By Isaac Butler
Andrew Sullivan-- or one of his crew of uncredited ghostwriters-- has a pair of posts up today. One is called "The Sickness On The Right." Immediately following it is a post called "The Sickness On The Left." It's a telling moment, one that exposes exactly how the "both sides do it" false-equivalence-masking-as-balance within the media works.
First, you have a formal device establishing that the two things being discussed are of equal weight. The blog posts are the same length. They have parallel titles with one word difference ("Right" and "Left") that imply that the subject matter is a sign of a particular problem within the community being discussed. The problem is the comparison doesn't work.
Why? Well, first off, because the things being compared aren't of the same scale. Drawing an equivalence between them doesn't work (morally, ethically, politically) because their effect and real world consequences are different. The Sickness of the Right that Andrew Sullivan Inc. is writing about is the tolerance of racism from powerful political figures. In this case, a Chief US District Judge (That would a Presidentially apointed, Senate-confirmed jurist) sent a racist joke about Barack Obama's mom having sex with a dog over e-mail. The Sickness of the Left, meanwhile, is that some people said some really nasty things about Andrew Breitbart after he died on Twitter. Here's the article it links to. Besides Matt Yglesias, almost none of the people quoted have any influence on "the left" at all, and not a single Democratic elected or appointed official is quoted.
These are not the same things. There is no equivalence here. A Federal Judge has vast amount of influence on any number of issues including the life or death of people who appear in his or her courts. Matt Yglesias writes about the economy for Slate.com. The fact that the former sent out a racist e-mail has a great deal of bearing on his job, the fact that the latter sent out some callous tweets does not.
Furthermore, the problem of sending out ugly tweets after someone dies is not a sickness of the Left. We are not uniquely callous and predisposed to pissing on the graves of our enemies. Why, a Right Wing journalist was recently fired for actually advocating we piss on the graves of our enemies. And here's what Andrew Breitbart himself had to say about Ted Kennedy on twitter right after Kennedy died.
This is how the game always works. A scientist lying to a think tank to surrepticiously gain access to documents showing how that think tank deliberately spreads misinformation about global warming to help its corporate clients is somehow morally equivalent to that think tank. The Tea Party-- which amongst other things spent a summer openly celebrating and inviting armed insurrection against a sitting President-- is the same as Occupy Wall Street because, uh, puppets? Obama is the same as Republican politicians because he pointedly criticizes their proposals while they infer that he's not a natural born citizen of the United States. These things are not the same. Part of the game is pretending they are so that the considerable faults of one side can be excused away.