Oh so many times I have tried to get across how the political reporters have fallen into the he said/she said trap. They are trying to be fair, but their stories lack proportionality. They should state the hypothesis and then dig for the facts to make their points.
Liberal economist and essayist Paul Krugman has come up with another term for the rule of proportionality. He calls the journalism of balanced reporting: bothsideism.
By trying to be fair, the reporter, in reality, gives the wrong impression of what is right.
Krugman wonders how Republican Donald Trump even has a chance to become President. While Trump is running behind in most polls probing the general election, the margin lacks dominance for Hillary Clinton. There’s a good chance he just might win. How, why? Geez.
Krugman wrote, “Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that voters don’t fully appreciate his awfulness. And the reason is that too much of the news media still can’t break with bothsidesism — the almost pathological determination to portray politicians and their programs as being equally good or equally bad, no matter how ludicrous that pretense becomes.”
Trump isn’t the only Republican politician benefitting from the determination to find balance where none exists, Krugman insists. “Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, has a reputation as a policy wonk, committed to fiscal responsibility, that is utterly incomprehensible if you look at the slapdash, fundamentally dishonest policy documents he actually puts out. But the cult of balance requires that someone on the Republican side be portrayed as a serious, honest fiscal expert, so Mr. Ryan gets slotted into that role no matter how much a con man he may be in reality.”
Krugman says you may think that Trump is too much even for the balance cultists to excuse — he lies so much that fact-checkers have a hard time keeping up, he keeps repeating falsehoods even after they’ve been proved wrong and he combines all of this with a general level of thuggishness aimed in part at the press.
“To be fair,’ Krugman wrote, “some reporters and news organizations try to point out Trump statements that are false, frightening, or both. All too often, however, they still try to maintain their treasured balance by devoting equal time — and, as far as readers and viewers can tell, equal or greater passion — to denouncing far less important misstatements from Hillary Clinton. In fact, surveys show that Mrs. Clinton has, overall, received much more negative coverage than her opponent.”
Bothsideism isn’t new, Krugman said, adding that it has always been an evasion of responsibility. But taking the position that “both sides do it” now, in the face of this campaign and this candidate, is an act of mind-boggling irresponsibility, he pointed out.
Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University, condemns the prominence of “he said/she said” journalism in the mainstream media. This kind of journalism is driven by a complete distortion of what it means to be an objective journalist. Bad journalists seem to think that if someone is making a claim, you present that claim, then you present an opposing claim, and you’re done. Hey, must be fair, can’t pick sides.
But what if one side is just flat-out crazy and the other is actually making legitimate claims? Shouldn’t the job of true journalists be to ferret out the truth and reveal the crazy arguments as crazy?
In a blog, Rosen said the public must weigh in to the equation. The continued use of he said/she said is actually “reckless behavior that may easily blow up in its face.” Rosen even points out that the BBC is now specifically retraining its reporters to stop inserting “false balance” into stories where there’s an underlying truth and an attempt to distort it.
The Clinton-Trump presidential battle shows a distinct reflection of the false balance aspects of journalism. Trump lies, lies, lies and yet Clinton draws equal coverage in perceived miscreant issues. How can Trump gain 41 percent favorability in polls involving possible voters? Could it be that the false balance gives him a break?
Jill Abramson, a former editor of the New York Times, in an interview with Glenn Thrush of Politico, said Clinton received more scrutiny than other candidates, especially male candidates. Thrush asked her if David Brock, an arch defender of Clinton, had a point when he lashed the Times for giving the Clintons an unfair “level of scrutiny” and she jumped in to agree.
Abramson pointed to the coverage of Clinton’s email case and how so much was skewed against her: “The issue, to me, that’s at the crux is that everything that we know that was classified was classified after the fact, after the emails were sent. And so, why is that a big deal? And the fact that she had this private email is something that, you know, I’ve read widely, a lot of people in the government — Colin Powell, let’s face it, got much bigger speaking fees than Hillary did.”
This hatred of Clinton goes back for many years. They’re even bringing up old Whitewater charges. They bizarrely cling to the notion that she had an affair with Vince Foster, deputy White House counsel under her husband, and then killed him — even with the autopsy stating that he committed suicide.
Why do reporters allow these false stories to remain as cause célèbre fixations?
the problem is that good journalism is difficult to find these days. Cable news has created a diabolical monster and the print media can’t rectify the wrongs.
Fair and balanced stories need proportionality.