Shifting baselines indeed.

According to their press release, Media Matters for America says there is “No Room for Progressives on Cable News Inauguration Coverage”. They list the few “Democrats or Progressive Commentators” who appeared on TV to cover Pres. Bush’s second inauguration.

This is similar to the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) survey which concluded that during two weeks of coverage (1/30/03-2/12/03) surrounding then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5 presentation at the U.N. (where he lied about the presence of illicit WMD in Iraq—a major justification for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq):

“More than two-thirds (267 out of 393) of the guests featured were from the United States. Of the U.S. guests, a striking 75 percent (199) were either current or former government or military officials. Only one of the official U.S. sources– Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.)– expressed skepticism or opposition to the war. Even this was couched in vague terms: “Once we get in there how are we going to get out, what’s the loss for American troops are going to be, how long we’re going to be stationed there, what’s the cost is going to be,” said Kennedy on NBC Nightly News (2/5/03).”

It is with this framing of the issue that I read Media Matters’ press release. I understood the issue they’re raising and I also cringed at what they had revealed—They lumped together Democrats and progressives as opponents to Republicans and conservatives on the inaugural coverage. This is odd to me because one of the most major issues in the election was the war against Iraq and there is significant agreement amongst the majority of Democrats, progressives, and Republicans that goes uncovered:

  • Democrats supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq and, overwhelmingly, still do.
  • Democrats supported giving Pres. Bush the unexpiring unilateral power to make war on foreign countries, skipping Congressional oversight. I see no evidence that the Democrats have changed their view on this. To the contrary, recently Sen. Kerry (D-MA) said he thought this authority was appropriate for the US President to have. Of course, he said that back when some believed he had a chance to win the presidency. He knows what a hassle it can be to convince Congress to go along with something and he’d like to skip that hassle himself.
  • Many people who consider themselves progressive on the issues voted in gerrymandered states, including Illinois and New York. In these states, a majority of states, progressives had an opportunity to vote for an anti-war candidate and a majority of them instead chose to support Sen. Kerry who clearly backed the war.
  • In three years, you’ll see these same progressives echoing the Democratic Party line on the war (“Can’t cut and run”, “…delivering democracy to Iraqis…”, “People of good conscience can disagree on the war…”, etc.) even though there is no way we can ethically justify this invasion or occupation (certainly not on the basis the US Government sold the war to us).

So, Democrats and progressives aren’t looking too starkly dissimilar from the Republican and conservative commentators which Media Matters uses as points of dichotomy. I’m sure one can find conservatives and progressives who have consistently disagreed with the war and the war-making power the president now has, but such people are in the minority on TV.

I’m reminded of a public service announcement I saw on local TV some time ago (called the “Ocean symphony PSA”); you might have seen it, it’s a national PSA. It has a number of celebrities holding symphonic instruments, playing them poorly, while Jack Black gestures as an over excited conductor might. The narrator tells us that if we let our standards slip, the noise these non-musicians produce will become the norm and we’ll come to believe this is a proper performance. So it goes with the sea—if we don’t remember what the sea used to look like we’ll never notice how polluted the sea has become. As a result, we run the risk of accepting a certain amount of industrial pollution as the norm. This organization calls this phenomenon “Shifting Baselines”.

When we leave out people with serious objections to the war, we shift the entire discussion to those who agree at some level that the war was justified. They disagree on the particulars (how many bombs to drop, how many killed civilians constitute an unacceptable number, etc.) and fill the airwaves bickering over the trivia on how best to kill Iraqis. Even the name “anti-war” is not quite right, as many people who are against this war thought other wars were acceptable (like the war against Afghanistan which started before the invasion of Iraq).