Paul Krugman Scorches Media for Dishonest Coverage of Election

Paul Krugman has a sneaking suspicion that Donald Trump will lie in the upcoming presidential debate. Why is that? Oh, just a little thing called history.

"PolitiFact has examined 258 Trump statements and 255 Clinton statements and classified them on a scale ranging from 'True' to 'Pants on Fire,'" Krugman points out in his Friday column. "One might quibble with some of the judgments, but they’re overwhelmingly in the ballpark. And they show two candidates living in different moral universes when it comes to truth-telling. Mr. Trump had 48 Pants on Fire ratings, Mrs. Clinton just six; the G.O.P. nominee had 89 False ratings, the Democrat 27."

That Trump will lie could be called the known unknown, to quote Donald Rumsfeld. The unknown unknown, or some such, is how much the moderators will step in when Trump lies. Among his favorites are his false claims to have opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, his claims to have renounced birtherism and his absurd assertion that America is the most highly taxed country in the world.

So, given that Trump will lie a whole lot more than Clinton, how should the media coverage after the debate be handled? Krugman's suggestion:

If the debate looks anything like the campaign so far, we know what that will mean: a news analysis that devotes at least five times as much space to Mr. Trump’s falsehoods as to Mrs. Clinton’s.

If your reaction is, “Oh, they can’t do that — it would look like partisan bias,” you have just demonstrated the huge problem with news coverage during this election. For I am not calling on the news media to take a side; I’m just calling on it to report what is actually happening, without regard for party. In fact, any reporting that doesn’t accurately reflect the huge honesty gap between the candidates amounts to misleading readers, giving them a distorted picture that favors the biggest liar.

Yet there are, of course, intense pressures on the news media to engage in that distortion. Point out a Trump lie and you will get some pretty amazing mail — and if we set aside the attacks on your race or ethnic group, accusations that you are a traitor, etc., most of it will declare that you are being a bad journalist because you don’t criticize both candidates equally.

What the media should not do, and yet are bound to do, is cover the debate as some type of theater, discussing ad nauseum who came off better. That kind of talk, Krugman suggests, is the job of theater critics, not journalists.


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