Last night, NBC presented a forum with Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump moderated by Matt Lauer that was starkly indicative of the problem inherent in American journalism today–the myth of bias.
In the course of the interview, when presented with provable falsehoods by candidate Trump, Lauer failed to follow up in any way or challenge him on the statements. Trump stated that he was against the war in Iraq and against the actions taken in Libya that resulted in the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. In both cases, the statements were demonstrably wrong–Trump had previously voiced his support of the Iraq War in an interview with Howard Stern and has also been cited as voicing his support for the intervention in Libya.
Social media (especially Twitter) was especially brutal toward Lauer’s lack of fact-checking and even his colleagues at NBC had some comments about Trumps false statements. But how does this happen? How have we gotten to this point?
My observation is that the media is increasingly on guard against perceptions of bias–left-wing bias, right-wing bias, corporate bias, what have you. And we are getting to the point where we are sacrificing journalistic integrity in favor of a false objectivity. Both sides (usually left and right) must be treated equally. Both sides must have their say. Each side is equally valid. Whatever happens, you should never be accused of being biased.
So what happens? Our media gives voice to even the most extreme of views and gives them the same credence as any other–despite their demonstrable falseness. The fringe becomes mainstream because it is given unfettered–and unchallenged–voice. Journalists interview guests and fail to question their facts because to do so would be to take a side, to form an opinion, and that’s a forbidden bias.
The fact is, journalism SHOULD have a bias. That bias is the truth. Both sides of the controversy are not always equal. Each side is not equally valid–sometimes one side is wrong. Sometimes your interviewee is lying and your job is not to give them an open forum to spread those lies, but to call them out on it.
I’m not arguing for partisan journalism–far from it. When you’ve already decided your slant before you gather your facts, you’re not biased toward truth, you’re biased toward your ideology. That’s the trouble with outlets like Fox News. They purport to be balanced simply because their bias is different than other outlets. But they’ve already decided that their demographic is X and they are going to cater to those viewers. Their bias is not truth, but ratings–similarly to other network news these days.
I’m also not saying not to report on the fringe issues–we need to know about them as much as any other. But they must also be approached with the bias of truth. They need to be examined carefully and, when found wanting, have light shed upon them. This is the sacred duty of journalism–to objectively look at the issues of the day, examine them, come to a conclusion, and report on them.
Objectivity means that there are no preconceived notions going in–not that there are no conclusions coming out. Objectivity does not mean giving voice to lies. The bias of truth requires journalists to challenge those in power to ensure that they are also biased toward truth, because it is the only way our democracy can survive.