On Trump, falsehoods, and the media’s approach to them

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Leah Millis
When asked to back up one of his lies with facts, President Donald Trump either repeats the same lie more loudly, changes the subject, issues a factless dismissal of the question, or denounces the (according to him) lying media for its audacity in pressing him to be more accurate.

I’ve been scribbling for a living since 1973, and was raised and trained in the old-school model of journalism that we called “objectivity.”

The term was borrowed from science, but journalism was never science. Journo-objectivity was never perfect, but it sorta worked. Now it doesn’t. Now it’s pretty much dead, at least in coverage of national political and governmental news. To a significant degree, the candidacy and the now presidency of Donald Trump may have finished it off.

The latest nail in the coffin of the objectivity model of journalism is a headline from yesterday’s Washington Post, which read:

“Trump and Republicans settle on fear — and falsehoods — as a midterm strategy.”

The story itself is filled with Trumpian falsehoods — or, at best, claims that can’t be proven. The old journalistic system is breaking down somewhat under the stress of this much mendacity by the actual president of the United States.

The objectivity rule

The old objectivity model was rooted in the rule that reporters report facts and don’t allow their personal politics to interfere. It was always a bit shaky.

A factual story could be biased without including any falsehoods, if the person reporting the facts was biased and allowed their power to choose which facts to report, and which to leave out, to be influenced by their bias. And most reporters were liberals, so that issue was a real and serious problem with the objectivity model, as smart conservatives sometimes pointed out.

But the model also required journalists, in addition to being factual, to be “balanced,” which referred to the practice of respectfully quoting people with differing politics and allowing liberals and conservatives to express themselves, and let readers decide for themselves what to believe.

That old job description included me, back when I was an old-school “objective” reporter. (MinnPost now considers me a columnist, who is allowed to analyze the news and express his views, as I am doing here.)

The old model did allow an “objective” reporter, if a politician, for example, said something false, to seek documentary evidence, or interview experts who could offer a true (or truer) version of the matter in question.

That model was far from perfect. Conservative critics said the fact that most journalists were liberals was a deep flaw. I had some sympathy for that view. (Newspapers and other media outlets did not set out to hire liberals. But, for reasons I’ve never fully understood, something about the job seemed to attract mostly liberals.)

But the main goal was to force-feed the news pages (and TV broadcasts) with facts, facts, accurate facts, and leave the opinionizing to the columnists and editorial writers. And the system more or less worked.

Then came Trump

Then came Trump, the biggest liar in our political history. Trump lies all the time. When asked to back up one of his lies with facts, he either repeats the same lie more loudly, changes the subject, issues a factless dismissal of the question, or denounces the (according to him) lying media for its audacity in pressing him to be more accurate.

I’m not the world’s biggest expert on all this. But, to keep writing as if I were, I’d say that the old model relied on the belief that if a public figure told enough lies, and journalism stuck to the facts, the liar’s credibility would decline and he would be forced to lie less often or be driven from the public stage.

Trump has demonstrated the failure of that belief. He shows no more sign of caring about factual accuracy than he ever did. (The story with the headline above, which set off this whole rant of mine, is filled with Trumpian half-truths and quarter-truths and flat-out lies. I’ll list a few at the bottom.

I’m so addicted to the idea of factual accuracy that I can’t pretend to fully comprehend the allure of a politician who lies constantly. I tell myself, knowing I don’t really get it, that he connects with his admirers (who are neither a majority nor a plurality of Americans) on a nonfactual level of grievance-sharing and a desire to believe that certain false things are true, and certain things that won’t fix their problems will. (Like the wall.)

What set me off on this post was the Washington Post headline, mentioned above: “Trump and Republicans settle on fear — and falsehoods — as a midterm strategy.”

More an argument

The headline is more an argument, or a critique, than a fact. Arguments and critiques have their place, but when such an assertion appears as a headline on a news story, it is evidence of the breakdown of the old model.

Having pointed out Trump’s many, many falsehoods, and having Trump continue repeating the old ones while adding new ones, pretty much every day, the Post headline writers apparently decided that the old norms of what a headline could say no longer sufficed; that the simple summary that Trump lies, all the time, and his followers don’t mind, rises to the level of an established fact, suitable for headline type.

I don’t disagree with the headline writers. I don’t expect any Trump admirers to be surprised to learn that Washington Post headline writers have concluded what they did about their guy. I don’t expect them to believe it. I don’t expect them to care.

The assumption on which the old model was based, that people want accurate facts (and that the journalistic method is a way of conveying those facts and separating them from falsehoods, to serve an audience that wants to know the truth), is dead, dying or taking on water at an alarming rate.

I’m pretty worried.

Trump on the migrants heading north

The Post story includes, for example, this, about the migrants heading toward the United States’ southern border:

“You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything. And guess what? We’re not allowing them in our country,” Trump said, when asked by reporters Wednesday if he had any proof of terrorists infiltrating the caravan. “We want safety.”

And this:

Many of the president’s assertions are false or clear distortions of the facts. Trump is incorrect, for example, in his claim that Democrats will “destroy” both Medicare and Social Security, while he has made both programs “stronger.” There is also no evidence that Democrats are paying for the migrant caravan snaking its way north toward the southern border, while voter fraud remains exceedingly rare. 

But that has not stopped the president from repeating such false or misleading claims, in part because advisers say his key midterm strategy is to fuel Republican turnout by riling up his most avid supporters, often through frightening and emotional appeals. 

Speaking of the mob of Latin Americans who are marching toward the U.S. border:

… In tweets Monday, Trump warned without offering evidence that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” and urged voters to ‘think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws!’ A Trump-backed immigration plan failed to pass earlier this year, but not just because of Democrats: 14 Republicans also opposed the bill. 

And this:

Trump’s claim — again, without providing evidence — that Middle Easterners are “mixed in” with the caravan is an example of how some leaders blend a mix of fact and fiction to instill fear in their electorate, said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University professor who studies authoritarian rulers.

“This is the way propaganda works,” Ben-Ghiat said. “You put different enemies together that really have nothing to do with one another. He’s trying to create this image of a wave of people of color, or threats, who are coming to invade the border.”

And this:

At last Thursday’s rally in Missoula, Mont., Trump alleged without evidence that Democrats were paying migrants to enter the United States so that they could vote for Democratic candidates.

“A lot of money’s been passing to people to come up and try to get to the border by Election Day, because they think that’s a negative for us,” Trump said. He added that Democrats like”‘the illegal immigration onslaught” because “everybody coming in is going to vote Democrat.”

The president went on to posit that some of the migrants attempting to cross the border into the United States were “hardened criminals” and “bad people,” but again declined to cite any evidence.

When a reporter asked him for an example, he dismissed her question with, “Oh, please, please, don’t be a baby.”

The full Post piece is here.

Comments (43)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/24/2018 - 09:37 am.

    From Wikipedia on big lies:
    The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.
    And from Josef Goebbels:
    “The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/24/2018 - 10:03 am.

    Successful demagogues with dictatorial inclinations don’t need facts. They need only true believers, who themselves don’t need facts – who will ignore facts in order to support their beliefs. It’s a kind of feedback loop. There are plenty of thoughtful “conservatives” with whom I typically disagree who share a marked distaste for Donald Trump, but are willing to play along with his demagoguery because it happens to dovetail nicely with their own distaste for things like a national government, a social safety net, etc. They’re using him to advance their national agenda, and he’s using them to advance his personal one.

  3. Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/24/2018 - 10:05 am.

    I know media outlets and reporters have been hesitant to just come out and label things he says as “lies”. But one thing I see media do more of now than they did when he first hit the political scene is to say that he has made a statement or a claim “without evidence”.

    I guess I find that mildly encouraging.

  4. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/24/2018 - 10:06 am.

    Mr. Black, why do you mention that many reporters are liberal, twice in fact, but make no mention that they work for corporate conglomerates? The idea that corporate bosses will let reporters decide what is news is laughable and naive.

    Not mentioning the conservative bent of media conglomerates while mentioning the liberal bent of reporters is very biased, and shows how conservatives have been very successful in working the refs for decades now.

    • Submitted by Elsa Mack on 10/24/2018 - 04:33 pm.

      Agreed. When we consider, in particular, the way the New York Times has covered Trump (the “no clear link to Russia” headline comes to mind), or the growth of the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s influence on local news, I think it is clear that there is far more “conservative,” or pro-corporate, influence on journalism than Eric Black is acknowledging here.

      Not to mention the conflation of “Trumpism” with “conservatism,” when it seems to me that there is nothing truly “conservative” about Trump or the Republican party under his leadership. At least not as I have ever understood conservatism as a philosophy.

      • Submitted by Tory Koburn on 10/24/2018 - 06:14 pm.

        I was thinking something similar, particularly in regards to Sinclair’s influence – if anyone hasn’t read the recent New Yorker article on that, I strongly encourage it. The influence that company has with this administration is remarkable, and I developed a wholly new distaste for Ajit Pai’s work at the FCC, outside of his blatantly unethical anti-net neutrality work.

        More to the point: the assumption that there is still such a thing as “THE” liberal media needs to be swept into the dustbin of history. Even if you presume that the big five news stations were ever actually left-of-center (being owned, of course, by the radically extreme leftist corporations known as Disney, Comcast, Viacom, Fox, and ATT ), the rise of Sinclair and Tribune means that a plurality of American newspapers and local news stations (the ones people actually still trust) are wholly owned by corporations whose owners flagrantly disregard journalistic ethics (and arguably federal law) to purvey centralized right-wing propaganda to the masses. The guy running Sinclair has even said that unlike his father, he doesn’t give a fig about informing people – it’s always been about making money.

        Unfortunately, the fairly harmless trope about the “liberal media” has metamorphosed into an actual, objectively obvious conservative media with tendrils digging deep into the minds of our populace. And this is is not even including the influence of the internet or cable news, which have spun far-right conspiracies into the mainstream public debate.

  5. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 10/24/2018 - 11:26 am.

    That Trump hangs in his mid 40s approval rating despite the almost universal acknowledgement that he is a little to a lot truth challenged can be attributed to:

    “An agreeable lie is preferred to a disagreeable truth”

    Yet, imagine if your Doctor found evidence of a cancerous tumor and thought: “This is not going to be well received, I’ll just tell him he looks great!”.

    Or your lawyer examining the title of a piece of property you are most eager to buy and he finds fatal flaws: “Hey, I know you really are looking forward to owning this, go for it and have fun”

    The same circumstances can be established for your children’s teachers, plumbers, electricians, etc…

    All of these guidance givers are in a position to deliver an agreeable lie over a disagreeable truth. Yet, almost everyone would rebel against this to the point of legal action or worse. For certain they would not have 40-50% approval of their clients/customers/constituents.

    That this strange phenomenon has worked for Trump is not lost on others. Erik Paulsen used to be “The Math Guy” the Eden Prairie moderate who soothed us with his Ramstad like orange and black signs. Now, in his entire 2018 campaign effort he gives us one positive accomplishment message: on the one time he did not vote the straight Trump line: his BWCA mining vote. Everything else is lies and distortions about Dean Phillips.

    I am very much hoping for a Phillip’s win, a new legislative direction in 2019 and the end of Trumpian madness in 2020.

    • Submitted by Patrick Tice on 10/24/2018 - 04:33 pm.

      Al Gore was prescient when he titled his movie “An Inconvenient Truth”. Talk about a disagreeable truth as well!

  6. Submitted by ian wade on 10/24/2018 - 12:46 pm.

    “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” – George Constanza

  7. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 10/24/2018 - 12:55 pm.

    Here is a suggestion. If the media cannot bring itself to call Trump a compulsive liar incapable of telling the truth, then hire a group of comedians to do your job. Here is a suggestion, as far as I know, Al Franken has time on his hands. Recruit him to write for you. He was always a great critic of conservatives full of hot air, a category in which Trump is unsurpassed. Until you do that, publish all the day’s jokes at Trump’s expense from the networks.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 10/25/2018 - 12:11 am.

      A Bill Maher monologue from a few months back called on Franken to run for President. Mostly just to use his comedic skills to pick and prod at the thin skinned Trump, driving him to distraction.

  8. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/24/2018 - 02:27 pm.

    The crux of Eric’s musings here are what he sees as the waning in journalistic discourse today of “objectivity” and “balance.”

    What upsets him in the WaPo headline is that it calls out Trump’s and the GOP’s current electoral strategy of repeating lies, distortions, and misstatements, plus making assertions without a shred of evidence to back them up (and often, plenty of evidence to contradict those assertions). He calls calling Trump’s lies, lies a “lack of objectivity,” opinion instead of fact.

    I disagree. What bothers Eric is that journalists have finally concluded that they cannot simply do a “he said, then he contradicted him by saying the opposite” practice so ineffectual in the recent past when “balance” was desired or required. It’s no longer required, for the reason that there is no factual or legitimate “balancing opinion” to the kind of fact that states that the earth is a globe, not a flat plate.

    The caravan of Hondurans and Guatemalans coming north through Mexico has no Middle Eastern terrorists in it, or even Middle Eastern anybodies. Fact (Jorge Ramos of Univision did a report yesterday on that). The caravan formed not WITH gang members or “coyoptes,” but to protect the refugees from them! Fact.

    Fear-mongering as a political strategy is the GOP go-to strategy this year, along with repeating lies that Republican candidates who fought or are continuing to fight, in court, Obamacare and its protection of insureds with pre-existing conditions are Really [Trust us!] in favor of protecting insureds with pre-existing conditions.

    We must keep insisting on facts and the existence of truth.

    Lots of us care about truth, Eric. Don’t despair. Only Republicans who either benefit directly and materially from Trump’s being president and having a compliant GOP congress, or who are vicariously living out sordid resentments and baseless fears as Trump and GOP candidates voice them, accept the lies, misstatements, and lack of facts or truth in what they say.

  9. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 10/24/2018 - 03:07 pm.

    As I find myself almost overwhelmed with negative ads being run by Republican candidates, PACs and the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee spreading false or misleading statements about EVERY DFL candidate, I have to agree that this is a strategy that has been adopted by the Republican Party.. It is more than trump, it is the central theme of all Republican campaigns. Therefore, I must conclude that “Trump and Republicans settle on fear — and falsehoods — as mid-term strategy” is factual — and objective — reporting.

  10. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 10/24/2018 - 04:48 pm.

    The terms “liberal” and “conservative” hardly even have meaning anymore, so abused have they been as slurs and catch-alls for beliefs that are wildly afield of anything approaching their traditional definitions. Who knew that science and facts would be “liberal” as they are today, when once both were celebrated almost universally in political circles? How could we have advanced so far as a nation after WW2 without such comity?

    Sadly, today’s “conservatism” is an amalgam of magical thinking, science denial, and authoritarianism in which facts are optional.

  11. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/24/2018 - 07:31 pm.

    “No one has ever turned the American economy around as quickly as I have”, is a lie that has zero effect on anyone’s life, unless you include getting a good laugh.

    “You can keep your doctor”, is a lie that had huge and very harmful effects on millions of lives…Most importantly to me; mine and my family’s.

    “There is not even a smidgen of corruption’ in the IRS”, is a lie that corroded our trust in the US Government to its very core, for very good reason.

    “I never sent or recieved any classified data over my personal server”, is a lie that has harmed the entire country in ways we may not know for years to come.

    There are lies, and then there are lies.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/25/2018 - 09:54 am.

      Oh my, Mr. Senker. Sending data over a personal server? Are you really concerned about that? I hope you are, because I sure am.

      Every night, Don Trump talks to his elitist billionaire buddies on his UNSECURED iPhones! White House officials have told him that the Chinese and Russians are listening in. Those same officials only hope he doesn’t mention anything classified. And given his extremely short attention span and lack of willingness to get into details, they hope he doesn’t remember most of the dope from his intelligence briefings.

      Given that, we should never, ever again, hear one word about Clinton’s e-mail server, which has never been shown to have been a source for foreign spooks. When your guy is daily using unsecured devices, and that hostile foreign governments are definitely listening in, you just don’t get to go there any more.

      My thought is they tell Don Trump that Justin Trudeau, the French, and Angela Merkel are listening in. THEN he’d get off the iPhone.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/25/2018 - 11:00 am.

        When you have a transcript of Trump talking about TS/SAP data on his iPhone, or anything classified, get back to us.

        https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/hillary-clinton-emails-contained-info-above-top-secret-ig-n499886

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/25/2018 - 12:45 pm.

          “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing…”

          So, I guess we need to change that to “Russia and China, if you’re listening, I hope you can provide the transcripts to Don Trumps late night calls.”

          Well, if Don Trump just says it over his iPhone, we know they will surely hear it.

          But I do see your clever trick there. I said there was no evidence that foreign spooks got a hold of anything from Clinton’s server. You did not deny that, but merely link to an article that mentions a couple of e-mails ON the server, but says nothing about those e-mails getting into enemy hands. At least, they were enemies but now Don Trump says they are all great dictators, I mean, great guys now.

          But White House officials (got that? White House officials not liberal media) have told Don Trump his conversations are being listened to by China an Russia.

          Clinton handled e-mails poorly, just as Condi Rice and Colin Powell did.

          Seriously, you’re not concerned about Don Trump using an unsecured phone?

          • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/25/2018 - 01:32 pm.

            “I said there was no evidence that foreign spooks got a hold of anything from Clinton’s server. You did not deny that…”

            It was no trick. Read my original comment. We may not know how much, or what our enemies saw for years. The CIA has said it’s “likely”, but they aren’t likely to disclose any details anytime soon.

            But we digress. The subject is lying. Clinton lied about what she did with that server. Trump lies about what a Chad he is.

            “Clinton handled e-mails poorly..”

            I disagree! She avoided the federal prison term that others have received for far less.

          • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/25/2018 - 02:09 pm.

            To answer your last question, if Trump is speaking of things he should not on an unsecured phone, yeah that bothers me.

            But after you mentioned it, I looked because I hadnt heard about it; and I found it. MSNBC was your source, correct?

            WADR, I’ll wait until someone else reports on it before getting too upset.

            • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/28/2018 - 04:57 pm.

              Dude, multiple new outlets have covered this story. And your ability to discern reliable news sources is obviously compromised.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 10/29/2018 - 08:27 pm.

        Trump is not using an unsecured iphone, period. That is simply propaganda pushed by left wing sites like the NYT and Huffington Post. If you knew anything about data security and electronic security in the White House, you’d know what a completely ridiculous claim that is.

        Hillary was sending SAP data over her private server which was proven to have been hacked by numerous people. She exposed many top secret emails to enemy govts (Russia, China etc). Btw, just having SAP data outside the secure govt network is a federal felony offense, intent has no bearing on the matter.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/25/2018 - 12:05 pm.

      Curtis Senker’s comment is all about the elections of–wait for it!–2010 (you know, the Hate Obamacare Tea Party election cycle) and 2016 (Hillary Clinton’s emails from 2009 to 2013, none of which contained anything classified at that time). He can’t get away from Hillary Clinton, no matter how far back in history her roles were.

      Trump can claim he’s improved the economy, but it was Obama’s courage that did that, slowly but surely. Not Trump, as anyone who follows the economy understands. What Trump may be responsible for is the current stock market slump, owing as it is to the Trump tariffs, massive national deficits from his huge corporate tax cuts last year, and market insecurity or volatility. No one knows when the next Trump shoe will drop, and markets really, really don’t like that instability.

      What makes me really proud of America is the way Obamacare’s careful design has been able to protect it from ignorant attacks so that Americans can realize that getting and keeping health care under Obamacare is better than “keeping your own doctor.” So many millions have gone from having NO DOCTOR at all to having health care now, that they like and want to keep Obamacare. So Republicans have somehow seen fit to lie about their position on health care (the falsehoods they utter about supporting coverage for pre-existing conditions) in their desperate attempts to get votes.

      We have to keep insisting on truth, and remembering that This, Too, Shall Pass.

  12. Submitted by Dave Eischens on 10/24/2018 - 09:08 pm.

    Full disclosure: not my words, but pretty much on point.

    My fav tutor at uni had a great journalism 101 lesson: “If someone says it’s raining & another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to looking out the freaking window and find out which is true.”

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/25/2018 - 09:55 am.

      That tutor never took False Equivalence 101, an apparent requirement to get hired by the corporate owned lame stream media.

      • Submitted by Ed Day on 10/27/2018 - 09:09 pm.

        Amen! I was even admonished for citing documents that refuted a politician’s false quote when working for a community newspaper group.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/25/2018 - 10:48 am.

    I’m afraid old school “objective” reporters still don’t get it. Bias isn’t eliminated by facts, and the unbias reporter is never more than pretense.

    The illusion of objectivity yields the bizarre conclusion that refusing to report the fact that a president is lying establishes credibility. Sure, there’s always some other “fact” someone can report instead, but obscuring reality isn’t supposed to be the function of news reporters. Self censorship is just as effective as any other kind of censorship, and that’s all the “unbiased” model has to offer.

    It doesn’t actually matter whether or not a reporter is “liberal” as long as the reporter has integrity and reports stories accurately. Eric’s anxiety about being “liberal” is an artifact of confusion that plagues the US media to this day. You don’t have to be an “astute” conservative observer to recognize bias, liberal or otherwise. The suggestion that bias negates facts is intellectually facile, as if 2+2 may not equal 4 if a liberal says it does. You don’t need an objective observer to make a reliable observation… you just need a reliable observer.

    Accusing someone of bias is a debate game tactic, not a legitimate critique. All you have to do by way of response is say: “Whatever… prove I’m wrong” Facts are confirmable, even when their issued by liberals.

    In reality this anxiety about being liberal was never REALLY about bias in the first place. That anxiety was always about access. The self censorship that flowed out of the “objective” model or style can’t actually have anything to do with accuracy because it elevates style above substance.

    We have many examples wherein the “objective” style actually yielded extraordinarily inaccurate reporting. So no, it’s not about preserving accuracy or even the appearance of accuracy, it’s about preserving access to the powerful elite and avoiding retribution. You CAN call a governor a liar… but will that governor take your call when you want to ask them about the stadium bill? Will they come to your press club event or show up for your “panel discussion”?

    The problem with FOX isn’t that they’re bias, the problem is they’re dishonest and inaccurate. They could be liberal or conservative but they’d still be dishonest and inaccurate. This is why the media has lost so much credibility over the years… you’re simply not credible when you refuse to report facts because you’re afraid of being labeled “bias”. You actually damage your credibility when you obscure the truth by using terms like “falsehoods” instead of “lies” or “dishonesty”. Reporters who obscure facts in order to appear objective don’t establish their credibility, on the contrary. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand.

    The durability of mythical objectivity is almost breathtaking. The “objective” style isn’t just a bad fit for the age of Trump… it ushered in the aged of Trump.

    And by the way, the media isn’t really as “liberal” as they worry about being. By and large the media tends to dismiss liberal agendas and perspectives out of hand. They will use their notion of objectivity to excuse thier dismissal’s, but fact they just don’t consider liberal agendas to be viable… and if you don’t think liberal polices can work… you’re NOT a liberal. In other words, for all their anxiety about bias and their pretense of objectivity… they’re still bias… in many cases that bias runs against liberalism.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/26/2018 - 04:19 pm.

      Back in the 1980s, while attending a summer seminar at the University of Michigan, I heard a talk by a former NPR reporter. At the time her name was familiar to me, but I have since forgotten it.

      Anyway, she talked a lot about false objectivity and the pressures that NPR comes under from its corporate underwriters. For example, she once prepared a report about who was being hurt by Reagan’s economic policies, but one of the corporate underwriters, a financial institution that no longer exists, got wind of it and threatened to withdraw their funding if the story aired. Republican rumblings about defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting also tended to generate worries about running anything too controversial.

      She told of her time reporting from Nicaragua, where bias in another form crept in. She found that most of the American reporters there did not speak Spanish–as if that were some rare language that nobody in the U.S. had ever studied–so they were dependent on what they heard from the U.S. embassy and from wealthy people who had gone to school in the U.S. and who naturally opposed the Sandinistas. Here the bias consisted of sending reporters who were dependent on biased sources for their reporting.

      The most disturbing thing she talked about was “access.” That is, if a reporter said something that displeased a government official, that government official would refuse to speak to that reporter or even anyone else from that reporter’s print or broadcast media outlet. Editors hate it when their reporters lose “access,” so there was intense pressure not to offend any bigwigs and print or broadcast their flagrant lies without challenging them.

      Another kind of timidity that I have seen is the tendency to treat all issues as binary, rather than as multifaceted. Getting back to the era of Reagan’s wars in Central America, Mainstream TV debates about Nicaragua were usually between someone who wanted to invade the place and install a new government and someone who just wanted to apply sanctions to destabilize its economy. I hardly ever heard anyone suggest just leaving the country alone to work out its own problems, since there was no conceivable say it could harm the U.S.

      That kind of false binary debate continues to the present day. Take health care. The debate has largely been between two factions: the “Obamacare should be utterly abolished and replaced by a purely libertarian free market” faction and the “Obamacare is peachy keen” faction. Outside of one PBS program, I rarely see a debate between factions that might be labeled “Obamacare is peachy keen” and “Obamacare has some real flaws, and we can do better by adopting ideas that work everywhere else in the industrialized world.”

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/27/2018 - 08:08 am.

        Yes Ms. Sullivan, I’m convinced we never saw a NOVA about the Deep Water Horizon explosion because corporate sponsors quashed it. In fact I think the Koch Foundation is a major sponsor of NOVA.

  14. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/25/2018 - 12:30 pm.

    “Curtis Senker’s comment is all about the elections of…”

    No. Curtis Senker’s comment is all about lies; lies that matter and lies that leave you scratching your head and laughing.

    Do lies attempting to cover up deliberate actions that, according to the FBI, put America in jeopardy have an expiration date? I’m betting there’s at least one person out there that hopes so, but I don’t think so.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/26/2018 - 10:08 am.

    Senker et al,

    Yeah, Obama made promises he couldn’t or didn’t keep. I was supposed to get an Obamacare with a public option, that’s what I voted for. For the sake of argument let’s call THAT a lie. Here’s the thing: anyone who seriously thinks they can defend Trump or anyone else by comparing them to Obama is telling they have no grasp on reality much less a functioning moral compass.

    To begin with, the lies or dishonesty of one person cannot justify the lies and dishonesty of another… that’s basic moral reasoning 101. Most us learn this when we try to “explain” to our parents that we were’t the ONLY ones throwing eggs at the neighbors house. No matter how dishonest you may think Obama is or was, that cannot justify or excuse Trump’s dishonesty, even in theory.

    Second, if you seriously think you can compare one or two or even five or ten failed campaign promises to the 5,000+ lies that Trump has issued since becoming president you’re rational faculties are in serious question.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 10/29/2018 - 08:39 pm.

      Please list these 5,000 lies you claim Trump has made. You’re entire comment is based on a falsehood or false premise. Does Trump lie? Of course, everyone does. Does he lie more than Obama? Not a chance.

      As we have seen now, the news interviewed a “migrant” in the caravan that was charged with attempted murder in the US. We have also seen that MS13 members are in there. The Border Patrol has arrested over 17,000 criminal illegals crossing the border in the last year and found people from over 100 nations trying to cross. To claim there are no criminals or terrorists in that invasion force (it’s an invading army) is beyond absurd and naive. Let’s also not forget that crossing the border illegally makes them all criminals.

      Trump is by no means a great President.. but he’s not as bad as Obama or Bush43. We could use another Ike or better yet, Coolidge.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/26/2018 - 10:20 am.

    As for Obamacare and his “Dr.” promise, this gets back to the problem of voters who can’t discerns they’re own best interests. Prior to Obamacare no one ever had any guarantee that they could “keep” their Dr’s, and in fact, the inability to change Dr’s and see specialists outside the insurance network was harming millions of American’s. Very few American’s could follow their Dr’s if they moved to clinics outside the network.

    When people complain about these kinds of features of Obamacare they simply betray the fact that didn’t and still don’t understand the nature of their own health insurance. If you thought you had some kind of guarantee that you could follow your Dr. wherever he or she went, you’re simply mistaken. Likewise, if you’re health coverage was through your employer, you could and did just as frequently find yourself looking for new Doc or clinic every time you’re employer switched plans or provider groups. If you’re employer switched from Group Health to Park Nicollet – you had to find a new Doc. If you choose “Preferred One” instead of “Blue Cross Blue Shield”… you had to find a new Doc. If you think Obama “changed” this somehow… you simply don’t understand you own health insurance.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/26/2018 - 12:21 pm.

    By the way, the big advantage of Medicare for All is that Medicare actually gives you the greatest level of treatment options. Every provider would have to accept medicare if they wanted to keep patients so if “choice” is your issue Medicare would give you the greatest choice in US history, it would be nation wide, and no one would be outside your network. Had Obamacare actually included a public option he probably would have been able to keep his promise that you keep your current Doc.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/28/2018 - 12:45 pm.

    Well, some individuals did see their health costs go up with Obamacare, because despite being young and healthy they may have HAD to buy insurance, or pay the penalty for not having done so. That didn’t cost anyone “thousands” of dollars however. Furthermore, really cheap cut rate high deductible plans disappeared because most of them had been allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and a variety of other treatments and scenarios. But those were junk policies that often threw their owners into bankruptcy whenever they were actually needed, they were cheap, but pretty much useless if you got sick or injured.

    And remember, the whole project of repealing Obamacare was literally based on the promise of re-introducing those policies back into the “market”… THAT’S how republicans promised to lower health costs. So when Republicans now claim that they’re going to protect pre-existing condition protection they’re simply lying. They spent over a decade trying to get those denials back into the health insurance regime. In fact they’ve even filed lawsuits to bring pre-existing condition denial’s BACK. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-18/mcconnell-defends-trump-backed-suit-on-health-care-protections

Leave a Reply