How do you balance truth? What do you balance truth with, a lie? Do you balance the truth by selectively revealing certain truths or certain parts of the whole truth to make sure that both sides of an issue are evenly represented? I thought about these questions in a couple of recent instances. I was listening to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin reflect on her bid as the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee for the White House. It is Ms. Palin’s opinion that she didn’t get as much favorable review from the press as President-elect Barack Obama. When asked whose fault was that she quickly pointed to the liberally biased media with a subsequent point of the finger to her handlers in Arizona Senator John McCain’s campaign for the White House. If coverage was fairer she contends there may have been a totally different outcome to the presidential elections in November.
Now, I feel I paid more attention to the run up to the election than most voters. While I may not have seen Ms. Palin’s interviews live I saw them in their entirety on the internet or as a recording on YouTube or some other website. I did see her appearance in the vice presidential running mates debate. I saw Ms. Palin duck a debate question by saying she didn’t feel the need to answer to the satisfaction of the debate moderator or to her political opponent Delaware Senator Joe Biden. She spoke directly to the camera with a wink of her eye and a shout out to some grade school class back in Wasilla, Alaska promising the students a gold star and extra credit. I saw Ms. Palin answer she reads a variety of periodicals that come her way and yet couldn’t recall the name of a single one. I saw Ms. Palin dismiss community organizers because they don’t have any real responsibilities. And I must’ve seen Ms. Palin do her lipstick speech a thousand times, so often it has now become a cliché. Thanks, but no thanks.
Which one of these truths was unfair to Ms. Palin? It is Ms. Palin’s contention that although these stories may have been true they were not favorable and therefore that was unfair. The gaffs and the rambling answers to the most basic of questions were not favorable and should have been balanced with more images of Ms. Palin saying nothing and simply waving from the top of the stairs of the jet plane that shuttled her and her entourage from one location to another. And when the public requested more information from Ms. Palin and wanted her to answer specific questions, she preferred to be more favorable than informative and give shout outs and eye winks to kids in an obscure classroom at the very corner of the nation.
But then I was reading through somebody’s end of the year list of criminals when at the top of the list was O.J. Simpson. What makes Mr. Simpson criminal of the year? He used the threat of violence to retrieve property that he insisted was stolen from him. Why did he use the threat of violence? Mr. Simpson tried to get the local authorities to help him recover his stolen property but they blew him off. Mr. Simpson decided to take matters into his own hands and got a couple of gun wielding goons to pose as his posse. Smooth move for a man hated by the majority of the people in the racially generic dominant community predominantly white. However, this is the community that Mr. Simpson made his living off of so in his eyes it was probably a wash. He thought he could get away with it if he was careful. But then again, Mr. Simpson isn’t the shiniest oar in the elevator that doesn’t quite go to the top floor with a bag of marbles.
Despite all the murderers like Robert Hawkins who took his shotgun into a busy mall, went to the top level, and started playing Doom’s department store edition. Despite swindlers like Bernard Madoff who may have squandered as much as fifty billion dollars from his investors. Despite Joe Horn who killed two men by shooting them in the back after they allegedly burglarized his neighbor’s house. Casey Anthony was so criminally callous it appears she helped cover the murder of her own child. It is highly likely that this woeful excuse for a mother is culpable in the little girl’s murder. And the biggest criminal in all of last year was O.J. Simpson because he threatened to use violence against someone.
Nevertheless, Mr. Simpson is a despised man. Would anyone think that Mr. Simpson was treated unfairly? Who would step forward to say that the venom of coverage that Mr. Simpson received should have been balanced with more favorable coverage of what he does? In order to be completely fair the coverage of his deeds should have included him talking to kids about whatever has been retired football stars talk to kids about that makes them look good. During the trial, maybe Mr. Simpson could have told the prosecutor that he decided not to answer the questions the way the court wanted and then turn to the jury to give a wink and a shout out to some elementary school in his hometown. I’m sure that would’ve made Mr. Simpson look more favorable. Don’t know if it would’ve kept him out of jail though.
In the final analysis, balancing truth by balancing favorable coverage is not any indication of fairness. The only fairness for truth is accurate and complete information. Favorable coverage can be damned. If you want favorable coverage do something favorable and let it come forth honestly. Otherwise, it may have as much authenticity as a wink of an eye and a shout out to some Alaskan peeps in elementary school.