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"The Uncracked Nut," talked about the conservatives in our District who simply ignored my message. Here the issue is the press, who didn't take my claims seriously enough to ask, "Are they true?"

I have said that our campaign for Congress achieved its goals with the like-minded people of the Sixth District.

But I identified two parts of the body politic where our campaign failed to help the truth defeat the lie.

We did not reach or move the un-like-minded part of the electorate. This was discussed in the previous installment, "The Uncracked Nut." Now it's time to discuss the second disappointment: the failure of the press to deal seriously with my message.

I liked the men and women of the press with whom I interacted over the months of the campaign, and I believe they liked me. The problem, I think, is not about them as people but with the institutions they work for. And, indeed, I believe that my experience with the press in Virginia's Sixth District points to a profound problem in the American press generally in our times.

I ran to deliver a message. In a nutshell, my message was this: A force has arisen on the political right that has made the Republican Party more destructive and dishonest than anything ever seen before at center stage of American politics. My opponent, as a rubber stamp for that party, was practicing the politics of dishonesty to serve interests destructive to our highest values.

This I believed with deep conviction, such that I have devoted the past eight years of my life to communicating that message to my fellow Americans.

If I were correct, what could be more important for citizens to know?

What would be more important is for the press to help readers judge than the truth of such a claim, if the proper purpose of the press is to help the citizens of a democracy know those truths they need to know in order to do their part to keep their society healthy?

If an election is not the most appropriate time for a democracy to explore competing versions of reality, when would be?

And if I would not be taken seriously as the bearer of such a potentially vital message --as a candidate and with my decades-long history of writing seriously about just such issues as I was raising -- who would be?

Yet the press never inquired into the truth or falsehood of my assertions.

The issue here isn’t about whether the press affected the outcome of the election. I don’t believe that. It’s whether the press recognizes what its proper job is.

Setting aside the matter of how well or superficially my claims and arguments were reported -- a sentence here, a few sentences there— there is a more fundamental issue: The press seemed to think its responsibility lay only in reporting opposing positions and not at all in helping readers and viewers judge which of the conflicting claims was true.

It would be unreasonable to expect news organizations to adjudicate fully my larger claims about the unprecedented patterns of destruction and dishonesty characterizing the force on the political right. But it would have been easy to inquire further into the conflicting versions of reality, asking each candidate to respond to the claims and arguments of the other.

The press, in other words, can generate the kind of conversation – like the adversarial back and forth that we use in our courts-- to help clarify what’s true and what’s false.

Besides making the larger argument, I prosecuted my claims with specific charges about the lies of my opponent and his party. I called him out on his lies about the budgetary implications of Obamacare. I accused him of hypocrisy and inconsistency on his big theme of opposition to "big government." I labeled as “the politics of dishonesty and distraction” my opponent’s channeling of the deliberate Republican distortion of the President’s “you didn’t built that” statement.

In none of these cases, nor in any of the many other cases of dishonesty I brought up, did the press go beyond “A says this, B says that” in order to help the citizens of the Sixth District judge what’s true.

I made the issue of truth the heart of my campaign, not only in my slogan of "Truth. For a Change," but in virtually every speech I gave.

But the press acted as if truth is not its concern.

The issue here is bigger than the specifics of my story— bigger than my campaign with my message in this District— because it illuminates a pervasive problem coverage of American politics.

Today’s press tends to practice a kind of balance that says, “This person says the earth is round, and this other person says the earth is flat.” The audience is left to figure out what’s true.

The average citizen spends mere minutes a day hearing about the news of the wider world. For that and other reasons, he or she is ill-equipped to judge whether the Affordable Care Act will increase or decrease the national debt, or whether climate change deniers have a reasonable case for their dismissal of what scientists say, or whether fiscal austerity would be helpful or harmful under current conditions.

Citizens need help, and who else is in a position to supply that help but the press? Not to tell people what to think but to generate the kind of inquiry that will help the citizenry, like a jury, to come to their own judgments.

The pseudo-balance of reporting equally all claims by politicians is an abdication of responsibility. A press that treats truth and falsehood the same - - that does not put the question “What is true?” at the center of its work - is not doing its job.

So, is there any way that I might have a plausible chance, in a second run, of getting the press to treat my message seriously enough to inquire into its validity?

Andy Schmookler ran this year for Congress in VA-06.  He's an award-winning author, political commentator, talk radio host and teacher.  A summa cum laude graduate of Harvard, he earned his Ph. D. from Berkeley writing the first of his books analyzing the forces that operate in civilized systems, The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Excellent points sir (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Man Oh Man, cosette, mindara

    But I do think that the only way to get the Press to actually do their job is to challenge them, just like we challenge our political opponents, on what it means to pursue the truth. Because there are just as many who couldn't care less about the truth.

    Thank You for running, and I hope you have better success time around, as Congressman-elect.

    •  challenging (0+ / 0-)

      I agree, Blazehawkins, about challenging the press.  I'm planning on doing just that. My experience in this recent campaign has helped to expose some of the systemic problems that have developed in the American body politic, and I intend to make the most of the opportunity that presents.

  •  This is a Fundamental Flaw of the American System. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tirge Caps, cosette, pelagicray, VClib, arlene

    But first, congratulations for putting yourself out there to run for office and try to be part of the solution.

    The Constitution in a handful of words exempts press from regulation of its core function. So it doesn't have a proper purpose other than the same purpose every other corporation has-- to advance the interests of its owners and sponsors.

    If we had a Freedom of the Used Car Dealers we'd all know what to expect. We need to understand that Freedom of the Press gives the same result as freedom of any other corporate sector.

    It's true that in the mid 20th century, heavy business regulations on the new broadcast media had the effect of making all the press much more journalistic than they'd been before or since.

    But we're not considering restoring those regs-- in fact the FCC is preparing to loosen them further.

    Until somebody comes up with a plan to civilize the public square and make it possible for most ordinary voters to know mostly what's happening, activists like us and candidates like you have to understand that the press is the organ of the rich and their enterprises, and will not present our viewpoint broadly in the course of its business as usual.

    For my 2¢, you can only get the press to broadly distribute your viewpoint by gimmicks and trickery. Mainly I think you and all of us on the left need to find workarounds, ways of reaching and motivating voters without going through a rather hopeless mainstream press.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 06:17:45 PM PST

    •  The cheap, easy path for the media is to be the (0+ / 0-)

      reporter of he said/she said without query or judgement. It takes no research department. It takes no extra effort. It is just "calling a game" as in baseball.

      Your point is well made. Unless some external pressure encourages true reporting and investigation we will have media largely taking the easy way out and just reporting what each side says without any added value.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 07:10:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You mean like hacking their video uplinks and (0+ / 0-)

      putting out our own messages over them (illegal but non-violent)?

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 09:20:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Press and what you are running against (0+ / 0-)

    are the same thing, sadly.

    •  Same thing? (0+ / 0-)

      Yes and no, Tirge Caps.  At least as I see it:

      Yes, in that much of the media is owned and controlled by corporate interests that are heavily tied into the plutocratic force that helps fuel today's supposedly "conservative" force.

      But also no, in that the press has also been INTIMIDATED by the forces on the right, just as the Democratic Party has been for much of the past decade-plus.  My interpretation of what I've observed at the level of the national press is that the press has been bullied effectively (e.g. under the Bush regime) into stepping out of the truth business, giving lies equal treatment, in order to avoid the punitive repercussions that would come upon them if they made liars pay a price.

      •  I agree that the Bush Administration really (0+ / 0-)

        ramped up the intimidation factor but the press has been in the bag for a lot longer.

        There has been more consolidation since then as well, leaving the voice of independent journalism the last of the truth crowd.

        I think the biggest consequence of the corporate structure of the press today is that important issues and stories don't get the attention they deserve.

        And I think it is hard to get past the gate keepers unless you use tactics that break through, ie: you have to be outlandish.

        But it's hard to look at the ownership structure of the major media outlets and their divisive, controversy centered menu and not see the same very like-minded entities who are in the middle of the issues that need to be addressed.

  •  The Alternative Media (0+ / 0-)

    For a while in the 70's a vibrant alternative press arose, some that are still around today.  This did force the traditional media to change somewhat as the alternatives were cutting into revenue.  

    The traditional media didn't just co-opt the alternatives, however.  They pushed back hard.  That is how we got the acting president, Ronald Reagan and the constant drumbeat of the "liberal" press bias as the excuse to go back to business as usual.

    Don't look back, something may be gaining on you. - L. "Satchel" Paige

    by arlene on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 06:25:33 AM PST

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