Headlines of “Romney: Obama Takes Work out of Work for Welfare” and “Obama Needs to Go” get more coverage than the follow-up story: “Fact Checkers Question These Statements.” Newsweek has provided a reference point in the bigger diagram of the 2012 election. Romney is giving his supporters false information to fuel their righteous anger. Both Ferguson and Romney have engaged in #SayAnything2012 and will continue. One may end up with a comfy gig at some right-wing echo chamber, and the other may end up as president.
What reason do they have to be honest?
The problem goes even deeper. In January 2012 a New York Times editor asked readers, “Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?” highlighting that some of its audience had asked the newspaper to point out when assertions by politicians and others are false. I, as did many others, thought, “You aren’t doing this already?” Isn’t the whole point of respected news sources that they’re supposed to tell the truth and point out lies? How did one of the most respected sources of news in the United States get to the point that they had to ask that?
If you’re wondering why I haven’t criticized Obama’s camp for the controversial anti-Romney ad about the man whose wife died of cancer after his employer went belly-up under Bain, it’s because I’m not falling into the false-equivalency trap — that to make a point, we have to attack everybody because “both sides do it!” It’s not the same. That was a super PAC ad, unaffiliated with Obama, while the welfare attacks are coming directly from Romney’s campaign. It makes no sense to compare the two. So I won’t.
#SayAnything2012 is real. And with an understanding of this time in our history, we have to also acknowledge that we’re on our own. Yes, you may have a favorite place to read the stories of the day, but it shouldn’t be your only place. In understanding our current political and news media space, we as the consumers have to take it on ourselves to verify what we’re reading as opposed to taking it as gospel.
It’s not just a good thing to do; it’s the duty of those who claim to be informed. I had a gentleman explain to me that he read the New York Times, so he’s pretty much up on things. I shook my head and politely suggested that he expand his news sources.
But this isn’t just about the news consumer. Yes, you need to diversify and seek differing opinions and genuine facts, but at the same time, there needs to be more scrutiny of our news providers and our elected officials. Publishing horrendously framed stories and telling half-truths to gain votes isn’t just a bad practice. It’s an immoral one.
There’s a responsibility that comes with speaking in public spaces and seeking public office. Arguments are made that “it’s just politics,” or “news organizations still have a bottom line: money.” While these things are true to a certain degree, can we actively pretend that if things continue to go in the direction that they are right now, we’ll have an informed society? A society that not only understands the facts but also has the capability to make decisions based on them?
Or was an uninformed electorate the goal in the first place?