The Corner

Media

‘Republicans Pounce’ Coverage Is Toxic to Government Accountability

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers speaks at the DNC in Milwaukee, Wis., August 19, 2020. (Melina Mara/Reuters)

Politico: “Rather than act as an attack dog or savvy politico who helps amplify Joe Biden’s message to combat President Donald Trump, [Democrats] say, [Wisconsin governor Tony] Evers instead has allowed Republicans to cast him as weak and ineffective.”

Hmm. Evers is “allowing” Republicans to “cast him as weak and ineffective.” It couldn’t possibly be that he is actually is weak and ineffective, right? Why, it almost sounds like Republicans are pouncing on a governor doing a lousy job.

The prevalence of “Republicans pounce” headlines is probably underappreciated for how damaging they are to good government. You’ve seen plenty of them before. “Republicans pounce on Minneapolis plan to dismantle the police.” Biden sexual assault claim divides Democrats as Republicans pounce.” “Republicans call for independent investigation into Cuomo’s nursing home policy.”Ocasio-Cortez Team Flubs a Green New Deal Summary, and Republicans Pounce.” “Hillary Clinton Calls Many Trump Backers ‘Deplorables,’ and G.O.P. Pounces.”

People in government are human beings, which means that at least once in a while — if not more frequently — they’re going to screw up. The new website to buy health insurance doesn’t work, the guns sent to the cartels in Mexico don’t get tracked, veterans die waiting for treatment from VA hospitals, the OPM computers aren’t secure, the recovering coronavirus patients sent back into the nursing homes turn out to still be contagious, the first tests for the virus don’t work, the FDA requirements slow down the development of new testing techniques, the stockpiles of supplies don’t get restocked, the guidance to banks on the small-business relief program gets delayed . . .

A more responsible press would recognize, “Holy smokes, something bad has happened! We had better get to the bottom of how it happened, who is responsible, hold them accountable, and ensure that the same problem can’t occur again!” But fairly early on, some reporters recognize, “Wait, the more we explain this problem and how it happened, the more people might lose faith in Democratic officeholders.” Some reporters quickly lose interest in the problem itself and become much more interested in how Republicans are responding to the problem.

People look to their leaders for cues. If a politician says that allegations of mismanagement, bad judgment, scandals, corruption, or other bad news are baseless partisan nonsense, or “fake news,” people who already like that politician will see a psychological permission slip to tune out that scandal or problem. And when members of the media echo that defense by shoehorning the story into the “more of the usual partisan finger-pointing and bickering” template, most people tune it out.

The thing is, if you strongly believe in the power of government to do good, you should be really motivated to find and fix problems in government. You shouldn’t really care that much about who is “pouncing” on the news of the problem, because who wins a news cycle is fairly unimportant compared with actually fixing the problem. And this goes for most campaign controversies, too. The consequences of a policy of dismantling the police matter more than who’s pouncing over the proposal. A sexual-assault claim, a nursing-home policy that ends up killing senior citizens, and a federal-legislation proposal that includes eliminating air travel and removing all greenhouse gas from industry and agriculture are all more important than who’s pouncing over it.

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