Veteran political consultant and commentator James Carville says the media assumes false equivalence when covering major policy disagreements, allowing right-wing misinformation to overshadow clear evidence that Democratic policies on issues like the economy and health care have been successful.
Carville, who is a guest contributor to Media Matters, recently released We’re Still Right, They’re Still Wrong, a sequel to his 1996 book We’re Right, They’re Wrong. In an interview with Media Matters, Carville explained that he wrote the book because “the Democratic Party does a very poor job of tootin’ our own horn” while “right-wing blowhards” successfully push misinformation about Democratic policies into mainstream media coverage.
“The economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans -- there’s no debate there,” Carville explained. “You don’t even have to be an expert to go look up unemployment data. Look up growth. The deficit is remarkably lower under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents.” But Carville argues that reporters’ obsession with presenting “both sides” of policy disagreements -- rather than focusing on evidence -- ends up lending credibility to right-wing misinformation. Conservatives "don’t ever cite any facts for anything that they say. And they just move on.”
Carville highlighted conservative fearmongering on issues like Obamacare, the Ebola virus -- which some warned was going to “kill us all” -- and climate change as notable examples. “It’s not a disputable fact. The earth is getting warmer; get over it. There‘s not another side of the argument.”
Carville sees evidence of that same false equivalence in reporting about the presidential election. “I do interviews and they say, ‘Well, we have two unpopular candidates.’ Yes, that’s sort of true, but one is twice as unpopular as the other.”
In Carville’s view, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy is the natural product of years of fact-free right-wing fearmongering. “I think Trump is the perfect nominee of a party that hates facts. Because he doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know the nuclear triad from the federal triangle. And he is just exactly what they deserve. They’ve been a fact-denying party from evolution to global warming to economic policy to foreign policy, so why should they be surprised if they have a fact-denying nominee? He fits in perfectly for them.”
At the same time, Carville sees a double standard in the way reporters handle each candidate's respective controversies. In a March piece for Media Matters, Carville laid out what he dubbed “The Clinton Rule” based on the Beltway media’s obsession with supposed Clinton “scandals”: “There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons.”
As a recent example, Carville pointed to the media’s recent scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation and the growing calls for the Clintons to shut it down. He urged Democrats to be blunt in their defense of the foundation: “People are going to die. Yes, people will die when you shut it down.” He dismissed potential hand-wringing over his proclamation: “‘Oh gee, do you think you should you really say that?’ Well it’s a fact.”
“My message to Democrats is, you’ve been right, get over it. You can be nice, you can be polite about it, but you’ve just been right,” Carville said. “I’m sure it’s going to come a day where we’ll get something wrong and we’ll deal with that, too.”