A small and obvious point about high-visibility campaigns in capitalist economies…

September 8th, 2016 at 12:08 pm

There’s a lot of justified buzz about what a bad job Matt Lauer did in his interview of the candidates last night. Jon Chait labeled Lauer’s decisions about what to focus on and his failure of critical follow-ups as “pathetic” and I agree. Awfully hard to make this democracy thing work when the information intermediaries fail to do their job.

But what, exactly, is that job? Is it not perfectly rationale for high-ranking members of the media–information gatekeepers with the power to influence election outcomes–to gin up a close horse race?

The is not a Palin-bash of the “lame-stream” media. I’m sure there’s a selection bias in play, but I work with the media every day and have almost uniformly good experiences with people trying to understand and convey their and my best understanding of what’s actually going on in the economy.

I’m just making the obvious point that the Lauer-level media has a financial incentive to do what they can to both keep the race closer than it might otherwise be and avoid the appearance of taking sides. I’m not sure they respond to those incentives but it would certainly explain why you’d be hesitant to check facts and go easier on the candidate that’s behind in the polls.

It would also explain Chris Wallace’s recent assertion that he would not try to call out falsehoods when he moderates one of the presidential debates: “That’s not my job…I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad.”

Such a position underscores that key intermediaries do not view this process to be about providing the electorate with the information we need to make an informed choice.

Which begs the question, what is it about? Well, I’ve long found that you’ll rarely go wrong if you follow the money, and the incentives push the wrong way here, where the right way is informed journalists pushing candidates to honestly represent their positions and when they won’t, calling them on it.

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8 comments in reply to "A small and obvious point about high-visibility campaigns in capitalist economies…"

  1. Nick Batzdorf says:

    Yes, and also yes and yes. Money and sex.

    With Roger Ailes you get both, in equally gross ways. He’s the one person most responsible for news entertainment – to say nothing of disinformation – masquerading as the Fourth Estate.

    I found this very disturbing:


  2. Person says:

    Bill Moyers is one of the best journalists of all time. He was very careful to not take sides, and thus he was hesitant to call out ‘lies’ as he saw them. He believed the role of proper journalism was to report and not to give commentary.

    I agree with him, and so I tend to agree that journalists and moderators should not interject their idea of truth. Sometimes they’re wrong, and it can be very harmful when they are wrong.

    What is the solution? I think the blogosphere has been a good place to start, but I think this needs to be increased 10 fold. We need more informed opinion to be more easily accessible.

    It isn’t the journalists’ responsibility. We need a new tier in the system, and we’re getting there slowly.

  3. Smith says:

    No, any statement that defies objective truth needs to be questioned by the journalist. If there is doubt, then the journalist can cite sources. But facts are facts. The famous case of Romney being told by the moderator that Obama used the word terrorists in describing the Benghazi attack was fine. The fact that Romney was too ill-informed and inarticulate to still call Obama out on his retreat from free speech and blaming a youtube video for the attack, was just Romney not being prepared. The fact naming was use of a word in a statement which was verifiable and not subject to any opinion. If a statement is incorrect and not subject to opinion, it needs to be corrected or the moderator should be replaced. Russia invaded Crimea, and it was part of Ukraine, indisputable. Global warming? Well you could say that 9 out of the last 10 years being the hottest on record was a coincidence, but then it’s fair to question the judgment of someone who believes in such coincidences. It’d be nice to debate evolution too, since a full 60% of the U.S. believe it has validity, the evolution candidate should theoretically win.

  4. Fred Donaldson says:

    A reporter reports. An interviewer interviews. An editor edits. A pundit pontificates.

    Four decades as a newspaper publisher have not changed my opinion that injecting your ideas (what you consider facts, opinions and history agreed upon) makes you part of the story, no longer a reporter or interviewer.

    Real newspapers don’t argue with reader comments, correct reader opinions, or edit their words. Real journalists let the words speak for themselves, and invite other voices to contradict.

    • Nick Batzdorf says:

      Fred Donaldson, the issue here is news *entertainment* masquerading as news, not whether a reporter should be objective.

      Please see the article I linked earlier, “What It Was Like to Compete Against Roger Ailes and Fox News,” by Dan Abrams, former General Manager of MSNBC. It puts a really fine point on what Jared is saying here: money has won over the news media’s responsibility to our democracy. (And of course that’s a microcosm of what’s ailing our whole economy, and in fact our society in general!)

      As to reporters being objective, etc., that often seems more of a Platonic ideal than a reality. I think making clear what’s subjective and what’s not is about the best we can hope for. More importantly, false equivalence is anything but neutral; there’s way too much of that going around. And the story selection itself often reinforces an opinion. Covering the “damn emails” over and over is not objective, for example, even if the stories themselves are!

      Finally, being a journalist myself, I have a minor semantic quibble with your definition of a “real” journalist. 🙂 You’re talking about one kind of journalism. Words can only speak for themselves when the reader has the background to understand them! If you interview an economist, for example, every comment can require an explanation… and then the words no longer speak for themselves.

  5. SPENCER says:

    If it is not the moderators role to call a lie a lie, what is the moderators role?

    The press is the one responsible for identifying the truth, right?

  6. Bob says:

    I’ve always considered our parallel-play format for TV debates rather odd.

    The rival candidates are contesting against each other, no? Then why is a “moderator” also an active participant? I doubt the Lincoln Douglas debate included a moderator, or needed one. If Hillary Clinton says something false, it should be up to Donald Trump to rebut it. And vice versa. The moderator’s role should be reduced to the of a timekeeper and referee, nothing more.

    If, as believe, our TV debates are really disguised parallel speech presentations, then rebuttals could be provided by a press forum as an integral part of the program immediate afterwards. Then the truth would really out.