Fair To Who?

In today’s American politics it appears journalists attempts at fairness favors the liars and deceivers while shortchanging a public too busy to pay attention to much more than 30 second sound bites and certainly too busy to do research or consult knowledgeable fact checkers. In term of the 2016 presidential election that translates into an enormous advantage for Donald Trump!


I write opinion pieces therefore with the very important exception of sticking to the fact – right wing mythology does not qualify as fact – I don’t have to a lot of constraints and certainly don’t have to worry about appearing not to take a side. In fact my entire purpose is to take a side. I apologize to my readers when I don’t. Straight news journalists are in a different situation and often feel compelled to ignore falsehoods in order to appear to be neutral observers.


This dates back to the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine was a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) edict originally enacted by Harry Truman’s administration in 1949 and repealed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan’s FCC. While it wouldn’t literally apply here even if it were still a federal regulation it provides the underlying principle most journalists feel obligated to adhere to. If in the aftermath of a storm homes were flooded to the rafters and Candidate A said the region was suffering from a devastating flood while Candidate B said it had rained a journalist obsessed with maintaining the image of being neutral would say both spoke the truth. That is a disservice to the public! Candidate A told the whole truth while Candidate B was clearly deceptive.


Worse yet today many (mostly Republican) candidates tell clear and demonstrable lies. In fact they continue to repeat them long after they have been debunked. They need to be called out on this at every possible occasion. That is being fair to the reader/listener/viewer which should be the journalist’s foremost concern.


In his op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times Paul Krugman addressed the problem of debate moderators not calling out known falsehoods uttered by candidates. If the lies (and that is what they are after they have been repeated subsequent to being repeatedly debunked) are not called out during the debate a significant portion of the population end up accepting them as fact. The debates are being reviewed more on style than substance. If we want our political candidates to compete on style they should be in diving contests not debates. I don’t know about you but I have no desire to watch Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in swimsuits bouncing off diving platforms.


Political Debates are designed to be forums during which competing ideas and philosophies are contrasted for the benefit of the voter. Campaign appearances are designed to illustrate a candidate’s platform and give voters a glimpse into how they might rule. If the media (including debate moderators) do not call out known lies they are performing a disservice to the American public! It’s not a matter of journalist integrity, neutrality or objectivity; it is a matter of facilitating the truth to prevail.


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