The news is all about shaming Matt Lauer these days – A Disaster; a Storm of Criticism; Matt Lauer failed the Moderator Test – but to be fair, if he’s a traitor to journalistic ethics, he’s got plenty of company.
After Chris Wallace was selected to host an upcoming presidential debate, Wallace said, “I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad.” In the interview, Wallace spoke of helping “tens of millions of Americans make up their minds,” but he didn’t mention how Americans should go about that if no one helps them separate truth from fiction.
In John 8:32, Jesus says the truth will make us free. Buddha said we can conquer liars by speaking truth, and went on to say, “One who has imbibed the Truth lives happily with well-seeing mind.” But when journalists don’t challenge lies, and instead leave them to sound like facts, they assist the liar instead of arming us with the weapons we need to conquer lies and set ourselves free.
Wallace likened his role to that of a referee in a heavyweight championship fight, but a referee doesn’t just stand by while one fighter bites or head butts another. Those fouls result in penalties or even disqualification, and it’s the ref who makes the call. If Wallace wants to use the referee analogy, he should follow through with it. It’s a foul to use rough tactics instead of clean punches, and God help us if boxing is more civilized than American politics. The debate equivalent of head butts and eye gouges includes ad hominem attacks, gender-based attacks, fabricating stories about yourself or your opponent, and any other dirty tricks candidates try to employ.
In both arenas, opponents will try fighting dirty if someone doesn’t step up and stop them. We “out here” can’t stop them; we often can’t even identify the fouls. We are responsible for our own jobs and can’t stop to research every statement we hear. So to every journalist interviewing or writing about a candidate or moderating a debate, we are counting on you. You’re the ones with the means to discern truth from fiction, and you have an ethical obligation to genuinely help us make up our minds. Don’t abdicate that part of your job.
Novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” For now, I’m prepared to set the bar much lower and ask that you at least do the right thing when everyone is watching. Quote the candidates, but put an asterisk next to the lies, and tell us the truth. Let the candidates debate, but have the courage to blow your whistle and stop them from committing fouls. Otherwise, you aren’t helping us make up our minds; you’re helping them dupe us.
Don’t help them dupe us. Arm us with truth. Set us free.