The definition of a lie according to Merriam-Webster is “an intentionally false statement.” To me, the key word is “intentionally.” In an interesting discussion about how the media has played multiple roles in this election, Dan Kennedy talked about calling out lies. He said it is nearly impossible. Even with the most accurate fact-checking, no body can prove that the so-called “liar” knew that what he or she said was false. It’s like trying to mind-read. I had never thought about it that way, maybe because I had seen multiple articles during this election accusing Donald Trump of lying from Politifact to the New York Times. But what is the basis, our opinions? Is there proof? Is it ethical to publish someone as a liar?
Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of false statements throughout this election, most of which came from Mr. President himself. While researching this idea of the proclaimed lying candidate of 2016, I found an NYT article about how the media struggled with rhetoric during this campaign. Jason Stanley writes,
“This presidential campaign has revealed that our academic and media class has insufficiently grappled with the problem of mass communication.”
Stanley then goes on to write about how Trump’s media coverage and his ideas were similar to totalitarian propaganda and as I read, I started to agree. Throughout this campaign Trump was distorting reality with his false statements and the media was airing, publishing, and talking about it. His inaccuracies were getting more air time than other candidates’ accuracies.
Inaccurate is a word that should have been used more often in this campaign rather than the word lie. The tone of the media changes when opinion is obvious. A partisan media was thrown away during this campaign. It even came to a point where media mogul Jay Rosen bashed NPR for not calling Trump a liar.
NPR responded to this saying that they presented the facts and that’s it. There was no tone, opinion, or bias in the article. They use the word “misstate” instead of lie. I think this is an ethical way to cover the false statements. NPR can prove that Trump misstated facts. They cannot prove that he lied. Maybe he knew the statements were false, maybe he didn’t. NPR comments in the response,
“That is why the tone of journalism matters so much. We need potential listeners and readers to believe we are presenting the facts honestly, and not to confirm our opinions.”
I think that statement sums my point and the point Dan Kennedy was trying to make. Opinions should be left out. The campaign is over and the mistakes are made, but from now on, let’s just stick to what we can prove.