Moving Away From False Equivalence? The Morning After


I mentioned last night that the Washington Post's online report of the payroll-tax denouement avoided calling it "dysfunction" or "logjam" and instead reported it as an all-out Republican gamble on obstruction, which failed.

How would it play in the print editions this morning? In a very interesting way:

Washington Post: "House GOP surrenders on payroll tax cut"  Exactly so.

NYT: "House Republicans Agree to Extend Payroll Tax Cut" OK

WSJ: "Agreement Reached to Extend Tax Break     ?????  Agreement "reached" ? The WSJ's news page is not where I would have guessed the false-equivalency note to be struck.

On the other hand, we have the WSJ's editorial page. A reader says that I missed the importance of its denunciation of the House Republicans for taking their doomed stand:
I believe you missed a key note...

The Wall Street Journal editorial is itself a reason--perhaps the reason--that the WaPo could run an article as forthright about this being a Republican crisis and Republican capitulation. The greatest tragedy of modern American news is deeper than the "false equivalence", though that is indeed a terrible thing; it's that the GOP Noise Machine frames almost all news discourse. Often, it's the case that if the Republican aren't talking about something, it doesn't get discussed at all; but almost always, anything that gets talked about gets presented in the terms that are set by the Noise Machine.

The Journal editorial made it clear that "this is a crisis of the Republicans" was the permitted narrative, so that's how the WaPo allowed itself to present the issue.
Interesting. And perhaps it was a learned reflex of reacting against whatever their paper's editorial page is saying that led the Journal's usually excellent news judgment astray with this headline.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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