On Tuesday, September 9th, I caught the tail end of a discussion monitored by John Roberts between Paul Begala, former political aid to President Bill Clinton, and Alex Castellanos, a former consultant to Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency. Mr. Roberts was standing in front of the two men who were appearing together, side by side on a giant floor to ceiling television monitor.
Mr. Roberts asked Mr. Begala how come Senator Barack Obama cannot make it more clear to people that Governor Sarah Palin is actually misleading the public over the significance of her involvement in stopping the bridge to nowhere. Mr. Begala charges that it is because the press refuses to do its job. Mr. Begala said, “It is the media’s job, when a politician flat out lies on this bridge to nowhere, to call her on it. Or this matter of earmarks where she’s attacking Barack Obama for having earmarks when she was the Mayor of little Wasilla, Alaska, six thousand people, she hired a lobbyist who was connected to Jack Abramoff, who is a criminal, and they brought home twenty seven million dollars in earmarks. She carried home so much pork home she got triganosis. But we in the media are letting her tell lies about her record.”
When Mr. Begala finished Mr. Roberts pointed to Mr. Castellanos, “Okay, we’re going to let Alex respond to that. Flat out lies Alex?”
Mr. Castellanos replied, “Let’s be a little gentle. Look. Every elected official in this country works under the system we have which is we try to get a little bit of your tax money back. You just don’t want to leave it all in Washington. The amazing thing about Sarah Palin is that when she became Governor she actually stood up and said no. And she made changes and she took a strong stand. That is rare and that never happens.”
There was more back and forth between Mr. Begala and Mr. Castellanos when Mr. Roberts broke in with, “We still have fifty six days to talk about this back and forth…”
Mr. Begala interrupted, “You see this is the problem. We have this false debate when we ought to have the agreed upon facts.”
The camera switched over to Kiran Chetry at the anchor desk who told people if they wanted to check the accuracy of the candidates’ statements they could go to a couple of websites. In other words, don’t expect any fact checking from the people at CNN. The network is doing its best to keep the political race close and as competitive as possible despite facts like a vice presidential candidate is lying about her record and is blatantly hypocritical about earmarks. As her supporter Mr. Castellanos himself said, this is the political environment we find ourselves operating in these days. A little gentleness would be appreciated. When it comes to earmarks, Ms. Palin should not be throwing rocks in her glass house.
On Friday morning, the former Mayor of New York, New York, Ed Koch made an appearance on CNN and he was asked his opinion on Sarah Palin. The Mayor said that the woman bothered him because, among other things, she used her political office to try and have books banned from the library in Wasilla. When the librarian refused, Ms. Palin tried to have the librarian fired. Right after he said that, Ms. Chetry challenged him and said that CNN found proof that it never happened. Mr. Koch argued that he didn’t know where they got their proof but there is evidence to show that Ms. Palin tried to have books banned and people fired. Ms. Chetry repeated that CNN is on record and have proven beyond a doubt that Ms. Palin never did that. The two went back and forth until the network had to cut for commercial. Mr. Koch was thanked for his appearance.
When they program continued, Ms. Chetry wanted to make the network’s position clear. The network had proof that books were never banned from the library and no librarian was ever fired for not removing books from the library. Ms. Palin did try to use her position to remove books and fire librarians, but since she was unsuccessful the actual events never happened. Ms. Chetry apologized for any misunderstanding. If this is news reporting then it must be its darkest hour.
CNN was once billing itself as the most trusted name in news. CNN is probably still using that tag line. However, now the network appears to be doing its best to blur the lines between facts and reality. Whether someone in politics tried to do something or not is not important. If they weren’t successful then it didn’t happen. No one who is concerned about their reputation for honesty would claim such a narrow and rather asinine interpretation of actual events. Yet CNN appears to be ready to stoke controversy for the next fifty odd days or so in order to keep people tuned in. But if you want to know actual facts, you have to go elsewhere.
It should not be a political candidate’s job to prove that his or her opponent is lying. It is the responsibility of the press to assure that the candidates stay truthful. When a political candidate lies about his or her record it isn’t the job of the other candidate to root the untruths out. The more our trusted news sources do to generate controversy the more the public is misled. The majority of the people won’t check other sources.
If the news programs don’t report the facts then many people will go without factual reports. When news anchors defend deviant behaviors then they increase public support for deviants. Phony debates and the blurring of facts are good for increasing the number of viewers but do nothing to educate people who need education in order to vote for what many people consider the most important job in the world. In that respect, no one should be so quick to blur the lines of reality in order to increase ratings and therefore the value of the network.
We might have fifty odd or X number of days to figure out who is the best to run the country. But the misinformation being supported now will be the foundation for people’s decision making in the voting booth in November. With the stakes so high, a series of global crises that could lead to world wide catastrophes, we need to be doing everything we can to assure that all the facts are laid out as soon as possible so that people can better exercise their judgment.
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