David Leonhardt of the New York Times earned a cheer from me this morning with his column on centrist bias in journalism, a bias that currently hits liberal Democratic candidates like Warren and Sanders hard.
He takes off from an observation by John Harris of Politico, which also deserves a cheer for the tendency — in evidence locally as well as nationally in the commentator class. He wrote of centrist bias:
“This bias is marked by an instinctual suspicion of anything suggesting ideological zealotry, an admiration for difference-splitting, a conviction that politics should be a tidier and more rational process than it usually is.”
Leonhardt picks up the thread:
Centrist bias, as I see it, confuses the idea of centrism (which is very much an ideology) with objectivity and fairness. It’s an understandable confusion, because American politics is dominated by the two major parties, one on the left and one on the right. And the overwhelming majority of journalists at so-called mainstream outlets — national magazines, newspapers, public radio, the non-Fox television networks — really are doing their best to treat both parties fairly.
In doing so, however, they often make an honest mistake: They equate balance with the midpoint between the two parties’ ideologies. Over the years, many press critics have pointed out one weakness of this approach: false equivalence, the refusal to consider the possibility that one side of an argument is simply (or mostly) right.
But that’s not the only problem. There’s also the possibility that both political parties have been wrong about something and that the solution, rather than being roughly halfway between their answers, is different from what either has been proposing.
Yep, spare me those forever trying to define a perfect mid-point in politics between the extremists. Sometimes one is right and the other wrong. As Leonhardt notes, citing Arthur Schlesinger, startling changes in public life didn’t come from the middle — think abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights, the New Deal, civil rights for black Americans, Reagan’s laissez-faire revolution and same-sex marriage.
And yes, look what Trump is driving now. Racial and religious discrimination, to name two, aren’t centrist. Or let us hope not.