There seems to be a standard operating mode in journalism these days: when a politician promotes egregious policies or personal characteristics, flaws in their opponent must be described as well. It’s true that, outside of opinion columns like this one, it is the responsibility of political reporters to describe key aspects of all prominent protagonists in an election, and not just attack or support one side.
But the reporting doesn’t need to be equal for all – in order to be “fair”, it often should not be “balanced.”
How should World War 2 journalists have described FDR and Hitler? Should they have said, “Hitler is responsible for deaths of millions, and FDR can’t even stand up on his own!”
Throughout the pandemic, there have been people who promoted worthless “cures” for COVID-19, and there have been those who disseminated the best scientific understanding of the disease and its mitigation; should these have been treated equally?
These points have been made many times; and yet, we still see it. In Arizona’s current election, we have a whole slate of Republican candidates that, almost without exception, promote falsehoods, and not just harmless errors, but ones that have the capacity to seriously harm our democracy and our population.
Is our electoral system fundamentally sound, or particularly if one side loses, is it fundamentally fraudulent? These notions should not be treated equally. The thesis of 2020 election fraud has been contested in many court filings and has never been shown to be true. Specific questions raised by sensationalist articles and films have all been refuted by those who have deep knowledge of the process. And this is not a harmless error – it has led to horrors like the January 6 insurrection and threatened violence against dedicated election workers.
I don’t expect every journalist to suddenly become a liberal activist (although if they report truthfully, they will be accused of this anyway). But sometimes truthful reporting will be unbalanced. And in this perilous moment for our democracy, it is irresponsible to ignore this.
And perhaps they could also stop treating this election as a horse race. The stakes are too huge for us all.