Press 'Fairness' in Politics: Just Relativism Disguised?

Article excerpt

It is en vogue for politicians to rail against relativism these days. In a world that seems more dangerous and complicated than it has been in decades, campaigns like to offer people an anchor, to say they stand for something solid.

Relativism, with its belief that truth is shifting or, at the very least, unknowable, is not a comfortable fit for politics. Who, after all, is interested in running for office on the platform that the next guy's opinion is just as valid as his own? Campaigns need to be about right and wrong. That's what brings voters out. Relativism is the kind of thing best left to cappuccino-sipping academics or black-turtleneck-wearing Upper West Side New Yorkers, who do things "ironically."

But, as is often the case in politics, the reality is more complicated than that. Relativism is, and long has been, the driving force behind one of the biggest tools in politics - spin. Spin is relativism made practical. It seeks to take a set of facts and through the adept application of argument and selective information make them look like something other than what they are.

But the game has reached a new level. Last week, President Bush threw his hat into the relativist ring when he announced that a National Intelligence Estimate that forecast a bleak future for Iraq was full of potential outcomes that were "just guesses." Not that he's completely opposed to guesses, mind you, he just chose to follow someone else's guesses - namely the guesses of administration- backed Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Mr. Allawi says that despite the US intelligence report, and acknowledgements that large parts of the country aren't under control and the rising body counts and kidnappings and beheadings, things are on the road to democracy. And who is the president going to believe? It's just two different opinions, right?

But the campaign relativism game extends well beyond the president to both parties. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth come forth and make allegations with little proof and still find their arguments being aired on television. Both the Kerry and Bush campaigns propose huge spending increases, and then say their plans include balancing the budget in about five years.

These things aren't new, however. What's new is how the news media handles them - particularly on TV where the allegations often come fast and furious. …