Moving Away From False Equivalence? The Morning After

By James Fallows

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:
 
Papers1223.png


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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/12/moving-away-from-false-equivalence-the-morning-after/250457/