Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Media coverage and the problem of balance

I have another piece up at The Conversation, related to a paper I wrote on the media.  The basic idea is the familiar problem that journalists can't accurately describe an asymmetric partisan conflict if they have to pretend that the Democrats and Republicans are just equal and opposite.  The paper was about what happens when one party makes asymmetric demands in a negotiation, but the same principle applies to what happens when one candidate in an election is just a pathological liar.

Just a few additional notes.  First, I freely use the word, "liar."  Somehow, the word has become verboten in normal political dialog.  It is as though the word, "lie," is just so intrinsically harsh that it can never be used.  Remember the stink about Ted Cruz calling Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor?  Really?  What we are going to object to is the use of the word, "liar?"  Don't we have bigger issues?  You can call someone a "teller of untrue things," but not a "liar."  I just don't get it, but then, I also am not bothered by Donald Trump's "vulgarity."

Lies are corrosive to all serious dialog, but somehow calling them out as such violates basic moral principles?  I dissent.

The other point is an observation about the difference between the academic version of the paper, and the article at The Conversation.  In the academic version, I studiously avoided labeling any party.  It was an abstract mathematical model.  In the piece at The Conversation, I pick on Donald Trump, who is a liar, and I call him that freely.  He started his political career by asserting that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, but I can't call him a liar even though nobody could legitimately disagree?  There are plenty of legitimate criticisms one could make of Obama.  The birth certificate stuff?  No, not legitimate.

Funny, then, how Donald Trump scrambles the normal rules of political dialog.  With my students, I am cagey about my own political beliefs, and since my own politics are frequently idiosyncratic, playing devil's advocate comes naturally to me anyway.  With Donald Trump, though, c'mon.  I'm a professor of political science.  If I claimed to take him seriously, would anyone take me seriously?

And yet, if I hold Donald Trump in contempt, that puts me not only in the same category as the entire Democratic Party, but in the same category of Paul Ryan, the modern scion of conservatism.

This election cycle is nuts.

No comments:

Post a Comment