False Equivalence Watch: CNN Edition

Just now on CNN, the estimable* Candy Crowley asked a panel about the endless partisan standoffs and battles between the Obama administration and the Republican opposition.

The panel was set up as two journalists (A.B Stoddard of The Hill and Michael Duffy of Time), one former Democratic official (Melody Barnes, Obama's ex-domestic policy adviser), and one former Republican official. This last person was Elaine Chao, who was identified in the intro and in on-screen subtitles as a labor secretary under G.W. Bush, head of the Peace Corps under the first George Bush, head of the United Way, etc. 

In the discussion about the "fiscal cliff" and larger Washington dysfunction, Chao argued that the blame was all on the president's side. Obama offered "no leadership" on the issue. It was the "Republicans who reached out" -- plus Joe Biden. (The discussion is now on line here.) In general it was wrong to blame Congressional Republicans for the difficulty of getting things done. 

Fair enough argument, and the right one for the Republican panelist to make. But it is one for which an additional fact about Chao would have been nice to mention. This picture will give you a little clue as to what that fact is.



Bonus points: 

* Not being snarky in complimenting Crowley. That's why I'm surprised that she didn't cut in to say, "Of course viewers should know that one of the Republicans you're talking about is your husband, the senate minority leader" or something shorter to the same effect. E.g., "for the record, we should mention that you're married to a prominent Republican Senator." Or that CNN's chyron-writers didn't add it -- in addition to being useful info, it's more interesting than her Heritage Foundation connections, which were mentioned.

** As a general rule, in today's jumbled world one spouse should not necessarily be held responsible for the business, policies, mistakes, successes, etc., of the other. 

But when the specific topic of conversation is what the other spouse is doing in his or her day job, a "for the record" disclosure makes sense. The general guideline on disclosure is: if there is some fact that might change a reader's or viewer's assessment of your opinions, if the viewer knew it, then you should go out of your way to make that fact known (even if you think it has no bearing on your opinion). If Michelle Obama is talking about Barack, or Bill Clinton about Hillary, or Ann Romney about Mitt, there's no reason for "disclosure" because everyone knows what the connection is and can allow for it. Not in this case. Extra background here.
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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.

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