On March 15, Donald Trump won Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois, dispatching Marco Rubio’s campaign to the ash heap of history and giving every impression that he had become the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. Hillary Clinton also did extremely well that day, taking Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. The New York Times gave its prime spot—the top-right corner of the paper’s front page—to a story headlined “2 Front-Runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Find Their Words Can Be Weapons.” Readers quickly learned, if they had missed it previously, that Trump frequently used words like “bimbo,” “dog,” and “fat pig” to refer to some of the women he didn’t like, and this had led to disapproval ratings among women that reached historic proportions. And what “weapons” did Clinton give her adversaries? During a recent speech in coal country, she had suggested that her support for sustainable, clean-energy jobs would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Surely, you get the symmetry: Trump employs sexist school-yard taunts to denigrate roughly half the people on the planet. Clinton bravely tells her audience something they might not want to hear in support of a policy with short-term costs for some but long-term benefits for all. Same thing, right? Just ask, as the Times reporters did, a spokesman for the “anti-Clinton super PAC” America Rising, who opined that Clinton demonstrated a “brazen disregard for the men and women who help power America.” So you see, “dogs,” “pigs,” and “bimbos” versus clean energy. Both sides do it.
From the earliest days of this campaign, Times reporters have been transparently eager to blame “both sides,” often regardless of circumstance. Last November, Times reporter Michael Barbaro devoted a lengthy article to the GOP candidates’ most brazen lies, albeit one filled with euphemisms for the word “lie.” Carly Fiorina “refused” to back down from a story about Planned Parenthood that was “roundly disputed,” he wrote. Ben Carson “harshly turned the questions” about inconsistencies in his life story “back on the reporters who asked them.” Donald Trump “utters plenty of refutable claims” and “set the tone for the embroidery” by creating “an entirely new category of overstatement in American politics.” But guess what? “The tendency to bend facts is bipartisan.” How do we know? Well, Gary Hart and Bill Clinton chose not to confess their infidelities to the nation during election cycles that took place a generation ago. And apparently Hillary Clinton once mistakenly described herself as being the granddaughter of four immigrants when, in fact, her paternal grandmother was born shortly after her family arrived in the United States—an error she quickly corrected. Barbaro also found Clinton’s explanations about her personal and State Department e-mail accounts to be unsatisfactory. He wrote that she had “used multiple devices, like an iPad, to read and send e-mail,” even though she’d said she “preferred” to read them all on a single device. He failed to note that the iPad didn’t even exist when Clinton set up her e-mail account, nor did he explain why expressing a preference counts as bending the truth.
In the paper of record’s political coverage, false equivalence often appears to be the rule rather than the exception. For instance, on March 13, while most political observers were approaching panic over the chaos that Trump’s followers were causing—even Fox’s Chris Wallace felt compelled to tell the candidate, “You have condoned violence in rally after rally”—a front-page story in the Times investigated the question of responsibility for Trump-rally violence. The article, by Barbaro, Ashley Parker, and Trip Gabriel, quoted the corporate-friendly Democrat William M. Daley observing, “Both sides are fueling this.” Neither Daley nor the authors offered any evidence to support this accusation. It wasn’t even clear who represented “the other side.” Was it President Obama? (That’s whom The Wall Street Journal’s editors blamed.) The “communist” Bernie Sanders (Trump’s preferred culprit)? Democrats in general? Or the folks who were recklessly getting themselves beaten up by Trump’s thugs? The article didn’t attempt to explain.