Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Lying Game Media Should Tell the Truth about Who Lies Most

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Lying Game Media Should Tell the Truth about Who Lies Most

Article excerpt

We can be fairly sure that in Monday's presidential debate Donald Trump will lie repeatedly and grotesquely, and Hillary Clinton might say a couple of untrue things. Or not.

What we don't know is whether the moderator will step in when Mr. Trump delivers one of his often reiterated falsehoods. If he claims, yet again, to have opposed the Iraq War from the beginning - which he didn't - will he be called on it? If he claims to have renounced birtherism years ago, will the moderators note that he was still at it just a few months ago? If he says America is the world's most highly taxed country - which it isn't - will anyone other than Ms. Clinton say it isn't? And will media coverage after the debate convey the asymmetry of what went down?

We now have long track records for both Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton, and, thanks to nonpartisan fact-checking operations like PolitiFact, we can even quantify the difference. PolitiFact has examined 258 Trump statements and 255 Clinton statements and ranked them on a scale ranging from "True" to "Pants on Fire." 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, Ms. Clinton six; the GOP nominee had 89 False ratings, the Democrat 27. Unless one candidate has a nervous breakdown or a religious conversion this weekend, the debate will follow similar lines. So how should it be reported?

Media can't report at length on every questionable statement - time, space and the attention of readers and viewers are limited. I suggest that reporters and news organizations treat time and attention span as a sort of capital budget that must be allocated across coverage.

When businesses must allocate capital, they establish a "hurdle rate," a minimum rate of return a project must offer if it is to be undertaken. In terms of reporting falsehoods, this would mean devoting coverage to statements whose dishonesty rises above a certain level of outrageousness - say, outright falsity with no redeeming grain of truth. …

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