journalism, politics

The only words you need to know for the campaign: Tell the truth

At the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, comedian Wanda Sykes had some simple advice for the president: Stick with your lie.

Ah, the good old days. Back when the country was running relatively smoothly, so we filled the 24-hour news void with the Starr Report.

But the rough part is that “Stick with your lie” has become the prevailing campaign philosophy.

Jay Rosen, a frequent critic of journalists passing off the “view from nowhere” as objectivity, sums up the problem.

Suppose a major party candidate for president believed we were in a “post-truth” era and actually campaigned that way. Would political reporters in the mainstream press figure it out and tell us?

I say no. They would not tell us. Not in any clear way.

Why not? Rosen continues:

Exposes the press to criticism in too clear a fashion. Messes with the “both sides do it”/we’re impartial narrative that political journalists have mastered: and deeply believe in. Romney will be fact checked, his campaign will push back from time to time, the fact checkers will argue among themselves, and the post-truth premise will sneak into common practice without penalty or recognition, even though there is nothing covert about it.

Depressing thought.

To be sure, “both sides do it” to some extent. You can find people of all political stripes who’ve decided the ends justify the means. (I’d call it Machiavellian if Cracked hadn’t showed that we’ve all been misusing the term.)

But sometimes, when the fact-checkers try to grab one from the “other” side to balance things out, they overreach. “Both sides” is NOT objectivity. (Sometimes, as in the current outsourcing debate, everyone is indeed lying.)

So let’s get back to Rosen’s post, in which he sums up a few campaign tactics: keep repeating lies until people believe them (climate change and “death panels” would be good examples), build your own facts and history, etc.

We should be demanding better. Instead, we write off the fact-checkers as partisan. If Jon Stewart and Andrew Sullivan raise the same complaint, we label Stewart as “liberal” and Sullivan as “not really conservative.” People write off Politifact as partisan even though their current home page is rather evenly split between parties. (Nice of MoveOn to provide so much material for them!)

We’ve got four more months of this garbage. I think the only way to get through it isn’t to heat up the rhetoric. It’s not to seek phony “balance.” It’s to demand the truth. Period.



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