Responsible journalism has a vital function in a presidential debate. Biased or ineffectual political reporting is irresponsible and does a disservice both to the candidates and to the public. Careless journalism can also have significant fallout, as Matt Lauer recently discovered. Lauer’s inept performance at the Commander-In-Chief Forum has been widely criticized by fellow journalists and political pundits alike. Lauer has faced harsh censure for spending an exorbitant amount of time discussing Clinton’s emails, but it was his weak, ineffective interview of Donald Trump that truly has people up in arms.
Lauer has faced wide-spread backlash for his refusal to fact-check the claims made by Donald Trump, especially those regarding the candidate’s alleged opposition to the Iraq War. Lauer failed to challenge several dishonest assertions made by the republican nominee, instead moving on to discuss unrelated topics. Lauer’s decision to let the comment stand is even more outrageous given that the dishonesty of the claim is not subjective, it is a well-documented fact.
Unfortunately, this kind of careless political reporting has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. Many believe that negligent journalism is at least partially to blame for allowing the rise of such a candidate; one who is characterized by his bombastic statements and unapologetic dishonesty. What’s worse is that the current standards for political reporting may have even more significant implications for “we the people”.
Recently, Hillary Clinton stated that “you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” in that they are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.” While Clinton acknowledged that the statement was a generalization and later expressed remorse for her wording, she did not back down from her position, instead going on to say that “it’s deplorable that Donald Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia.”
Unsurprisingly, her comments were met with indignation from many, and the media immediately began speculating on how Clinton’s statements would affect her campaign, whether it would damage her favorability among certain groups, and gauging the political impact of her statement. This approach to coverage is to be expected, given the current climate of political reporting, but the predictability does nothing to assuage the damage. This type of reporting isn’t just changing the answers we are given, it is changing the questions we ask. There is another approach, one that values truth above ratings: were Clinton’s statements true?
At first glance, Clinton’s comment may appear to be an unverifiable combination of speculation and generalization. Closer examination, however, reveals that not only is investigation possible, it is fairly simple. The proof is in the numbers. In order to determine the validity of Clinton’s statements, all you need to do is look at the data. For example, more than ¾ of Trump supporters are in favor of banning Muslims from entering the country. Nearly 60% admit to having an “unfavorable view” of Islam, while roughly 40% consider black people to be lazier, more violent, more likely to commit crimes, and less polite than white people. In layman’s terms, this means that the statistics supports Hillary’s statement.
The political commentary has not reflected the truth of Clinton’s words, however, despite the fact that they were an accurate accounting of the views held by Trump supporters. Sadly, it seems that determining whether or not a candidate is speaking the truth is not a priority in today’s political journalism. More specifically, the honesty of a candidate is a selective priority, as evidenced by the tenacious scrutiny of Clinton’s emails.
This selective determination of a candidate’s honesty is troubling, as it deems some lies acceptable and others catastrophic. Political reporters are meant to deliver an unbiased presentation of facts, not determine the relevance of honesty at their own discretion. The truth may be alarming, but it is still the truth.