Bob Franken




I always worry when people on one side of an issue praise a story I’ve done. Ideally, at least in the twisted mind of a journalist, all the parties should be upset. We should be viewed as equal-opportunity jerks. After all, this column has been described as “a gesture of defiance pointed in all directions.” (Actually, the gesture of defiance was specified. Use your imagination.) I am fine with that.
But if one side was filled with praise, was I being fair to the other side? And what does being fair really mean? Can it be defined as needing to bring a 50-50 approach to each report? Should such automatic equivalence be our standard? Or is false equivalence an inherent distortion? What about context?
And what about the indecisive navel-gazing through which you’ve just been forced to wade? Let’s face it, those of us in newsbiz are really neurotic. And why wouldn’t we be? Hewing to the harsh demands of hate-everybody journalism means we don’t have many friends. The ones we do have are only pretending to be buddies so they can promote their causes.

“Let the chips fall where they may” is our credo. But let’s get back to the false-equivalence bugaboo. Should we deliver only “he said, she said” reporting? Should we give equal weight to a known constant liar on one side and the occasional liar on the other? What about the fact-checkers who are having a field day during the Trump years? Donald Trump is that compulsive liar, but shouldn’t his adversaries also be held to account?
Many Democrats don’t think so. When these fact-checkers lay out the tedious specifics, which disprove what Democrats say, should they be treated the same as Trump? No, say these Democrats. They should be given preference, because Trump is incapable of telling the truth.
What a crock. We are not cheerleaders — at least some of us are not. Of course, Donald Trump thrives on lies; not just telling them, but acting wounded when all those “fake news” media have the audacity to correct him. He can play the victim, which gives voice to the millions in his base who feel they are similarly aggrieved.
We’ve said many times that Trump is the reporter’s “gift who keeps on giving” in that he always says or does something spectacularly outrageous. On the other hand, he clouds our product with the noxious fog of doing whatever it takes to get attention. So, when the president makes a relatively harmless gaffe about Alabama being included in the path of Hurricane Dorian, and the Birmingham weather bureau forecasters correct him to avoid a panic, in a sane environment, POTUS would apologize for having misspoken. End of story.
But this is not a sane environment. Trumpster realizes that he can always milk this, and milk it he does. Rather than say “my bad,” he has dragged this out for more than two weeks as he fans the flames always burning in his put-upon base. What’s fascinating is that he can be heavy-handed while demonstrating such a deft touch. He can use a Sharpie to draw a clumsy extension of the hurricane projection maps — an obvious subterfuge. He can order his immediate subordinates to threaten those who contradicted him, and demand that their contradiction be contradicted.
This serial intimidation was easily documented, as he knew it would be, and all we could do is report it and wait for him to manipulate the paranoia of his followers. Still we must apply the same standards of facts and context to his adversaries. I don’t know how to break it to you, but most politicians stretch the truth. The ones who don’t aren’t around very long.
Based on the reporting, Americans can decide on all facets of the politician’s stated priorities, policies and, even more importantly, their overall character. Then it’s up to us to decide which ones we elect, or throw out of office. As for those of us who cover these uncomfortable stories, hate us all. Everybody else does. That’s how it should be.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Posted in Uncategorized

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap