the narrative, on rails

I really have to stop watching the 7 pm hour of CNN, “OutFront” with Erin Burnett. I’m not a Burnett fan, and tonight was yet another depressing example of why. The topic was “playing chicken with debt,” as the words on the bottom of the screen reminded us all the way through the first part of the segment which showed…President Obama.

True, Obama held a press conference today at which he said he wouldn’t negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling, and true, Burnett mentioned that the Republicans were players in this, but Obama was the only politician shown or quoted, and unless you were paying very, very close attention, you would have come to the conclusion that Obama is the one playing recklessly playing chicken with the debt ceiling.  Which is, of course, crazy.

From there, something unexpected happened – first, David Frum pointed out that the federal deficit is getting better, and then an economist was allowed to say that not only is the government borrowing money at dirt cheap rates, it should borrow more and that cutting spending, austerity, would be a disaster. These ideas are almost never heard on Burnett’s program, and for a brief moment the whole “fix the debt by cutting entitlements and by the way giving rich people more tax breaks” train was derailed.

But only briefly. Burnett quickly dispatched Frum and the economist without follow-up questions, like “Wait, you’re saying we should borrow more? And it won’t hurt us? We’ve been saying the exact opposite for three, four years now so explain how that could be.” She then brought out regular talking partner John Avlon and – as if the preceding two minutes hadn’t happened – Avlon suggested with a couple of interview clips that what we really need is a ‘deal’ between the parties. Of course, most of what he said was so vague you couldn’t really tell what he’s calling for, but…you got the point. Everybody needs to give. We need compromise.

In fact, it is the Republicans in the House who are threatening to shoot the hostage, i.e. the economy, and there’s a really good case to be made for not compromising. But if the Republicans are not going to be seen or heard from, and if their ideas get a pass as they did tonight, all the onus for the debt ceiling problem shifts back onto the one person who was shown, the President. And that’s just not true to what’s going on, it’s not fair to the broader idea that one party is more responsible than the other, and it’s lazy, shallow journalism. I (wearily) expect nothing more.

(Although I didn’t see it at the time, Krugman weighed in on ‘No Labels,’ the group Avlon helps lead, and what’s so wrong about its central premise, a few hours before I wrote the above. As always, essential reading. )

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