Another glaring example of the media's addiction to faux balance was on display Wednesday afternoon on CNN. It pains me to say that it was Rick Sanchez, whom I love watching and follow on Twitter, who fell into the phony "balance" trap.
The segment, which Sanchez dubbed "a classic showdown," was a replay from Tuesday's Lou Dobbs show featuring Barney Frank debating Michele Bachmann on her amendment that sought to deny federal funding to any group that has members who have been indicted -- a proposal aimed squarely at ACORN.
The "debate" was actually more of an evisceration, with Frank carving up Bachmann using those tricky little things called facts.
Memo to Sanchez: Lincoln/Douglas was "a classic showdown." This was the rhetorical equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals.
But what caught my attention was Sanchez's intro before he rolled the video. "This is a debate," he said, "between the Democrats' most vocal congressman, who is reviled by the right, and the Republicans' most vocal congresswoman, who is reviled by the left. Get the picture?"
Not really. Not unless the picture in question is a snapshot of unthinking equivalency. We've seen this picture countless times before, as the media, in the name of appearing fair, act as if every issue has two sides, and every talking head carries the same weight. Think of the many TV "debates" on climate change pitting a spokesman for 500 scientists on one side "balanced" with the go-to global warming denier, James Inhofe, on the other. Or, even more often, a paid flack for the pollution lobby.
Offered up as if both sides have equal standing and are presenting equally valid arguments.
To present Barney Frank as the reverse image of Michele Bachmann -- both "vocal" spokespersons for their respective parties, both "reviled" by the other side -- is patently ridiculous.
In a 2008 survey of Capitol Hill staffers, Barney Frank was voted "Brainiest" (along with "Funniest" and was runner up for "Most Eloquent"). Michele Bachmann finished second in the "Clueless" category.
Now there is plenty I disagree with Barney Frank on -- most recently his support for watering down mark to market accounting rules (here we are disagreeing).
But to make him the liberal Frick to Bachmann's conservative Frack is utterly ludicrous.
Barney Frank is a Harvard Law school graduate, an influential 15-term Congressman, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and has been variously described as "a master legislator," "a first-class mind," and "the smartest politician I've ever seen."
Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, has put her foot in her mouth so many times she has footprints on her tongue.
In just one month, the month of April, she said she fears the Obama administration will use "volunteerism" to create "re-education camps for young people"; she went on the floor of the House and said that "carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas"; she tried to pin the blame for swine flu on Democrats, saying that "swine flu broke out [in the 1970s] under... Democratic president Jimmy Carter" (leaving aside the utterly ridiculous correlation, it was actually Republican Gerald Ford who was in the White House when swine flu broke out); and she claimed that six imams taken off a flight in Minneapolis in 2006 were headed to Muslim "Congressman Keith Ellison's victory celebration." (They were in fact returning from a conference of the North American Imams Federation.)
All of this coming on top of her unforgettable campaign rant on Hardball this fall in which she said she was worried that Barack Obama "may have anti-American views" and called for the media to make like Joe McCarthy and investigate "anti-America" elements in Congress.
You can see why the political shows keep booking her -- she's a verbal train wreck waiting to happen.
But no one should be able to introduce Frank and Bachmann as two-sides of the same coin -- the wacky love-to-hate-them extremists -- without choking on the absurdity.
Instead, Sanchez ended the segment by exclaiming, "What a pair!" I wonder, had he listened to what they had said or was he busy Twittering? Here is the segment: