I recently posted on the state of the news media and how that relates to the political landscape in this country so I hope that this doesn't feel like overkill: I was discussing the presidential election with a friend the other day and the subject of how the media reacts to (or even sometimes ignores) the lies and half-truths churned out by people from both campaigns came up and I repeated my thoughts that McCain is not only running an extremely dirty and devious campaign but that he is also doing it very badly, blatantly lying about things that are quite easily Googleable by most intelligent people.
My friend then started in with the idea that I was somehow biased because of my support for Barack Obama and that both campaigns are equally guilty of bending or breaking the truth. I vehemently disagreed with this analysis, saying that this kind of "share the blame" narrative put forth by the media is both disingenuous and fundamentally untrue; rarely are both sides of an election equally lacking in ethics and fair play, that's just not how the real world works. Yesterday I realized that I should have just saved my breath and waited a few days for Paul Krugman to write this excellent opinion column for the New York Times:
Why do the McCain people think they can get away with this stuff? Well, they’re probably counting on the common practice in the news media of being “balanced” at all costs. You know how it goes: If a politician says that black is white, the news report doesn’t say that he’s wrong, it reports that “some Democrats say” that he’s wrong. Or a grotesque lie from one side is paired with a trivial misstatement from the other, conveying the impression that both sides are equally dirty.I highly encourage you to read the entire article. In my opinion, one of the fundamental problems with the news press in this country is that they've abdicated their responsibility to seek out and report the truth even if it makes one side of a debate look like they're obviously in the wrong, and they've abandoned their journalistic code out of an irrational fear of being called biased and "in the tank" for one side of the political spectrum. Republicans have been playing the bias card for years and successfully getting away with it, so it's no surprise now that McCain and his surrogates are dealing from the same deck.
They’re probably also counting on the prevalence of horse-race reporting, so that instead of the story being “McCain campaign lies,” it becomes “Obama on defensive in face of attacks.”
[Update: A quote from a profile on CNN anchor Campbell Brown and an observation by Andrew Sullivan:
...when you have Candidate A saying the sky is blue, and Candidate B saying it’s a cloudy day, I look outside and I see, well, it’s a cloudy day. I should be able to tell my viewers, ‘Candidate A is wrong, Candidate B is right.’ And not have to say, ‘Well, you decide.’ Then it would be like I’m an idiot. And I’d be treating the audience like idiots.
Good for Brown. But how far have we sunk when the press reporting reality is an actual story?]