Diigo Links

Friday, October 22, 2004

You may call them "misstatements", I call them lies
The opinions I'm about to express seem to be anti-Bush. They are somewhat, but the content of that slant comes from the statements of journalist interviewed on the Jim Lear News Hour. My main point here is not that George Bush lies (even if it's true). My main point concerns the currency of lies in a campaign when vetted through the news media - especially when the news media is the primary vehicle of a campaign.

Just caught some Jim Lear News Hour, a story on the proliferation of "Fact Check" in this year's presidential campaign. Many news outlets are employing the "Fact Check" to follow up various campaign events (factcheck.org). The debates are a good example of one of the most recent events that fell into the fact checking hopper. (F911 is another)

The direction of the conversation that struck me was the question: "If one candidate (read: Bush)is making more egregious misstatements than another, does a news organization have to go to pains to create a balance when fact checking?" The answers were startling. 2 out of the three guests (Fact checking journalists) said "that's a difficult question to answer".

It boils down to the idea that if one candidate lies a lot, the news organizations have to go to find examples where the other candidate lies too, in order not to look too partisan. So, in our case, the journalists said that this was a problem earlier in the campaign. Bush was hucking some zingers. But it's not so much of a problem now because Kerry is starting to pick up the slack (i.e. he's starting to foist some whoppers - and again was the opinion of journalists being interviewed). The implied relationship here is that there's a lowest common denominator of deceit that's set by the worst liar. Bush's "more egregious misstatements" put pressure on Kerry to live up to that level of rhetoric (read: pissing contest).

I know this could/would never happen, but let's suppose a hypothetical, mystical being that is an honest politician (one who doesn't lie). This would put news organizations in a severe pickle because they'd have to report the lies coming out of one politicians mouth, but would appear off balance because there were no lies coming out of the other politician. The news organizations would lose credibility in the eyes of the public. They would be less able to accurately represent either politician to the public and the net effect would end up being null. With the
channel of communication tainted, the public would not be able to cast votes based on what they perceive to be accurate information (even if it is accurate).

But not to worry, the worst case can never happen. But we are still stuck with a moderately bad case, a media pressed to portray balance in what may not be a balanced situation.

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