More on False Equivalence: “Both Sides Do It”


In the previous post about False Equivalence, we mentioned the “Both Sides Do It” tactic, which consists of trying to deflect criticism from Faction A about the behavior of Faction B by maintaining that Faction A is just as guilty of the same thing. In particular, you’ll frequently hear the assertion that left-wing extremists are just as vicious and nasty and loony as right-wing extremists (or even more so). If this is true, then there should be ample illustrations, right? And if there were ample illustrations, then right-wing fanatics surely would produce them, right? So why is it that the examples they produce are almost invariably false equivalences?

If you comment disapprovingly, for instance, about the cancer that is Fox “News”, then chances are somebody will respond with “hey, they’re just providing balance to all the liberal media out there, such as MSNBC”.  But even if you grant that there is a “liberal” bias to the other networks (a huge, huge presumption to say the least), that bias is nowhere near as pronounced as that of Fox. Furthermore, no other network engages in deliberate distortion and deception and hate-baiting to anywhere near the extent that Fox does. Nor does nay other network or media source enjoy the kind of power and influence Fox does. Fox is in a (classless) class all by itself.

When people compare “right-wing hate speech” with “left-wing hate speech”, they’re often talking about two very different things. They redefine incivility as it suits their needs. The “Both Sides Do It” mambo is in fact my favorite type of false equivalence, because it comes in so many varieties, comprising a virtual textbook on false equivalence variations. Here are a few of them:

1. The few vs. the many

As mentioned previously, Ann Coulter spent 352 pages failing spectacularly to substantiate her premise that “liberals hate conservatives” in Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.  In all those pages, she managed to produce only 4 possible examples of supposed “liberals” trashing “conservatives”. Four doesn’t seem like a very large number for the purposes of proving such a point — particularly when contrasted with, say, 163. That’s the minimum number of times Coulter herself attacked “liberals” in the same book.

What she did is called cherry picking, among other things. It also would be cherry picking to draw a conclusion about the right-wing punditocracy merely on the basis of her actions. But alas, she’s far from alone. This was only one of many books written by only one of many many right-wing extremists spending many many many hours and days and years writing such books and magazine articles and blogs, and endlessly prattling on radio and TV.

2. The specific vs. the general

And that was by no means Coulter’s only sin. She also tried to back up her “liberals hate conservatives” thesis by equating utterances by “liberals” about specific “conservatives” with a blanket condemnation of “conservatives” in general. With about 100,000,000 Americans who consider themselves “conservative”, you could trash some 50,000,000 specific “conservatives” without proving that you hate “conservatives” on the whole. And Coulter’s tally, let me remind you, isn’t quite that high. Meanwhile, she and her fellow right-wing pundits do indulge to the nth degree in vilifying “liberals” in general.

Quick, who is the “liberal” equivalent of Ann Coulter? If you answered Michael Moore, you’re buying into a narrative often pushed by the media — and by people who obviously have never read any of Moore’s books. He is probably indeed the most prominent among left-wing pundits, but he couldn’t be more different from Coulter. Far from attacking “conservatives” in general, he’s made a point of praising them where appropriate. (Likewise Al Franken and other outspoken leftists.) Hell, he even bent over backward to praise certain personal traits of George W. Bush, who on a political level has been one of his prime targets. Can you imagine Coulter (or Beck or Hannity or Limbaugh,etc. etc. etc.) saying a single word about Obama or “liberals” that isn’t utterly drenched in scorpion’s milk? Can you imagine Moore saying anything comparable to Coulter’s “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is that he did not go to The New York Times building”?

3. The fringe vs. the mainstream

Hang out on an Internet chat forum long enough, and you’ll hear some pretty nasty things from members of just about any and every “ism” conceivable. But does that mean that their actions are truly representative of their respective ideologies? Or are they just the extremist fringe of their groups?

And here is another area in which “liberals” differ from “conservatives”.  The left wing has its loony fringe too, but the Left tends to keep its loonies on the fringe. Lyndon LaRouche is officially a Democrat, but he’s always been shunned by the Democratic mainstream. President Obama distanced himself from Rev. Jeremiah Wright when the latter’s rhetoric became what was considered incendiary — or, if you prefer, when the public found out about the association. Either way, he exhibited some embarrassment about whom he’d rubbed elbows with. And by the way, Wright’s remarks were nowhere near as incendiary as they were painted; few were even that opinionated. Many of his utterances branded as “anti-American”  (“The government lied.”) and “racist” (“When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed.”)  were statements of verifiable fact. To a large extent, incivility was drastically redefined for a black librul.

The Right, on the other hand, openly and warmly embraces its own loony fringe, with the Tea Party working hand-in-hand with the (supposedly different) Republican Party. Indeed there’s really not much distinction anymore between “conservative” fringe and “conservative” mainstream. Anybody ever hear of Sarah Palin? Ted Cruz? Rick Perry? Michele Bachman?

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, at which the main activity (if not the only activity) is demonizing “liberals” has featured appearances by George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, along with Ann Coulter, Wayne LaPierre, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. During his tenure as Vice President, Dick Cheney was a guest on Rush Limbaugh’s program no fewer than 5 times. (Yes, this is the same Dick Cheney who said “I thought some of the things [Wright] said were absolutely appalling… I was stunned at what the reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his Web site.”) George H.W. Bush was a close ally of and paid promoter for vituperative, delusional, fascist-leaning cult leader (and convicted tax cheat) Sun Myung Moon, who among other things claimed to have presided over the posthumous wedding of Jesus. And so on. And on and on and on.

4. Words vs. actions

Sure, some leftists have unsavory things to say about, for example, “conservatives” who enact laws to marginalize gays. But “conservatives” who enact laws to marginalize gays, enact laws to marginalize gays.

Similarly, if you mention how hatefully and savagely Christians have treated non-Christians over the centuries, you may hear some Christians say, “well hey, I tried talking to some atheists on a website and they were very rude to me; so obviously they’re capable of being nasty too” No doubt. And there’s rarely a good excuse for rudeness.  But surely you don’t mean to put that in a league with burning people at the stake or skinning them alive? Or even bullying them on the schoolyard and in the classroom? Or even passing laws to discriminate against them? Or even barring them from belonging to certain organizations? The fact that some of these things were done with smiling faces while reciting Bible passages doesn’t make them any less hateful.

5. Different contexts

Another thing about the above example is that, while the rudeness may not be justified, it’s at least understandable when you consider all the oppression and persecution and marginalization atheists have endured. Christians have rarely if ever undergone anything comparable. (No, it doesn’t work to equate the atrocities committed by Christians during, say the Inquisition with the casualties that occurred during the scant handful of dictatorships that have been officially atheist — e.g., Stalinist Russia. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

Whenever you draw attention to the right’s deranged, irrational hatred of President Obama, you’re likely to hear someone remind you that the Left was rather vitriolic toward George W. Bush. True, but the context couldn’t be more different. Bush got into office by very shady means, and once there he left the nation open to the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil; and he used that attack as justification for a dishonestly supported invasion of a nation that had no involvement in it. Even if you’re a loyal Bushnik and you wholeheartedly support these (and other) actions he and his administration undertook, you must admit — at least if you’re intellectually honest– that “liberal” animosity toward Bush was based on things he actually did.

But if you ask Obama haters why they’re Obama haters, they’re likely to tell you that it’s because he’s a socialist, or he’s a fascist, or he’s a Kenyan, or he’s a muslim, or he’s an atheist, or he’s the Anti-Christ, or he should have given Bush the credit for nabbing bin Laden, or he’s trying to take away your guns, or he wants to outlaw fishing, or he’s let the United Nations take over our national parks, or he’s had the IRS target “conservative” organizations, or Benghazi something or other Benghazi. This is not to suggest that the current president is flawless; it’s just that the attacks against him rarely are rooted in reality. (If you want an honest and sane assessment of his shortcomings, you’d be better off turning to his left-wing critics than his right-wing attackers.)

Sometimes context makes all the difference in the world.

6. Analysis, speculation, and criticism vs. distortion, attribution, attack and eliminationism

Can you spot the difference between these two statements?

1. Conservatives claim to be pro-life, but they often support the death penalty and aggressive warfare that kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

2. Liberals are anti-American terrorist sympathizers. It’s time to resort to Second Amendment remedies to stop them.

If you really can’t, I suggest you do some thorough research and reflection before attempting to comment on this matter.

So are left-wingers really just as hateful and batty as right-wingers? Well, technically that’s a question open to debate, as there is no body of comprehensive and objective data on the topic. But there are four things we do know for certain: (1) Apparently there are differences in “liberal” and “conservative” brains. Research indicates that the former are generally better equipped to handle conflict, while the latter are more likely to react with fear. Which might explain why right-wingers are so often caught up in conspiracy theories and paranoid delusion. And gun mania. And which logically would make them more likely to attack The Others. (2) And they do indeed attack The Others. With lots of hateful, inflammatory rhetoric. Lots and lots and lots of hateful, inflammatory rhetoric. Not just from the fringe, but the mainstream. Not just against specific targets, but against millions of Americans they know nothing about. (3) Despite their best efforts, they’ve been consistently unable to document that the Left does the same thing to anywhere near the same degree. (4) Their attempts to demonstrate this almost invariably hinge on false equivalence.

4 thoughts on “More on False Equivalence: “Both Sides Do It”

  1. POP,

    When I discuss which party is responsible for obstruction on Capitol Hill, I no am no longer content to accept the idea that both sides do it. Its seems more accurate to say that the controlling right wing factions of the Republican party do it way much more, and are only too happy to hide behind the lie that Democrats are guilty of the same type of dogma.

    A conservative climate change denier, or a (contrarian) as they prefer to be called, recently used the common idea that left wing liberals are ruled by faulty emotionalism and are therefore incapable of knowing the truth, as an argument in his letter to our newspaper’s opinion page–a now common refrain. In response, I pointed out that there is plenty of animosity on both sides, and that the (scorpion juice) Republicans tend to mariante their objects of hate in, is always evident in the angry and indignant ways they talk describe any who criticizes them. Of course, I didn’t use the term (Scorpion juice). but thinking back, your use of the term would have been both descriptive, and very appropriate.

    But In general, what does being angry have to do with whether or not the climate really is warming? The letter writer seemed to be basing his arguments on all sorts of ad hominem accusations that lay blame on the supposed unsavory traits of climate scientists and then comparing their certitude to a type of cult-like religous zealotry–again failing to provide actual evidence about whether scientists are right or wrong! I felt proud that I countered him by asking why having concerns for the air we breath, the water we drink, and the well-being of our progeny, really has anything to do with being religious or non religious? Still, its hard not to be immediately polarized and resort to rebutting what is really a non-partisan problem, with partisan rhetoric. Isn’t human survival and access to a livable environment, everyone’s concern? And yes, Democrats are also in the pockets of big oil lobbyists, but far more of them support the fact that man’s role in climate change is proven–even though any possible discrepancy or research anomaly is immediately seized upon to accuse Nobel prize winning scientists of knowing less about climate science than the plumber who just fixed a leak in their sinks, the garbage man who picks up their trash or the notorious denier who has only a BS degree in economics? The scary thing is that Conservative Republicans are masters of playing on our fears and convincing us that some monstrous plot to take over the economy by Socialists, or Communists, is behind it all? And somehow they have managed to downplay the much more logical and likely conspiracy involving big oil and big coal executives, while the armies of ALEC, are the real perpetrators? Let’s see, ordinary scientists doing research, or filthy rich oil executives who want to maintain every last bit of profits they receive, and resort to scapegoating climate scientists in order to provide camouflage for their greed? Why don’t more of us realize that such thinking really is perfect proof of the fact that the emperor is really wearing no clothes? Sure the economic model we now have is going to be altered in the process–as it always is whenever one form of technology or type of business model becomes more desirable than another, i.e the ability to bring electric power to more and more people who no longer need to rely on coal and wood for their primary energy sources, kerosene lamps replaced by incandescent bulbs, and more recently, low energy fluorescent bulbs, to replace incandescent ones. Also, as in my parents time–the rise of huge farming concerns operating thousands and thousands of acres, which have all but eliminated small farms in America—all made possible with modern machinery and the consequent rise of agribusiness. But what deniers won’t admit. is that green energy dominance will actually happen after a refocusing of capitalist’s endeavors—towards making less costly profits from newable energy and the infrastructructure that comes with it–no dirty commies here–only the success of more profitable green energy enterprises!

    There was a time when the arguments against big government and the tax-induced dampening of the entrepreneurial spirit, made some sense. However today’s conservative Republicans seems to have gone over to the dark side. One can only hope that any sane members of their constituency will someday, try playing with at least a bit more honesty, and, at least, a small measure of integrity, in honor of the democratic process.

  2. Pingback: There’s Videos, and Then There’s Videos | The Propaganda Professor

  3. Pingback: Falsies and their equivalents… | The Widdershins

  4. Pingback: Protests Against Logical Fallacies | The Propaganda Professor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s