Media Responsibility and Political Truth

Media Responsibility and Political Truth.

The lack of integrity of most politicians and the hypocrisy of the political establishment combined with the too-often willing complicity of the news media, are basic causes for the current disaffection of the public. Citizens cannot depend upon a news media whose claim that they “verify” political statements is that “this is what they said,” That is NOT reporting “news” but propagating hearsay. It is true that the media often also try to “get all sides” of an argument. But when there are actual facts involved, the media too often “take a pass” on determining what are basic facts, and what are obvious distortions, omissions or lies
It is true that the media focus on “consistency is useful.” In fact,however, in political reporting that seems to be their primary concern. Clearly, this is helpful to a public with limited attention and access to sources. But it is not enough to say that politician A says something inconsistent with what he/she said before, contradict themselves, or omit important facts when “concluding” their statements on important issues. The public needs to hold both the media and politicians to a higher standard than it now does to what is said, and not said, as the basis for their election or re-election. What should that standard be?

Fact-checking is basic to most reporting and the fear of lawsuits is a strong, and proper concern of the media when reporting on crime, corruption and other activities of private citizens. This would be a proper focus for reporting of “political truth” if the courts had not established different standards, and the media had been given, not “carte blanche” but certainly a long leash to publish “hearsay” without liability. With that freedom, however, should come a sense of responsibility and care that many media outlets consider totally without constraints. Does the media have any process at all? A Google search provided a number of sites of various kinds. This post will not discuss them since they are easily reached.

On Feb. 1st, 2016, during the Iowa causus, Ted Cruz, who finished first, was found to have falsely told caucusers that another candidate, Ben Carson, would withdraw so they should vote for Cruz. He later apologized, but the damage was done. Donald Trump, who finished second, has threatened to sue for a new election, though it is is unlikely that he would prevail. However, Richard Cohen in a column in the Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2016, “The Lies Candidates Told,” addresses the lies told by many of the fourteen candidates for President on the Republican side. He excuses two, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, and partially excuses Ben Carson. As for the rest, Christie, Fiorina, Cruz, Rubio, et al, are indicted. However, he says, “Hands down, Donald Trump is the greatest liar of them all”
Cohen promises to get to the Democrats, but in another column. Then, he continues, “Politics is not beanbag….And I know also that lying is very American. It is the basis of all advertising…. It is not news to me that politicians sometimes lie, but the frequency and blatancy of it in this election cycle are really astounding. This time, it’s not the media that are being played for chumps. It’s the American people.”

What concerns me most, however, is addressed on the same Post page by Catherine Rampell, in her column “Just How Dumb Does Trump Think Americans Are?” She provides a litany of Trump promises from building a $100 million ballroom for the White House to claims that everyone, including Muslims, Chinese, Mexicans, “and blacks and women everywhere love him.” In addition, he promises national growth of 7%, to raise taxes on the rich but not reduce revenue, get rid of Obamcare, make Mexico pay for a wall at the border, because he is really, really, rich, very, very strong on the debt limit and border security, and has the world’s greatest memory and one of the very highest IQs. She concludes, “Only someone who thinks Americans are very, very dumb would expect voters to buy any of this.”

Finally, Rampell says, “Trump, innovative political entrepreneur that he is, has just gone bigger and bolder, assuming Americans are even dumber than anyone ever thought possible. Not that American themselves agree. She cites a Pew Research Poll that says 2/3rds of Americans say the word “intelligent” describes them. She then says, “The next few months will help determine who is right.”

The real problem in this election, then, is not the “fact” that politicians are liars, and that some of the most popular lie more than others, but that Americans seem to, in large numbers, actually believe them.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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