Media and Voters: Don't Accept Lies | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Media and Voters: Don't Accept Lies

Something that ought not be remarkable, but is, happened over the last week: Media started calling out politicians for blatant lies.

Now, that should (and is, actually) a major role of the media: to demand truth from power. But in recent decades, many media outlets—especially corporates that answer to shareholders—abdicated that responsibility. Instead, media has devolved into he-said-she-said reporting of two "sides" (meaning opinions) with facts too often getting false equivalency with lies. That is, if you say something bad about one "side," you have to say something good about it—and you have to come up with something equally bad about the other side.

The truth is that most important stories do not split down the middle. And how is the electorate to know if a politician is habitually lying about everything from who was president when a plant closed, to what President Obama actually did on welfare and Medicare, to his best time in a marathon? Here's a hint about whether you should call it a lie: Is it factually incorrect, as all those were, rather than a different interpretation of the same sets of facts?

We all should learn to tell the truth between fact and opinion in high school, but it seems that many don't.

Of course, it was Rep. Paul Ryan's lies ranging from trivia (his marathon times; who cares?) to blaming Obama for a plant that closed under President Bush that started this tide of hand-wringing in the media about the need to report when a public servant or candidate is outright lying. What's remarkable to us is that they need to have that discussion at all. It's our job, pure and simple.

Jackson faced this problem in a huge way with former and now-deceased Mayor Frank Melton—a man who lied constantly, whether about trivia or important issues. What was remarkable to us when we starting covering and researching Melton during his mayoral campaign in 2005, was how many lies he'd gotten away with over the years with no media attention to it.

This abdication of media responsibility astounded us, considering how much evidence of Melton's lies existed. We are proud that we chose to actually research what he said and follow up his false statements with the actual facts—a primary role of a news outlet. Meantime, we also reported that The Clarion-Ledger was involved in a lawsuit with Melton, a Democrat, in which they knew he was lying under oath—but did not report it during his mayoral campaign. And they endorsed him, even with knowledge that he was lying in court.

Our approach to lies is nonpartisan. We believe factchecking is the role of every journalist, no matter what party the liar belongs to, as we have shown with our reporting here, not to mention the editor-in-chief's past support of President Bill Clinton's impeachment based on the lies and cover-up of his intern affair.

We urge Democrats to tell the truth at their convention in Charlotte—and urge media to hold all political feet to the fire, regardless of party.

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