Words We're Watching

Looking at ‘Bothsidesing’

When equal coverage leads to uneven results

What to Know

Bothsidesing is a critique leveled at the media and public personas referring to the practice of finding a second angle on a story in an attempt at appearing "fair" to each side, which can often be seen as lending credibility to a side or objectionable idea that has none.

There are two sides to every story, or so we are told. Two people in an argument aren’t going to see an issue the same way. And people on different ends of the political spectrum are going to have different opinions about the events that take place in the news.

Getting more than one point of view to the story is part and parcel of journalism, but sometimes that means taking pains to look for a second angle to a subject merely for the sake of argument. And that is how we have come to see use of bothsidesing.

feather-and-stone-balanced-photo

'Bothsidesing' is thought to have much in common with 'whataboutism.'

The state of our nation and the state of our president have all but passed the point of rescue, but the press, in misguided pursuit of objectivity and led by the New York Times, still “bothsides” its coverage. Make no mistake: This too is bias, and though it’s not nearly as corrosive to democracy as the Trump administration, it distorts and accelerates that corrosion—all in the name of neutrality, no less.
— Roger Sollenberger, Paste, 27 Dec. 2018

Conservatives who spent decades railing against Kennedy, calling him a murderer and a scoundrel and screaming about the left's silence, are right to be annoyed by the bothsidesing of this event.
— Sonny Bunch, The Washington Post, 19 Apr. 2018

Bothsidesing and its related noun bothsidesism turn up in critiques of the news media when a journalist or pundit seems to give extra credence to a cause, action, or idea that on the surface seems objectionable, thereby establishing a sort of moral equivalence that allows said cause, action, or idea to be weighed seriously.

By giving credence to the other side, the media gives an impression of being fair to its subject, but in doing so often provides credibility to an idea that most might view as unmerited.

What really makes this the Tapper Moment, though, is not his growing fame and viral interviews. It's the breadth of the respect he's earned, and how he's wielding it in the age of Trump. Because while he's tough on conservatives and liberals alike, he doesn't engage in bothsidesism. As Tapper said to Maher, "I've never really seen this level of falsehood, just quantitatively."
— Graham Vyse, The New Republic, 9 Mar. 2018

'Bothsidesing' in Politics

It’s not just the media that gets accused of bothsidesing. The term also arises whenever a public official—or anyone with a large listening audience—equivocates about a seemingly condemnable action by saying that the people on either side of that action are equally responsible for it having taken place. Bothsidesing happens prominently during times of mass protest—as protests are met with counterprotests and violent clashes erupt, turning to bothsidesism prevents one from explicitly identifying which is in the wrong, thereby avoiding any incisive comment on the discord that led to the protests in the first place.

Calling this action bothsidesing might be a deliberate echo of Trump’s own language. In August 2017 he responded to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying that there were “very fine people on both sides” at the rally, language that was viewed by many as a deliberate attempt to avoid singling out white supremacist activity.

It’s probably not a coincidence that use of the term has increased in the months since Trump uttered the line—much of it on Twitter, sometimes as a hashtag.

Similarities to 'Whataboutism'

Bothsidesing has a lot in common with whataboutism—the rhetorical tactic of defending against an accusation by alerting others to a different accusation against an opponent. Both tactics rely on making false equivalences. While whataboutism comes with an element of diversion—look at what the guy over there did—bothsidesing tries to minimize what would often be deemed objectionable by heightening actions of other groups so that they will be deemed comparably objectionable.

Some might argue that bothsidesing exposes a paradox about journalism: that sometimes, when both sides are treated fairly and equally, neither ends up shown in a true light.

Words We're Watching talks about words we are increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met our criteria for entry.



Comments
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!