Guest post: Evening up

Originally a comment by Screechy Monkey on Both sides.

In hockey (and other sports too, of course), there’s a well-established and documented tendency for referees to try to “even up” the penalties called during a game. So if the home team has taken three penalties in a row, barring an absolute murder on the ice the next one is going to be called on the visitors.

I was explaining this to a neophyte fan one time, and he asked “but what if one team is just dirtier than the other?”

And yeah, that’s the problem, isn’t it? There’s no reason to assume that two teams are equally likely to commit fouls, but the referees act as if that were the case. They don’t want to be seen as determining the outcome, even though of course you’re also influencing the outcome if you let one team get away with infractions that the other team can’t.

Republicans have spent decades “working the refs” by complaining about liberal media bias, precisely to create this kind of false equivalence. Trump just took advantage of that by moving the Overton Window: if you start telling more and more outrageous lies, the media’s desperate striving for “balance” will lead it to ignore your ordinary lies, while blowing up the opposition’s minor evasions into huge scandals.

You only have to compare how Clinton’s email server dominated media coverage in 2016, but the many many instances of terrible information security by the Trump administration got mentioned on the electronic equivalent of page 10. Neither voters nor the press really gave a damn about IT protocols, they just needed to nail Clinton with something to offset Trump’s fraudulent businesses, blatant lies, racism, and confessed sexual assaults.

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