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James Carville: Media coverage of shutdown sacked

Greg Nash

I took to these pages earlier this month loathing the polarization and fragmentation of the media. That you can easily find an echo chamber to suit your political views so easily is a part of what’s wrong with Washington.

But the conventional-wisdom-spewing, a-pox-on-both-of-their-houses-declaring Beltway political coverage of and editorializing about the shutdown bothered me just as much.

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Some have even decried the coverage of the coverage (not unlike what I am doing here), saying that the horse race-type presentation in which, dare I say it, winners were declared is dumbing down the conversation — that the coverage of politics has gotten eerily close to the coverage of sports.

Well, let me say this. The thing I love about politics and sports is that there is an end goal — winning — and there are indeed winners and losers. Elections sometimes get stolen (see: 2000, Florida), but it’s mostly clear-cut.

As much as we’d all like to think that there is nuance involved, someone is usually more at fault when Washington is stuck.

As former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower said, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

So when I think about how the political journalist class in D.C. covered the government shutdown, in which many political journalists and pundits claimed that nobody won or that everyone just needs to act like grown-ups, it makes me want to stick a fork in my eye.

Here’s my best comparison: Take the Denver Broncos’s thrashing of the Washington Redskins this past weekend. There was a clear winner and a clear loser in that game.

The Washington political journalist class would note that its favorite part of the game was the coin toss, because the score was tied, and both sides stood shoulder to shoulder to meet at midfield. They would be aghast at the partisans in the stands, cheering when the opposing team drops the ball or misses a scoring opportunity. 

A D.C. political journalist would have said to forget that Denver outscored the Redskins by 24 points, or to ignore Peyton Manning’s more dominant performance, or to disregard the total yard differential or the time of possession.

“Despite the 45-21 final score, there were no winners. Both teams managed over 20 first downs. They had nearly the same number of drives.

The ball moved up and down the field, back and forth for nearly the entire 60 minutes of play. While the Redskins out-gained the Broncos on the ground, the Broncos had more passing yards. Had it not been for a few turnovers, the Redskins would have likely stayed in the game.”

Overall, it must be remembered that both defenses were scored on and scored on frequently. The difference between three touchdowns is really only one half of football. If you stop and think about six touchdowns and a field goal versus three touchdowns scored in the game, it really demonstrates that both teams are at fault and that the football fans throughout the country are looking for something better than what Washington and Denver has to offer.”

You see how ridiculous that sounds?

The real losers are not just the “American people.” Mr. President, I am sure the American people lost, but let’s be clear  — the Republicans and the Redskins lost their respective battles badly.

It would be absurd for the media establishment to suggest otherwise.

The recent political back-and-forth got so bad that there’s now this debate about the role that the media’s “false equivalency” played in the aftermath of the shutdown, whether in its overcompensating attempt to not look like the “liberal media,” its trusted watchdog status has been diluted.

Regardless, it gets clearer by the day. In the aftermath of the shutdown, the Republicans in Congress were the clear losers. Their brand is severely damaged. They risked the full faith and credit of the U.S. government for a demand that was not going to be negotiated. Then again, what have they gotten right in the last decade? So even despite the media, the American people seemed to figure it all out.

I’m a betting man, so I’ll go out on a limb and say that I expect some decisive Democratic victories next Tuesday in Virginia. But the Washington media will likely be at it again, claiming it was a mixed bag when considering the results in New Jersey. As if the two races mean the same thing.

Like Sunday’s game, there will be a clear winner that night, too. And no one in the D.C. political journalist class will be able to convince me otherwise.

Carville is a chief political correspondent for ARISE Television. He also serves as a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin. His column will appear twice a month in The Hill.