Obviously, I started this blog because I felt like the major news media was letting down the American people. I couldn't begin to chronicle the exhaustive list of abuses but one central theme I notice that seems to strike me as particularly disturbing is the notion that the truth must always lie between two opposing points of view. What may be seen as true in Buddhism ("the middle road is the path to enlightenment") doesn't necessarily always hold water in our political dialogue.
Take your average political TV show. You always have the "liberal" and the "conservative" to discuss the issues of the day. But first, is that what you really have? You see, often the so-called liberal is usually some slightly left-of-center person who is often called a strategist or is perhaps a newspaper columnist who's professional credo demands he at least attempt to be fair to both sides (not that this always applies- see Kristol, Bill or Will, George). The conservative is often a member of the far right wing who is backed by some institution with some patriotic name featuring the word "enterprise" or "heritage" where they have been taught the proper talking points. Often the moderator will discuss some hot button "issue" that the cable news people are obsessing about for a day that will be nearly forgotten tomorrow. The questioner throws the topic out to both sides and tries to get the sparks to fly and often the guests, who usually are there to sell their newest book, are all too willing to take their time on TV to raise their "brand awareness" and gain points with their side with a few quips or barbs directed at the other side. In the end, the viewer learns nothing about any policy proposals or issues, but is only aware that both sides tend to obscure their policies with rose petals and horse manure. In the end, the host usually declares they will continue the discussion some other day, declaring that both people have made their points, etc. What has been accomplished other than to convince people that if these people represent politics, then they should want no part of it?
Then, you have the journalist who pretends to want to help you figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth in a political debate. After a politician has given a speech or released a statement, the reporter calls on an "expert" to help enlighten the audience as to the veracity of the politician's words. Sadly, the experts are often not really much more than just another reporter who certainly doesn't wish to call out someone in power as having lied and then face the wrath of their supporters. While journalists love to sell their profession as being a legion of Woodward and Bernsteins, the truth is they more like a pack of sheep cowering in fear that an editor would receive an angry call or email about a piece they submitted, or worse yet an advertiser who is threatening to pull their account because they've been upset. What you often end up with is a sort of nimble soft shoe routine where the "fact checker" tap dances around the question of whether the politician was lying or not and may suggest that something was "untruthful" but in the end declaring that both sides fudge the truth (offered without evidence). Once again, the news consumer is left thinking both sides are of a kind of the truth must lay in the middle.
When one side is clearly lying and the other side is not, who will speak up and say so? In recent days, we've seen many news stories seeming to debunk a politician's claims yet in the end they always like to muddy the waters and pretend as if both sides do it exactly equally. This false equivalence is meant to dampen criticism that the media is being overly harsh on one side or the other and to reduce angry calls and letters that could cost a journalist their job. Often though, this criticism is simply a charade designed to play into a deliberate campaign where lies go unpunished, where truth no longer means anything and average people are left with nothing to do but vote based not on policies and issues but on wedges and code words.
This false debate debases our politics, but more importantly it's ruining our country.