By Bob Gaydos
Among the many unpleasant things this presidential campaign has unearthed (festering racism, arrogant ignorance, ugly nativism, cowardly politics …) is the phony fairness theory. Or, the false equivalence doctrine.
It’s the belief that: 1) the news media has an obligation to present information about both major presidential candidates fairly and equitably, without value judgments and 2) anytime anyone writes a critical piece about one candidate, it’s a “hit job” if the opposition is not also criticized in some way.
Obvious caveat: The fairness theory does not apply to Fox News. although its viewers are the loudest in demanding it of others.
Second obvious caveat: The fairness theory does not apply to the hundreds of social media propaganda sites posing as news outlets.
The misguided notion that the press has to be “fair” by being non-judgmental and showing appropriate respect for both candidates is what led to the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. While Fox News was skewering Hillary Clinton daily with unproven charges and innuendo, the mainstream media were reporting on those innuendos while treating her opponent as if he were someone who had any clue about how to be president — despite his own statements to the contrary every day.
On and on and on it went, with only a rare few having the guts to say, “That’s racist,” or “That’s stupid,” or “That’s offensive,” or “That’s sexist,” or “That’s a lie.” And so here we are, with Trump still doing the same things day after day and the mainstream media desperately playing catch-up on calling Trump a dangerous bigot and a possible threat to national security.
All except Matt Lauer, of course, who froze up in that NBC-TV debate the other night, letting Trump ramble and lie without calling him out, while grilling Clinton about her e-mails that have dominated Fox News but — to be fair — have resulted in no official charges against her for anything.
I don’t know Lauer, but it sure seemed that he was more comfortable being aggressive with a well-spoken, accomplished, educated woman than with a schoolyard bully. Just saying.
At any rate, back to fairness. The Fairness Doctrine was instituted by the Federal Communications Commission in 1949. It required the holders of broadcast licenses (radio and TV stations) to present controversial issues of public importance in an honest, equitable, and balanced manner. The idea was that, since they held licenses to use the airwaves, they had an obligation to fairly inform the public.
It was killed in 1987 In Ronald Reagan’s administration. It never applied to print media. It no longer exists. And it never meant that reporters or editors or columnists were supposed to ignore the truth in the interest of “fairness.” You don’t just get to say anything — true or not — just because we have to be fair. That would not be in the public interest. Challenging candidates to prove their statements is in the public interest.
Interestingly, the notion of fairness keeps coming up with regards to press coverage of Clinton, both ways. She has been called the favorite candidate of the mainstream media, who are supposedly doing all they can to ignore her shortcomings while repeatedly excoriating Trump, so as to get her elected. She has also been called the favorite target of the media, who are said to carry a longstanding resentment against her for treating them as a necessary evil at best. In a way, this could be considered fair and balanced treatment.
I’ve had readers comment on my articles saying that it’s not fair to just criticize Republicans for giving us Trump, when the Democrats gave us Clinton, who allegedly stole the nomination. I must be a Clinton-lover, they say. Be fair.
First off, it’s dangerous to make assumptions off one article, whoever the author. Second, we are way beyond that point, people. It’s two months to Election Day. Just as Republicans will have to figure out what they stand for after this election, Democrats will have their day of reckoning with the Bernie Sanders supporters and others who are not fans of Clinton (including me). That’s all to the good and grist for future columns.
But right now, we need to focus on the issue at hand: Donald Trump, is the most dangerously ill-prepared candidate to ever run for president representing a major party. (Please don’t distract me with third party arguments at this point. Aleppo.) Hillary Clinton is one of the most-qualified persons to ever run for president and she is a woman. I submit those as pertinent facts. I don’t have to like Hillary to vote for her; I just have to accept that she is by far the better choice. In fact, the only rational choice.