor will get more than half the beach goers and you get less. To get the largest share possible, you need to be in the middle. This theory turns out to explain a lot of economic behavior, like why there is never just one gas station in a location but usually they come in pairs, or like why so many cereal brands are the same bland crap.

It also tells us a bit about the media and why their sense of fairness is to try to sit in the middle between two camps on every argument, present both sides and leave it at that. Because to get at the objective truth in cases where there is one would require alienating a large chunk of readers. So today we get this from USA Today, always eager to serve vanilla whenever someone asks for ice cream.

On balance, 'Deep Throat' is more hero than villain

"Felt revered the FBI and despised the White House for manipulating the agency politically. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward wrote Thursday that Felt "thought the Nixon team were Nazis" and feared for the country's future.

"Then again, Felt had been passed over by Nixon to head the FBI. And he was no saint. In 1980, he was convicted for his own abuse of power - authorizing FBI agents to illegally break into homes of people associated with members of a radical anti-war group. (President Reagan later pardoned him.) He lied repeatedly about whether he was Deep Throat."


On balance? Let me get this straight, you have to live your whole life with complete integrity and perfect behavior to qualify as a hero? I think the paper confuses hero with saint. Heroes are made not over a lifetime but in a moment. By a decision and an action. At a wedding a few years ago in the midst of the Lewinsky affair, a large group of guests were conservative and when they learned I was a Democrat they turned snarling and one of them said, "what Clinton did was so much worse than what they say Nixon did." OK folks, let's look at the video tape.

USA Today can get us started.

To understand that Felt's actions were more virtuous than villainous, it helps to recall the scandal's breathtaking magnitude. The 1972 break-in at the Watergate complex in Washington was not the "third-rate burglary" the White House called it. Nixon and his aides had set out to spy on political enemies, and the subsequent coverup caused their fall. They acted as if they were above the law. They misused government agencies, including the FBI, trying to halt its probe.

Why didn't Felt go through regular channels? For one thing, Felt's boss, FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, was a Nixon loyalist. And Gray's boss, U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell, was part of the coverup.

"Where else could Felt turn?" Ben Bradlee, the Post's top editor during Watergate, asked Thursday


Felt was not a Nixon employee. He was a government Civil Servant who had no channel in the government where he could turn. In the Pelican Brief, there is a reason why the Julia Roberts character goes to the press. She knows that going to the government could get her killed and in fact it almost does. Being a paranoid liberal now am I? Did Felt really face death? Well consider that G Gordon Liddy in his own autobiography admitted that in CREEP meetings he suggested that they could off inconvenient folks like Daniel Ellsberg by flipping his car and killing him in an apparent traffic accident. Consider what Lawrence Eagleberger, "former secretary of state, former Nixon administration official, Lawrence Eagleberger" said on Crossfire when asked if he thought Felt was Deep Throat:"Probably. You know, President Nixon once suspected him. I'm surprised he didn't end up dead somewhere because of that. But nevertheless, I think he did suspect it. I think, if you think about it now, it is at least very likely . We are not talking about the Boy Scouts here. Most of the people complaining about Felt today are loyal Nixon troops and conservative shills who went to jail for the crimes they committed in that administration. And there were crimes. If Nixon didn't order the break in itself, we know he did suggest the break in into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office so there is certainly a precedent there. And we know that Nixon played a major role in the cover up, impeding an investigation into a felony that sought to subvert democracy itself.

These folks thought they were above all law, felt justified in doing literally anything. They fired on mass or forced the resignation a host of public officials who wouldn't help them subvert the law in the Saturday Night Massacre.

And Felt turned them in. Rather than assuming he turned Nixon in because he was bitter he did not get the top job at the FBI, why don't we invert it and ask, maybe he did not get the top job because Nixon knew he was a man of character who wouldn't play by his 'team's' so called rules? Was his crime speaking rather than resigning? If so why don't these same folks criticize Linda Tripp? Was his crime not admitting he was Deep Throat or "lying about it" as USA Today says? Since when is the instinct for self preservation from thugs considered immoral? Let's face it, the man probably risked his life, certainly felt he was risking his life, and certainly his livelihood to protect us, to protect the Constitution of this nation from a group of thugs who had no commitment to democracy, who had contempt for the people, for the law, for everything but themselves. This man is a hero. We ought to give him a medal instead of having debates that are nuanced about his possibly conflicted motives.

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