The New York Times was unequivocal: “Trump Gives White Supremacists an Unequivocal Boost,” read the headline of an article describing the president’s Tuesday afternoon remarks blaming “both sides” for the violence of neo-Nazis and KKK members in Charlottesville over the weekend.
On CNN shortly after President Trump’s combative “both sides” media event, CNN political director David Chalian remarked, “Well, my initial, candid response … was that this was a president who has lost touch with the country he represents. It’s that simple.” CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote, “Donald Trump is who we thought he was.”
On its homepage, CBS News told its audience what it thought of Trump’s quest for equivalency:
And on CBS Evening News, “Face the Nation” anchor John Dickerson noted that the effect of Trump’s outburst was to blame the left as opposed to shouting down the racists. The president, said Dickerson, “repeated and made worse his moral failure from Saturday.”
There were plenty of other straight-talking media reports coming out of Tuesday’s sepulchral events. It all marked a crossing of paths: While Trump clung to false equivalency and both-siderism, the media was repudiating it.
It wasn’t always that way. As a Shorenstein Center report noted, coverage of the Trump vs. Hillary Clinton campaign was a feast of false equivalency, as news outlets strained to pair up negative stories about one candidate with negative stories about the other. “When journalists can’t, or won’t, distinguish between allegations directed at the Trump Foundation and those directed at the Clinton Foundation, there’s something seriously amiss,” noted Shorenstein report author Thomas Patterson. “And false equivalencies are developing on a grand scale as a result of relentlessly negative news. If everything and everyone is portrayed negatively, there’s a leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans.”
A couple of falsely equivalent moments still ring in the ears of the Erik Wemple Blog, like the time that NBC News’s Chuck Todd in May 2016 foresaw an ugly race: “Are we really going to be here for six straight months, six straight months of the two most unpopular people running for president, probably going down a low road, led by Trump — Clinton probably feeling, doing the same thing, and it’s sort of this race to the bottom?” Or the time that the top officials of the White House Correspondents’ Association suggested similar threats to the media from both Trump and Clinton.
Time has exposed the fraud of such equivalencies. There were none.
Via Charlottesville, the media is seeing firsthand the dangers of false equivalence. “I’m not even saying we’re nonviolent,” says a white nationalist in a Vice Media video report. “I’m saying that f–––ing we didn’t aggress. We did not initiate force against anybody. We’re not nonviolent; we’ll f–––ing kill these people if we have to.”
Such statements notwithstanding, Trump — sounding like the media on the campaign trail — said stuff like this on Tuesday: “You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides.”