Damn, I am annoyed. But I see hope.
On this morning’s “Weekend Edition” report on Monday’s expected US House January 6th referral of former President Trump for criminal charges, NPR’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson repeatedly referred to Trump’s effort to “Stop the Steal” as though there was a “steal” to stop.
“… when the former president encouraged his supporters to go up to congress to stop the steal, he was trying to stop congress from doing it’s official duty…”
“… according to the committee, not just sending his supporters up to stop the steal, but also to …”
Most of the rest of the words used by Liasson were appropriate, placing Trump’s actions in a framework that clearly indicated they were wrong. But the term “stop the steal” was not used in radio-scare-quotes, or with any ironic contextual verbiage. The term was used as though it was fact, that there was a “steal,” and Trump was trying to stop it.
You may think I’m nitpicking here, but I’m not. A statement that implies that Trump’s engineering of a violent insurrection was in any way appropriate or routine should burn in someone’s ears and nauseate in someone’s mouth. I hate to Godwin the discussion, but imagine saying something like “Hitler was well known for his efforts to address the Jewish Problem,” or words to that effect, and imagine saying that two or three times while summarizing Hitler’s biography. One would not do that. With reference to Trump’s efforts to overthrow democracy and reverse the legal outcome of a legitimate election, one should also not do that.
It was a mistake by Liasson that was allowed because she lives in a particular linguistic environment engendered by the specific journalistic culture of NPR in which all efforts are made to maintain the sense of balance, of false balance, regardless of the issues being discussed. This religious adherence to false balance is part of the reason that Trump’s insurrection could happen to begin with. The right wing rhetoric of Fox News and Infowars has gotten somewhere over recent decades because it took off from a platform of presumed equivalence and legitimacy of all perspectives. NPR maintains the “Overton window” in just the right position that the view out that window includes equal parts QAnon and Bernie Sanders.
After reporter Liasson made this mistake twice, NPR reporter Ayesha Rascoe provided a corrective. “And we should say ‘Stop the Steal’ is Trump’s term, that was what he was trying to do.” Liasson acceded to this correction and restated with reference to Trump trying to stop a free and fair election.
Liasson has been with NPR since 1985, and is part of the old guard there. She is one of the journalists involved in proving NPR to be an out-front, excellent, and fair reporting agency, back in the day. But over the years, I think she was also part of the NPR squad responsible for a rightward shift in reporting style and bias, which I’ve always assumed was the the result of bullying of the news agency by right wing elements in Congress.
Ayesha Roscoe is a relative newcomer, having joined NPR only four or five years ago. She is well known for her coverage of the Deepwater spill and the Fukushima disaster, and she covered the Obama White House for Reuters. Perhaps this impressive diversity of journalistic service immunized her from the NPR rightward slide that has caused many of us to withdraw perennial financial report from the organization.
Or, perhaps, as a newcomer correcting veteran Liasson, Roscoe will be put in her proper place in some quiet, back room manner. I hope not.
I hope Ayesha Roscoe is the future of NPR, and not just a thorn in the side of a bad journalistic culture. I’m watching, and at some later time, I’ll reconsider my boycott of support of NPR and it’s coven of whataboutist false-equivalencers.