WIUM Tristates Public Radio

False Equivalencies in Political Reporting

Aug 22, 2017

In the Washington Post, media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote about what she called the false equivalency presidency of Donald Trump.  She wrote, "During the 2016 presidential campaign, the national news media's misguided sense of fairness helped equate the serious flaws of Hillary Clinton with the disqualifying evils of Donald Trump."

Shop Talk panelist Will Buss took some issue with the column. He feels journalists worked hard to remain objective and report on developments in the campaigns.  Buss said the issues about Ms. Clinton’s email server never went away  – not because reporters used them to balance their stories but because the issue kept being discussed by the Trump campaign.

Panelist Rich Egger thinks journalists are not obligated to report on an issue just because a candidate keeps bringing it up.  Buss conceded reporters could have pressed Trump on more substantive issues rather than following his lead.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton pointed out journalists could not ignore the fact that the FBI director also brought the issue into the spotlight.  She said journalists are not trying to create an equivalency; they’re simply reporting on what’s happening.

Crighton also said she hears a lot of talk in the industry about whether objectivity is an outdated concept.  She said some people think journalists should be upfront about their biases so the audience knows where they’re coming from.  Egger doesn’t like that idea; he would prefer journalists present information as best they can and allow audience members make up their minds.

Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.