What Lester Holt Gets Wrong About Truth and the Media
NBC’s Lester Holt recently was awarded the Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism and upon receiving the award said, “I think it’s become clearer that fairness is overrated” and “The idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in. That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention.”
Holt’s comments represent a shift in the media’s perception of itself and its role in society. For a long time the media viewed itself as a neutral arbiter of the news. Whether they were writing for their high school paper or NBC, journalists were indoctrinated with the idea that they provide “just the facts, ma’am.” It was not their place to take sides on a controversy, because doing so would harm them in their search for the truth, because bias clouds judgement.
Whether it was because of the Trump era or the Trump era just provided them an excuse, many journalists argued that, yes, the media should be objective, but objectivity means not being impartial between Republicans and Democrats, but taking the side of the truth.
This led to the rise of slogans like CNN’s “Facts First” and the Washington Post’s “Democracy dies in darkness” and led to every journalist and TV personality becoming a fact-checker.
On the surface, this seems fine. A news host should not have to pretend that a politician who says 2+2=5 just has another perspective. The problem arises in that the media either does not know, or more likely, does not care that something is not defined as the truth, just because they say it is.
Two recent examples illustrate this well. An AR-15 is not a weapon of war, it is just a semi-automatic rifle that a lot of people like, but if you were to listen to the media and some politicians you would be under the impression that our soldiers in Afghanistan carry the thing with them into battle.
Not only does the media’s newfound desire to fact check left-wing politicians go away whenever someone calls it a weapon of war, they often repeat it as if it were a fact and condemn Republicans for not wanting to bring back the Assault Weapons Ban.
Then there is the battle of election laws. Democrats are said to be advancing voting rights with HR and S1, but Republicans at the state level are said to be advancing voting restrictions. This is not fact-checking, this is partisan spin.
For instance, Georgia now has seventeen days of early voting, New Jersey now has nine. Guess, which one Democrats call Jim Crow 2.0 while the media nods in agreement? How many in the media called the Georgia law restrictive without noting that early voting was actually expanded? How many media members blasting the GOP Georgia law for its food and water provisions have called New York Democrats racist vote suppressors for having a law that is essentially the same? How many journalists who loved to point out how popular President Biden’s COVID package or infrastructure package are among Republican voters whenever Republicans in Congress balk, pointed out that 63% of black Georgians support having to have a voter ID to vote absentee?
The election coverage is especially galling because condemning President Trump for his lies and conspiracy theories about the election show the merits behind the idea that the media should be willing to call out obvious lies for what they are. But while, the media calls Trump out for saying 2+2=5 it is deeply embedded in the cult of Stacey Abrams who lost by a wider margin than Trump did and it still canon on the left to say that Abrams won in 2018.
The media may be right to say Trump is wrong to say that 2+2 ≠5, but it also, despite what Abrams says, does not equal three and the media refuses to say so, sometimes even affirming the idea that 2+2=3.
This unwillingness to call Democrats out for their lies helped Trump spread his false claims. The media may be factually correct here, but they have no credibility because they have thrown it away by confusing facts with their own opinions, which often are not even based on facts. The media may say they are on the side of truth, but people know better. So, when the media says 2+2 ≠5, Trump can easily say that is just the lying, left-wing media doing what the lying, left-wing media does.
If the media wants to present itself as truth tellers and not just information peddlers, then it has to do so equally. Yes, they can call out Trump’s incendiary and dangerous lies without having to pretend they are just his perspective, but if they really want to do that, they have to do it with Democrats too and right now, they simply are not.