Americans no longer expect or care about candidates making honest assertions in the public sphere. They no longer expect consistency and honesty from politicians, and the savvy political campaigner recognizes that there is no cost to making statements that contradict even their most well-known beliefs…
…Claims in the public domain are now routinely treated as intentional distortions of facts to promote ideologies; distortions or misrepresentations justified by the need to “counterbalance” false claims from the other side.
Jason Stanley, New York Times. Speech, Lies and Apathy
Put another way, and as part of a Times news analysis/convention factcheck effort:
The growing number of misrepresentations appear to reflect a calculation in both parties that shame is overrated, and that no independent arbiters command the stature or the platform to hold the campaigns to account in the increasingly polarized and balkanized media firmament. Any unmasking of the lies or distortions, the thinking goes, rarely seeps into the public consciousness.
The article makes a point of quoting Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, for a contrary view on warming.
Why? If there was an earthquake, the Times would not seek out a denier of earthquakes. If this was an article on medicine, the Times would not automatically seek out the views of a homeopath or acupuncturist. If this was an article on astronomy, you (the Times) would not make an obligatory pilgrimage to the UFO community. Yet on climate change… you bow again and again to the immense vested interests that fund the climate denial industry. This does not give your readers balance – in fact, it distorts their views of the actual facts.
Mr Ebell’s organisation receives substantial funding from Exxon Mobil, a point not mentioned in this article.
Something happened in our press over the last 40 years or so that never got acknowledged and to this day would be denied by a majority of newsroom professionals. Somewhere along the way, truthtelling was surpassed by other priorities the mainstream press felt a stronger duty to. These include such things as “maintaining objectivity,” “not imposing a judgment,” “refusing to take sides” and sticking to what I have called the View from Nowhere.
No one knows exactly how it happened, for it’s not like a policy decision came down at some point. Rather, the drift of professional practice over time was to bracket, or suspend sharp questions of truth and falsehood in order to avoid charges of bias, or excessive editorializing. Journalists felt better, safer, on firmer professional ground–more like pros–when they stopped short of reporting substantially untrue statements as false. One way to describe it (and I believe this is the correct way) is that truthtelling moved down the list of newsroom priorities. Other things now ranked ahead of it.
One of the basic functions of journalism is to say: This is true, and that is false. There are other functions, but establishing bedrock “world is round / sun rises in the east / 1+ 1 = 2” verities is a big one.
In today’s political environment, when so many simple facts are disputed, journalists can feel abashed about stating plainly what is true. With an anticipatory cringe about the angry letters they will receive or the hostile blog posts that will appear, they instead cover themselves by writing, “according to most scientists, the sun rises in the east, although critics say….”
On Nov. 4, Anderson Cooper did the country a favor. He expertly deconstructed on his CNN show the bogus rumor that President Obama’s trip to Asia would cost $200 million a day. This was an important “story.” It underscored just how far ahead of his time Mark Twain was when he said a century before the Internet, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” But it also showed that there is an antidote to malicious journalism — and that’s good journalism.