The Associated Press did a perfectly nice job overnight fact-checking Donald Trump’s Oval Office address and the Democratic response, though it ran into one easily avoidable mistake.
On its Twitter feed, the AP summarized its argument about responsibility for the government shutdown this way:
“Democrats put the blame for the shutdown on Trump. But it takes two to tango. Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his border wall is one reason for the budget impasse. The Democrats refusal to approve the money is another.”
In the article the tweet links to, the Associated Press used nearly identical wording, arguing, “It takes two sides to shut down the government.”
Well, that’s one way to look at it. There is, however, a more sensible approach.
Trump started with a ridiculous campaign promise – crafted by his aides as a mnemonic memory device – that even members of his team didn’t take seriously or literally. After the election, the president made little meaningful effort to persuade the Congress led by his partisan allies to advance his goal, or trying to strike a deal with his opponents.
He revived interest in his ridiculous campaign promise ahead of the midterm elections, and given what we saw in the results, voters were clearly unmoved.
Several weeks later, the president declared – on camera, for all the world to see – to Democratic leaders, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security…. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it…. I will take the mantle of shutting down.”
When Democrats failed to give him taxpayer money in pursuit of a medieval vanity project – an obvious move, backed by the public, since they were no under no obligation to help the president with his ridiculous campaign promise – Trump followed through on his threat and shut down the government.
The Associated Press wants the public to believe both sides bear responsibility. Given literally every available detail, I think that’s a mistake.
To be sure, the AP is hardly the first major American news organization to fall into the dreaded “both sides” trap. It’s been an annoying staple of political coverage for years: media professionals start with the premise that Democrats and Republicans must share the blame for every discouraging development, regardless of the facts, and regardless of whether it even makes sense.
To do anything else would be to show “bias.”
Except, there’s no reason to treat reality this way. Yes, it’s true that Democrats could’ve paid Trump’s ransom and averted a shutdown, but it’s also true that law enforcement could meet the demands of hostage takers.
It doesn’t mean the police bear responsibility when they refuse to pay and the criminals shoot the hostages.