Mark Salter, longtime chief-of-staff and head writer for John McCain, has a column in Real Clear Politics entitled "The Media's Pathetic Double Standard," in which he complains that the media is more critical of incivility by Republicans than Democrats. Salter, of course, is an almost uniquely inappropriate messenger for that particular message, for reasons we'll get to in a moment.
Salter's column is a case study in the use of false equivalence. For example:
Today's "birthers," are no more offensive or weird than those who believe the Bush Administration was complicit in planning the attacks of September 11
There is, of course, a bit of a difference: Today's "Birthers" count among their ranks several Republican members of congress and famous conservative media figures.
Many thousands of demonstrators marched on the Washington Mall last Saturday to protest Democratic healthcare reform proposals, and the Obama administration's record spending and centralization of economic power in the federal government. The Washington Post headlined the event as "Lashing Out at the Capitol." I can't recall the Post using a similar verb choice to characterize the expressions of anti- war protestors, some of whom carried posters bearing President Bush's likeness in a Nazi uniform and Hitler moustache.
Saturday's right-wing protest march in Washington -- based on a disparate and at times conflicting set of of grievances -- was given front-page play in the Washington Post. A 2002 anti-war rally in DC that drew 100,000 people was buried in the Metro section. And Salter thinks this is an example of a pro-liberal double standard! Incredible.
The Post's decision to bury coverage of that anti-war rally deep inside the paper may explain Salter's inability to recall the paper portraying the protesters negatively. Still, you would think the guy would do a simple Nexis search to confirm his clearly flawed memory before spouting off. Had he done so, he would have found this Post Ombudsman column:
Last Saturday, some 100,000 people, and possibly more, gathered in downtown Washington to protest against possible U.S. military action against Iraq. The Post did not put the story on the front page Sunday. It put it halfway down the front page of the Metro section, with a couple of ho-hum photographs that captured the protest's fringe elements.
I despair of the coarsening of our politics and our broader culture. So much so that after a lifetime in politics I'm beginning to think I might have rendered more honorable service to humanity had I worked in professional wrestling. That independents, who decide elections in this country, seem to feel the same way is enough encouragement to hope that perhaps we are still capable of reform. But our political discourse won't begin to recover any civility until we get some referees back in the game, who will call bullshit on both sides.
Which brings us to the problem with Mark Salter delivering this particular message. Salter's longtime boss, John McCain, has been responsible for some of the most intemperate displays of incivility in modern American politics -- and the media largely gave him a pass for it.
When McCain called a teenaged Chelsea Clinton "ugly," the media gave him a pass. When he praised as "excellent" a question that referred to Hillary Clinton as a "bitch," the media gave him a pass. When McCain used an ethnic slur to refer to the Vietnamese, the media barely batted an eye.
You'd be hard pressed to find an American politician who ever benefited from media double-standards as much as John McCain did -- particularly when it came to looking the other way when he said something nasty. And here's Mark Salter, claiming his party has been the victim of such double-standards.
And, given the media's decade-long love affair with McCain, you just know the media is going to buy this nonsense.