Smart Politics asks a stupid question


One moment from Smart Politics's interview with Minnesota Monitor editor Steve Perry yesterday leaped out at me.

The blog from the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs tossed a few softballs, asked a pertinent query or two -- and then misfired crazily. Check this final question out:

Smart Politics: Lastly, your code of ethics states writers should:

“Seek to improve the public discourse by never stereotyping based on race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status. Avoid imposing cultural values on others and keep in mind the growing diversity of modern society.”

Since political reporting comprises a large portion of the beats you cover, it is surprising you have no explicit guidelines against stereotyping based on political party and ideology. Don’t you think such stereotyping is perhaps the biggest cause of the growing partisan divide in this country? By permitting, if not encouraging, political stereotyping, does not Minnesota Monitor contribute to this partisan divisiveness in our culture?

Let me contribute to divisiveness by pointing out that this is a bone-chillingly stupid question.

Equating political beliefs and ideology with qualities like race and gender isn't just false equivalence, it buys into the whiny dodge that all beliefs are worthy of equal respect. First, race and gender are not like political party affiliation because the former qualities are not chosen. The question implies that painting with a broad political brush ("People pushing tax cuts for the rich are greedy") is the same as ethnic stereotyping ("Jews are greedy.")

Sure, stereotyping is generally bad. It substitutes for real and careful analysis. But this type of muddle-in-the-middle fake centrism is pernicious in its own right.

In the marketplace of ideas, there is plenty that's not worth buying. Some beliefs are harmful, and dumb, and cannot be defended with logic and reason. They should be exposed as such. Pillories directed at indefensible arguments or ideologies should not be called "stereotyping"; it should be called "journalism."

That's my answer. Since I quoted the question in full, let me end with Perry's reply:

MM: No, I do not think “stereotyping” is the biggest cause of the growing partisan divide. I think factors such as a costly war mounted on the basis of fabricated threats, coupled with a stateside economy that is foundering badly and the approach of an election that will select a successor to the most unpopular President of the modern age, probably have a little more to do with the growing partisan divide than stereotyping does. And more fundamentally, I do not buy your premise that the growing partisan divide is a bad thing. Considering the enormous change of course at home and abroad that the Bush era has represented, I think anything less than a “growing partisan divide” would be a symptom of the failure of democracy.