*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
It is, on some level, easy to comprehend why a fair number of Americans have difficulty trusting the mainstream media any longer; if they ever trusted them in the first place. Once upon a time, regardless the various interpretations of what the so-called “Fourth Estate” really was, the press could be counted on to at least report the truth no matter who it affected. That was the “job” of the Fourth Estate in that its responsibility was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” in a way that protected the common man from scam artists posing as politicians in the employ of the extremely wealthy. Even though those days are past, the least one expects of the media is to report the truth about a political candidate’s veracity, or lack thereof.
In covering and commenting on the 2012 presidential race, one seriously thought that no politician would ever best Republican presidential candidate Willard Romney’s record for lying on the campaign trail, but Donald J. Trump’s dishonesty beats Willard’s mendacity hands down. Over the past week or so, there has been a tad more “responsible” reporting about Trump’s predilection to lying from a major news outlets, but it is woefully inadequate during a presidential election and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman assailed the press for failing to call Trump what many people know he really is: a dirty liar.
Krugman’s column on Friday, the aptly titled “The Lying Game,” addressed the press coverage of the presidential election in total thus far, but he began noting what anyone with a brain anticipating the upcoming debate already knows.
“Donald Trump will lie repeatedly and grotesquely, on a variety of subjects. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton might say a couple of untrue things. Or she might not.”
It is noteworthy that Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact reported that Hillary Clinton was by far and away the most truthful candidate of either party during the primaries; a fact the media has never cited. The media, according to Krugman, is under “intense pressure” to seem fair and what he calls “the huge problem with news coverage during this election;” fear of being accused of having “partisan bias.”
As an occasional print journalist, this author has never heard the term partisan bias in pointing out a blatant lie whether it was accusing a public official or corporation of lying. A lie is a lie and Krugman, a world-class economist, reminded the media that what their job as journalists is and what he is calling on them to do.
“Just calling on it to report what is actually happening, without regard for party. In fact, any reporting that doesn’t accurately reflect the huge honesty gap between the candidates amounts to misleading readers, giving them a distorted picture that favors the biggest liar.”
Krugman also thought it might be helpful to explain why, in his mind, some may forego doing their jobs as journalists and pretend Donald Trump is not the biggest liar in modern American politics. He cited what most journalists consider just part of their job:
“Point out a Trump lie and you will get some pretty amazing mail – if we set aside the attacks on your race or ethnic group, accusations that you are a traitor, etc., most of it will declare that you are being a bad journalist because you don’t criticize both candidates equally.”
Of course Mr. Krugman is right, particularly about the nasty comments including questioning one’s loyalty to America for criticizing any Republican, but the idea of being a “bad journalist” for not criticizing both candidates equally when one candidate is responsible for mountains of lies is no reason to report a worse lie that both candidates are equally honest. Perhaps the media is weary of being criticized for not reporting Trump’s lies, or they are still exercised because Trump punked them into providing a half-hour free ad time for his new hotel, but there have been a couple of instances where mainstream media called Trump’s lies for what they are; really blatant lies.
Whether it is payback for being tricked, once again, by Trump, or the specific entities were just overcome with professional guilt for not, as Krugman says, “simply do[ing] their job, which is to report the facts,” there has been a small improvement. It is something only the New York Times has started doing as of late. CNN had a very brief bit of journalistic conscience back in June when they reported Trump’s lies, but there’s been a dearth of truth ever since.
Just the fact that the Times started calling out Trump’s lies qualified as a newsworthy story this week. Laura Clawson noted:
“In at least five articles in the New York Times on Sept. 17, including the lead story in the print edition, the words ‘lie,’ ‘false,’ ‘falsely claimed’ and ‘untrue’ appeared in headlines, lead paragraphs, and top sections of the paper’s Trump coverage.”
Now, when reporting on an honest-to-dog pathological liar like Donald Trump, that there are only “at least five articles” with those synonyms for “dirty liar” appearing on one day seems like under-reporting. Trump has certainly provided more than five opportunities to call him a liar in any given day throughout the campaign. But a little truth in reporting is better than none and it may indicate a trend toward the media doing its job.
The executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, said his paper was going to start doing what one expects all news media to do all the time; their jobs. Mr. Baquet said,
“I think our investigative work—see [the Sept. 17] story on Trump’s tax breaks—has always been hard hitting. But we have decided to be more direct in calling things out when a candidate actually lies. […] The birther issue represents, well, outright lying. And he lied over a long period. It is a real word and we will use it when warranted.”
What Mr. Baquet could have said in fewer words was that the Times was going to start doing its job. It is a sad fact of life, though, that the people who need to see that everything Trump says is a lie are highly unlikely to ever read the New York Times, or any print media for that matter. Until broadcast media, in all its iterations, starts reporting the truth about Trump’s lying, the majority of Americans will still be in the dark, and that more than anything is what troubles Paul Krugman going into the first presidential debate. Of course, Trump is going to lie faster than an assembly of fact-checkers can work, but the moderators know the topics and can at least tell Mr. Trump that he is lying, and he is certainly going to lie about some easily-debunked topics; he can’t help himself.
No-one in their right mind expects the media to “afflict the comfortable” when the “comfortable” own and control it. In fact, the media’s rush to serve the needs and wants of the comfortable and their chosen political party (Republicans) began in earnest during the George W. Bush administration and has continued unabated. The media didn’t call out Bush’s, Cheney’s, or Rumsfeld’s lies and they have allowed Republicans to lie like demons throughout the entirety of President Obama’s Administration; including during the 2016 presidential primaries and general election season.
Writing about politics is not always rewarding, but it is a relatively easy task when all that’s required is reporting facts. And as the Times executive editor said, lie, liar, and lying are all “real words” and there is no penalty for using “real words” when covering a candidate seeking the highest office in the land; there really isn’t.
No American is asking for miracles from the media, in fact, the preponderance of Americans demand exactly the same thing as Paul Krugman; “Journalists should simply do their job, which is to report the facts. It may not be easy — but doing the right thing rarely is.” There hasn’t been too much “right” about mainstream media outlets for roughly 15 years and it is arguably the only reason Republicans still exist as a viable political party.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.