The Battle Over Bothsidesism

Same Different

“Bothsidesism” has become the criticism-du-jour of journalists and journalism. It pops up all over the place online. The phrase is used to condemn everything from reports around the Israel-Hamas war to the way Jon Stewart covers President Joe Biden’s age. Those who use it are arguing that journalists are offering a false equivalence i.e. Joe Biden’s age does not offer anywhere near the same level of threat as a second Trump term, therefore the two should not be directly compared. Even better, the former topic should largely be ignored.

The heart of the problem is that most conventional news outlets consider offering balanced coverage to be genuinely important. The journalists at those outlets really do care about producing such work. (Usual disclaimer: TV in the US and newspapers in the UK obviously have editorial lines which muddy the waters on this.)

Now, I have plenty of criticisms about coverage on various topics from various outlets and have highlighted what I consider bothsidesism. However, the general intention of journalists is worth remembering, even when the outcome is frustrating. You may still believe, as I do, that the threat Donald Trump poses is terrifying. However, that does not mean President Biden’s age isn’t also a concern that should be discussed when comparing the candidates and how generally unsatisfactory a 2016 rerun is.

Bothsidesim or Breaking Out The Bubble?

Forgiving the above, I do not explicitly cover politics on The Addition. (If you want my political takes head over to the House of Comments podcast.) However, as with much media discourse, there is a political element to all of this.  Interestingly, one senior journalist in the Lobby, essentially the UK’s equivalent of the White House Press Corps, told me “that it’s definitely noticeable how stories even mildly critical of Labour attract far more vitriol online than stories which put the Tories in a bad light.” 

The thing is, exposure to facts or viewpoints that challenge your own thinking is really important. In an age where it is easy only to follow social media accounts, listen to podcasts and read newsletters we already agree with, being presented with something different is crucial. I’d love journalists to, to coin a phrase, do better on the stories I care about. Perhaps a bit of false equivalence is the price we have to pay for the benefit of breaking out of our bubbles once in a while.

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