Why The Media Must Fact Check Politcal Attacks

Republicans, as well as dishonest Democrats such as Hillary Clinton, have often gotten away with having dishonest attacks repeated by the press as reporters often feel obligated to report what is said without providing their opinion. Other reporters do feel that journalists should provide the facts when a politician is saying something which they know to be untrue. Brent Budowsky of The Hill discusses this issue at Editor and Publisher.

What is the responsibility of reporters, editors and publishers when a candidate for high office is the target of a campaign of attack and personal destruction employing the systematic use of lies, smears, innuendo and character assassination?

J’accuse: What is happening in the 2008 general election is that Senator McCain has (literally) hired highest level operatives who worked for George Bush and Karl Rove (this is simply a fact) and is employing the carbon copy tactics that Rove used against his political opponents (including McCain himself).

When the Bush campaign, and independent committees whose leaders and fundraisers had long and close ties to Bush and Rove, waged a campaign of personal destruction
against the heroism of Senator Kerry in Vietnam, was it proper that these attacks were given by many in the media credibility and visibility?

It is true, Kerry fell short in responding, which Kerry is the first to concede today. It is also true that the many in the media became de facto partners and propagators of the smear by inadequate fact checking, a false understanding of the proper notion of balance, and sporting event style
coverage during which the smears were given equal weight with the truth.

This is a fact: Today Barack Obama is subject to what is probably the greatest concentrated attacks of smears, lies and innuendo in the lifetime of anyone who reads these words.

Consider this: John McCain in personal appearances, in his
campaign staff presentations and various media and ads, falsely and aggressively accused Barack Obama of neglecting wounded troops.

McCain, widely reported by most media with virtually no fact checking or refutation until days after McCain’s attacks, accused Barack Obama of planning to bring
political reporters to his visit with wounded troops. As every single reporters from every media organization
covering Obama knew, that charge was either a deliberate lie or a total ignorance of the facts.

McCain charged that Obama wanted to bring cameras to photograph the event. Totally false and every reporter on the Germany trip knew it. McCain charged that Obama chose playing basketball instead of visiting wounded troops. Totally false and every reporter on that trip knew it. McCain charged that Obama wanted to bring political staff people to the wounded troops and that, too, is totally false.

Let’s be crystal clear, Obama was accompanied by a giant horde of reporters and every one of them knew these charges were totally untrue, completely, fairly described as slander or smear and arguably constituting direct lies when they were repeated by McCain and his staff, again and again, well after the facts were clear to all.

For McCain to repeat false charge after false charge about Obama’s desire to visit wounded troops, when every reporter with Obama knew they were false, and for the major media to take almost a week to timidly and belatedly
note that the charges were false, well after the political damage to Obama had been done, with the truth given virtually no prominence compared to the falsehood, is a professional failure of countless reporters, editors and publishers covering the campaign.

After further discussion he adds that, “ Obama is currently facing an underground campaign of racial and religious attacks from sources outside conventional media and outside the campaign management of candidates. He is also subject to a deliberate, orchestrated and sytematic personal attack from his opponent including attacks that have included false charges, included in ads that have been run and rerun on television news shows, at no charge to McCain, without aggressive and simultaneous refutation of false charges as in the wounded troops case.” He concludes that, “the target is Barack Obama, and while it is his job to run his campaign, it is our job, as columnists, reporters, editors and publishers to find and report the truth and whether the charges in campaigns of personal destruction are true or false.”

Budowsky is correct in considering reporting on the validity of charges in campaigns of personal destruction as part of the job of the news media. When they ignore this duty and repeat untrue charges without evaluation we might as well not have a news media as they become little more than reprinters of campaign talking points.

Voters receive an inaccurate view of the candidates and issues when untrue statements from the candidates are not corrected. In recent years we have also seen candidates who have campaigned based upon lies become elected and then govern based upon lies. The media’s publication of Republican lies without investigation have both helped enable Bush to be elected and have facilitated his entry of the United States into a war based upon lies.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Jerry says:

    Thank you!  Thanks for writing about this extremely important problem.  If I was a reporter/editor/etc I would go after this as THE story.  It’s huge and eclipses almost everything else, because w/o being held accountable the water becomes too murky for anyone to see what’s what.  Most people don’t have time or energy enough to check facts themselves.  They really do rely on journalists to give them the truth.  And, since they largely are NOT, that’s a problem.

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