The truth still matters
By Monica Nieporte, OMNA President and Executive Director
We all need to agree that “a lie is a lie” and the truth still matters.
A functioning society has certain agreed upon facts and sets of standards. If one plus two equals three and someone insists it’s four, would we all just go along with that because we didn’t want to “make waves”? Would we say “four” as long as it was attributed to someone else? Do we feel a responsibility to point out that the answer is three? We all know what the right thing to do in that case is, don’t we? It’s pretty simple.
So why then is it so hard for journalists to call a blatant lie a lie? Or why do they feel compelled to allow someone to outright lie to their audience without then following it up with fact-checking? Why even report the comments at all or give that person ink or airtime if they’re going to continuously lie? Is there no respect for the audience? If you are complicit in spreading disinformation or a lie, your hands aren’t clean.
We have now gotten to a point where lying has become so accepted and so normal that a congressman likened the events of Jan. 6th at the U.S. Capitol to a “tourist visit” and it was repeatedly aired on every news cast and given big headlines in newspapers and on their websites.
His colleagues sat silent while he made the analogy. They probably welcomed him at their lunch table afterward. Maybe even bought him a beer later that evening.
It used to be that if you were a leader in any community and you blatantly lied to your constituents, not only would you be condemned by the opposing party, you would be shunned by your own. There would be, at a minimum, social consequences.
And now, it results in celebrity. The never before heard of rank and file Congressman instantly achieved national name recognition because he hammed it up for the cameras and was rewarded. Whether he believes the fantastical version of events that came out of his mouth or not really isn’t the point. This is the kind of stunt that ethical, hard-working leaders have to compete with in order to get any coverage. So, the bar keeps getting lower.
We live in a very strange time where many politicians seem to care more about how many re-tweets they have on Twitter, how many Facebook likes they receive and how many guest appearances got extended to them by cable news talk shows.
We have elected some people who are more concerned with chasing individual fame over serving their constituents.
Journalists have no qualms knocking professional athletes for this kind of self-serving behavior. They’re often accused of being more focused on “building their own brand” than being part of the team. Until very recently, journalists have been less forceful about calling out politicians who are doing the same and that’s how we ended up with some of these characters walking the halls of Congress and taking up seats in statehouses across the country.
It’s time to be courageous and brave and time to stop allowing our publications to become vehicles for untruths. This isn’t about being neutral or unbiased. This is about your publication’s credibility and integrity. Building trust with your readers. The newspaper needs to be the arbiter of truth, not just some spectator to the chaos that unfolds around us daily. Calling out a lie is merely countering fiction with facts, it does not make the media biased. This is what our audience expects us to do and we’ve fallen short at times.
What a sad state of affairs.
I feel for the men and women who are truly too busy working on behalf of all of us to think of a clever tweet to send out. The men and women who have their staff setting up meetings with stakeholders and constituents trying to solve real issues doing research instead of just combing the internet for people to troll. They should be lauded for continuing to try to make a difference and we should be more liberal in our praise of these public servants. I may not agree with all of their politics or policies, but I can respect people of all political parties who work hard with dignity and integrity on behalf of the people who elected them.
For those who don’t, the media needs to be the antidote to the poison and not the spoon that continues to feed the public more.