Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Unbalanced

Paul Krugman asks, “Why are the media objectively pro-Trump?”

Because they are, at this point. It’s not even false equivalence: compare the amount of attention given to the Clinton Foundation despite absence of any evidence of wrongdoing, and attention given to Trump Foundation, which engaged in more or less open bribery — but barely made a dent in news coverage. Clinton was harassed endlessly over failure to give press conferences, even though she was doing lots of interviews; Trump violated decades of tradition by refusing to release his taxes, amid strong suspicion that he is hiding something; the press simply dropped the subject.

Brian Beutler argues that it’s about protecting the media’s own concerns, namely access. But I don’t think that works. It doesn’t explain why the Clinton emails were a never-ending story but the disappearance of millions of George W. Bush emails wasn’t, or for that matter Jeb Bush’s deletion of records; the revelation that Colin Powell did, indeed, offer HRC advice on how to have private email the way he did hasn’t even been reported by some major news organizations.

And I don’t see how the huffing and puffing about the foundation — which “raised questions”, but where the media were completely unwilling to accept the answers they found — fits into this at all.

No, it’s something special about Clinton Rules. I don’t really understand it. But it has the feeling of a high school clique bullying a nerdy classmate because it’s the cool thing to do.

And as I feared, it looks as if people who cried wolf about non-scandals are now engaged in an all-out effort to dig up or invent dirt to justify their previous Clinton hostility.

Hard to believe that such pettiness could have horrifying consequences. But I am very scared.

I know that the media seems to think that they have an obligation to report “objectively,” that they must not be seen as favoring one candidate over the other.  So they melt it down to trying to be fair and end up being little more than an echo chamber for both sides.  It’s as if they are afraid to tell truth from fiction, reality from bullshit, and name the names of those who are doing a very good job of putting it over on the public.

It wouldn’t matter a whole lot if there wasn’t so much at stake.  Dr. Krugman talks about the campaign for president, but what about a subject that will go far beyond the election?  For instance, climate change.  It’s happening, it’s measurable and we’re already seeing the consequences of it in sea level rise (full disclosure; I live a quarter of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean at six feet above current sea level).  This past August was the hottest on record ever.  Now there are those who think it’s all a hoax dreamed up by people in the sandbag business.  Does the press have an obligation to report their views with the same gravity as those who know it’s happening?  Of course not.  They’re wrong, decidedly so, and just because they have an opinion doesn’t give them equal footing.  Climate change is a fact, and while you may disagree with that, it’s going to keep on changing no matter what you think.

So why does the media feel they have an obligation to present both sides equally?  Are they afraid they’re going to lose the approval of the climate nutsery?  Why do they feel that they have to put out a story that’s the equivalent of “Is The World Spherical or Flat — Views Differ”? Because they seem to believe that if they present both sides, even if one of them is total nonsense, that they will have done their duty and offended no one.  And no one will cancel their subscription or pull their ads.

The same thing happens on cable TV.  Spokespeople for a campaign will come on one of the shows and spout their party line, tell whoppers of lies — the latest crock of shit being that it was Hillary Clinton who started the birther movement in 2008 — and go unchallenged by the host who is either unaware of the falsehood (in which case they need to get out of the business) or are afraid of calling them out and risk losing them for future shows or even worse, being unfriended by them on Facebook.  It gets to the point of beyond comic: “Hillary Clinton shot JFK.”  “Well, we’ll have to leave it there.  Thanks for coming by; always a pleasure.”

Josh Marshall has a very thoughtful (and long but well worth the time) piece on the subject of journalistic balance and the tortured explanation by Liz Spayd, the Public Editor of the New York Times, on how that paper is answering the claim that it has been taking trouble to Hillary Clinton for non-stories and drumming up non-scandals to fever pitch while letting Donald Trump off the hook, as Dr. Krugman notes above.  Mr. Marshall concludes,

What this debate all comes down to is that the imperative for balance and the imperative for accuracy and completeness, what’s true and what’s not are inevitably in tension. Precisely how it’s solved or how that tension is dealt with is a very good debate to be having. (I would say the goal is not balance but fundamental fairness and honesty with readers and a constant effort to interrogate ones own biases.) But not to recognize the tension and not to see how some candidates push that tension to the point of crisis simply shows you’re in denial or have a monumental lack of self-awareness about the journalistic craft. That pretty much captures Spayd’s column.

There will always be a struggle between being balanced and being truthful.  The truth hurts, but it’s a lot better than leaving the reader/viewer with the empty feeling that they’re no more educated than they were when they started.

2 barks and woofs on “Unbalanced

  1. Point in fact: we’ve pretty much stopped watching the PBS nightly news with Judy and Gwen because of the very fact you’re pointing to. It’s maddening. It’s gotten to the point that we suspect they’re not “fair and balanced”, they’re unbalanced and no one comes out with a clear picture, just a mess of muddle. And both of them look so self-satisfied I could throw a shoe at the TV.

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