How objective journalism can fail to reveal the truth
February 14, 2005
When President George W. Bush came out with his 2006 budget recently, it received a lot of attention in the press.
Too bad that most of it missed the most obvious problem with it.
While stating the budget was in line with his commitment to cut the deficit in half by 2009, Bush failed to mention the three items that weren’t in the budget. First, there is the cost the war in Iraq. Next up, we have the $1 trillion (at least) price tag to privatize Social Security. And lastly, there is the continuation of the tax cuts, which are set to expire, but that Bush said he wants to make permanent.
In other words, this budget isn’t very truthful. In fact, deceptive is about the nicest description you can use for it.
This is a time when I wished someone would ask the obvious question of the president: Are you really bad at math, or are you lying to us?
But of course, you won’t hear that question at the next press conference. There’s something about calling the president a liar on live TV that scares the willies out reporters, even when it’s this blatant.
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Certainly, they’ll ask a much nicer question, and they will dutifully report his answer, even if it makes no sense.
That’s what we call objective journalism.
You see, reporters are taught to tell all sides of the story, and present them equally. And this seems like a fair way to report the news, until the story subjects figure out how easy it is to manipulate the process.
It’s really rather simple. If you are in a position of power, tell a big lie, the bigger the better, and when anyone questions you on it, attack them as biased or partisan. The press will treat each side as equal, and the lie is passed on as truth.
Reporters at some point need to realize that fairness in reporting doesn’t mean ignoring truth. At some point, if you have evidence that someone likely isn’t telling the truth, you have to say it.
For instance, if the current administration uses one set of pessimistic economic projections to foretell the demise of Social Security, but uses a different, overly optimistic set of numbers to show how well private accounts will perform, then they are at best purposely deceiving the public. And someone needs to say so.
Not only should lies be pointed out, but reporters should remind readers of a subject’s past history of dishonesty. Try this for an example: “Former President Bill Clinton, who lied about having a sexual relationship with a White House intern, now says he is completely faithful to his wife, Hillary.”
Hey, if you are caught lying, then people should be warned to take what you say with a grain of salt. It may not be polite to call people liars, but then the Founding Fathers didn’t create the First Amendment so reporters could write flattering puff pieces on powerful politicians.
If journalists won’t point out the liars, who will?
n Kirk Caraway is Internet Editor for the Nevada Appeal. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.