False equivalence: white nationalism edition

Liberals have long complained about false equivalence in news coverage. An example of such equivalence that might bring rage: reporting that frames the statements of climate deniers as having equal weight as statements from legitimate climate scientists.

Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, did a lot of pre-Election hand wringing about how false equivalence might win Trump the election:

If Donald Trump becomes president, the news media will bear a large share of the blame. I know some (many) journalists are busy denying responsibility, but this is absurd, and I think they know it. As Nick Kristof says, polls showing that the public considers Hillary Clinton, a minor fibber at most, less trustworthy than a pathological liar is prima facie evidence of massive media failure.

In fact, it’s telling that this debate is usually framed as one of false equivalence and whether it’s a problem. It’s a lot better to have this debate than a continuation of the unchecked media assault on Clinton. But it’s actually much worse than that. The media haven’t treated Clinton fibs as the equivalent of outright Trump lies; they have treated more or less innocuous Clintonisms as major scandals while whitewashing Trump. Put simply, until the past few days the media have had it in for Clinton; only now, at the last moment or possibly after the last moment has the enormity of the sin begun to sink in.

Donald Trump is president now. That hasn’t stopped the Times from engaging in some heavy-handed false equivalence of their own lately.

Take the recent article Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Victory With a Salute: ‘Heil Victory’. I’m not sure that you could find a more incendiary or left-baiting headline.

An excerpt from the breathlessly reported article:

Earlier in the day, Mr. Spencer himself had urged the group to start acting less like an underground organization and more like the establishment.

But now his tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room — it was not clear who — shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.

This is legitimately terrifying and this kind of conference and this kind of behavior has no place in American civic life. But note the number of attendees: two hundred. There were only two hundred people there.

Contrast this with the annual NAACP Convention, an event that Trump has declined to address, despite an invitation. The NAACP Convention draws around 10,000 attendees every year.

The Times‘ false equivalency here helps no one. It doesn’t help American political discourse. It doesn’t help readers of the Times. It doesn’t help the effort to defeat “White Nationalism.” It doesn’t help undermine Trump’s potentially racist agenda. It’s just counter-productive noise. It’s crying wolf.

It’s possible that the time will come that we need a strong, independent, trusted media to rally the country to the defense of our Constitutional rights in the face of a dangerous, racist demagogue who’s occupying the Oval Office. It would be nice if that media didn’t squander whatever credibility it had left by writing stupid click-bait articles about “the children of the sun” celebrating Trump’s election with Nazi salutes.

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