DRUDGE REPORT 2004®
Had to link to Drudgie for the memo. It's ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin, telling his staff to bust the candidates for lying and distorting the other's record without regard to some nutty "'equally' accountable" canard. Here's the memo, reprinted from Drudge:
It goes without saying that the stakes are getting very high for the country and the campaigns - and our responsibilities become quite graveI understand what Halperin is saying, but this sentence could have been stated a hell of a lot more clearly: We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that.
I do not want to set off (sp?) and endless colloquy that none of us have time for today - nor do I want to stifle one. Please respond if you feel you can advance the discussion.
The New York Times (Nagourney/Stevenson) and Howard Fineman on the web both make the same point today: the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done.
Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win.
We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that.
I'm sure many of you have this week felt the stepped up Bush efforts to complain about our coverage. This is all part of their efforts to get away with as much as possible with the stepped up, renewed efforts to win the election by destroying Senator Kerry at least partly through distortions.
It's up to Kerry to defend himself, of course. But as one of the few news organizations with the skill and strength to help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest. Now is the time for all of us to step up and do that right.
Of course, both sides should be held equally accountable for the distortions they tell. What Halperin should have said is that treating the candidates' distortions and lies as if they were equally distorting isn't holding both candidates equally accountable. The reporters should be knocking both candidates for lying and distorting when they do so. And if one candidate is lying and distorting more than the other one, then the reporters should be busting that candidate more than the other one. That is actually what "holding each candidate equally accountable" means.
The candidates themselves, then, remain in complete control of how often and deeply they are exposed as distorters and liars. Reporters shouldn't search for some distortion and lie, however trivial, from the other side whenever they catch one side distorting and lying. They should report the distortions and lies as they find them, and if one candidate has a worse track record of dishonesty than his opponent, then that gets reported too. That's serving the interests of the American people.
If a particular candidate doesn't like being exposed as a distorter and liar, then that candidate should stop telling so many distortions and lies. By reporting a trivial distortion of one candidate as if it equalled an appalling lie by the other, reporters are not holding both sides equally accountable. They are being unequal, and favoring the liar. That's unacceptable and should be stopped.
Halperin, however, made this point in a way that rightwingers can distort. It's clear what he said when you read it, but by seeming to put "equally accountable" on the back burner, he's opened himself to some flack. Hopefully, he's clarified this: Equally accountable means 'slam them as many times as you catch them lying,' not 'slam them only when you can slam the other guy too." That's not fair or balanced, and Halperin was right to try and make that point.