Prioritizing Truth Over Neutrality

Reports that Donald Trump is considering the nomination of someone who has actually been convicted of mishandling classified material to be his Secretary of State are once again stirring up discussion on how the media handled stories about the two presidential candidates during the run-up to the election. Contrasting the obsession with Clinton’s emails and foundation with the serious conflicts of interest posed by a Trump administration will likely be an ongoing theme for a while.

That’s why it is so important to note that there are a few journalists who are standing up to call out their own profession going forward. One of those is Christiane Amanpour, who gave a powerful speech last week in accepting 2016 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award.

In case you aren’t able to watch the whole thing, here is the part you shouldn’t miss:

First, like many people watching where I was overseas, I admit I was shocked by the exceptionally high bar put before one candidate and the exceptionally low bar put before the other candidate.

It appeared much of the media got itself into knots trying to differentiate between balance, objectivity, neutrality, and crucially, truth.

We cannot continue the old paradigm — let’s say like over global warming — where 99.9% of the empirical scientific evidence is given equal play with the tiny minority of deniers.

I learned long ago, covering the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia, never to equate victim with aggressor, never to create a false moral or factual equivalence, because then you are an accomplice to the most unspeakable crimes and consequences.

I believe in being truthful, not neutral. And I believe we must stop banalizing the truth.

Amanpour took direct aim at both-sider-ism and challenged what Chris Matthews alluded to when Matt Lauer failed to call Trump out on his lies.

Jay Rosen takes it one step further in distinguishing between evidence-based and accusation-driven reporting.

If you are evidence-based you lead with the lack of evidence for explosive or insidious charges. That becomes the news. If you are accusation-driven, the news is that certain people are making charges. With the details we may learn that there’s no evidence, but the frame in which that discovery is made remains “he said, she said.”…

Instead of defining public service as the battle against evidence-free claims, they will settle for presenting the charge, presenting the defense, and leaving it there, justifying this timid and outworn practice with a “both sides” logic that has nothing to do with truthtelling and everything to do with protecting themselves against criticism in Trump’s America.

That is exactly what Paul Glastris was talking about when he wrote that the press was turning the Clinton Foundation story into the new Benghazi.

Thanks to the publishing of these investigations—most of which took many months of dogged effort to produce—we now have a tremendous amount of granular information about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department and with the federal government generally. In virtually every case we know of, it’s clear that Hillary and her staff behaved appropriately.

Yet instead of accepting the evidence of their own investigations, much of the mainstream media expresses the attitude that these are still wide open questions…On the cable shows, even the few journalists who acknowledge the lack of any evidence that Hillary and her staff did anything untoward feel the need to insist that the next batch of emails could prove otherwise.

In other words, the evidence produced by these investigations never seemed to put a dent in their accusation-driven reporting.

Taking these two assessments together, we can see that Amanpour and Rosen are calling out the media for their embrace of neutrality in accusation-driven stories over truth in evidence-based reporting. More than at any time in modern history, a Trump administration demands that truth be prioritized over neutrality. If you have any doubts about that, read what James Fallows just wrote in a note titled, “A Reflexive Liar in Command: Guidelines for the Media.”

I’ll simply add here at the end that, just as Glastris highlighted the truth about the investigations of the Clinton Foundation, you can expect that evidence-based reporting will always be prioritized here at the Washington Monthly. If that is something you value, I hope you’ll take a moment to either subscribe or make a tax deductible contribution to this publication. Thank you!

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.