Reporters Can’t Find Balance Between Clinton, Trump

There is no moral equivalence between the candidates. Journalists shouldn’t try to establish one.

Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton makes a speech in Chicago, Illinois, March 14
Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton makes a speech in Chicago, Illinois, March 14 (Hillary for America/Barbara Kinney)

Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, laments that news outlets in the United States are too keen to find an equivalence between the two major parties’ presidential candidates when there is none.

Polls suggest that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is particularly trusted by a majority of Americans. “It’s perfect” for journalists who are desperate not to be seen as taking sides, writes Mann.

“One can already see the equivalence taking hold in the country’s most respected news organizations.”

Trump might be the most unqualified and temperamentally unsuited major party presidential nominee in American history, conceivably a threat to the stability of our democracy, but “voters just don’t trust Hillary.” (Conclusion: they are both untrustworthy; the sources and consequences of the public distrust for each candidate are best treated symmetrically.) Neither Trump, with his hard-edge nationalism, nor Clinton, with “a swirl of scandal surrounding her candidacy,” fit an electorate increasingly disenchanted with the political class. (Conclusion: two evils, equally balanced.)

The press’ quest for balance is itself commendable. Conservatives did have a point in the past when they complained that mainstream media, especially television news, tilted to the left.

Journalists tend to be liberal and many work in the left-wing bastion of New York City. It’s almost inevitable that some bias will creep into their work. So long as everybody is aware of that and reporters themselves do their best to hear and tell all sides of the story, there usually isn’t a problem.

But this can go too far. When stories casually compare Trump’s daily lies to Clinton’s evasiveness on a few (however important) issues; when cable news broadcasts Trump’s speeches in full without comment, voters may get the impression that there really isn’t that much of a difference between them.

He said, she said

The media’s job is not to stop Trump. That was the Republican Party’s job and it failed. The media’s job is to let Americans know what kind of a man Trump is.

Many fine reporters are doing just that. Mann mentions a few in passing and may be a little gloomy about how the media are doing altogether. Newspapers, opinion magazines and websites are publishing critical articles about Trump every day, from questioning this business record to demonstrating how and why he is wrong on so many issues.

But Mann does have a point: As soon as Clinton enters the story, the criticism of Trump — valid and objective — tends to go quiet and a nonjudgemental “he said, she said” takes its place.

This does the reader a disservice. Voters need to know that Trump is ignorant about many things and careless with the truth. It isn’t biased or unfair to point that out. Downplaying his ignorance or overlooking his lies would be.

Leave a reply