When I see a letter to a newspaper published that is indefensible logically and ethically, I often wonder, “Why did the paper print this?” Was the reason that the editors thought the letter made good sense, in which case, “Oh-oh!” Was the reason that it spoke for many readers with similar delusions, and thus would inform other readers that this, however dim-witted, is a common attitude or perception? Or, most ominous of all, was the reason it was published that the editors know the letter is badly reasoned, but think it will persuade other readers to accept a view that advances the paper’s ideological and political agendas?
I believe editors of letters sections are obligated to rebut dumb or misleading statements, either with their own responses or with other letters. The news media should not make people more ignorant, more biased, more stupid, and more misinformed. That our current news media does this now as a matter of course, and often deliberately, is one of the prime reasons I view the label “enemy of the people,” as inflammatory as it is, as fair.
I was thinking about this as I read the readers’ letters to the New York Times about Elizabeth Drew’s recent op-ed arguing that Presidential debates should be eliminated. As I’ve mentioned here earlier, her position was disingenuous and laughable: What a coinkydink that progressive pundits are suddenly opposing debates when the Democratic Party’s candidate is obviously trying to keep the extent of his mental decline from voters! Naturally the Times, being the Times, permitted just one letter to get to press that expressed that analysis; only two of the seven letters published referenced Joe Biden at all.
The second one of these was my favorite: it said that if Biden agrees to debate, “the bully ringmaster in chief” will “interrupt, insult, lie to and badger him incessantly.” This is hilarious, because the last time we saw Biden in a one-on-one debate (those recent depressing Democratic primary free-for-alls don’t count), that letter describes exactly how Biden was allowed (by moderator Martha Raddatz) to treat Paul Ryan. The night after the Vice-Presidential candidates debate in 2012, I wrote in part, as Ethics Alarms designated Joe Biden an Ethics Dunce,
The Vice-President’s performance in his debate with Paul Ryan was rude, uncivil, obnoxious and undignified… It made Al Gore’s eye-rolling, sighing act during his infamous first debate with George Bush in 2002 look positively restrained…Biden was needlessly snide, condescending (anyone condescending is bad; someone like Joe Biden condescending is incomprehensible) and disrespectful, in contrast to Ryan, who acted like high officials of the U.S. government are supposed to act, since they represent our nation and culture whenever they appear in public. The Vice-President made the entire debate unpleasant to watch, and worst of all, he further lowered the quality of political discourse in this election year.
But debates shouldn’t be held this time because President Trump would be rude to Biden.
I digress. The letter to the editor that sparked this post was one that agreed with Drew, and cited two reasons:
- “Debates are like job interviews,” and job interviews are not as effective predictors of future job performance as past performance and experience, and
- “Yes, do away with presidential sideshow and tell the electorate the real story.”
Anyone who has held job interviews should know that they are often misleading, and that glib, slick applicants can snow gullible and credulous interviewers. (Thus, don’t be a gullible and credulous interviewer.) But what employer in their right mind would hire an employee for an important job without an interview? OK, it’s not the best way to assess a candidate for a job; it maye evne be the worst. An interview is still an essential part of the process. If a debate is “like a job interview,” and it is, then the writer rebutted her own position.
Her last statement, however, is what put the letter in “the too dumb to print category.” Who is going to “tell the voters the real story”? The New York Times? The same newspaper that buries information that might undermine trust in candidates and politicians its editors and reporters favor, while hyping stories that will create negative impressions of those they oppose? The same newspaper that announced during the last campaign that it would frame the news in order to ensure Donald Trump’s defeat?
There is no news source that has shown itself capable of or inclined to “tell the electorate the real story.” Any American who believes there is at this late date is too easily deceived to be allowed outside without a leash. Americans must judge for themselves what “the real story is,” and educate themselves to be able to do so competently.
And that is why Presidential debates, flaws and all, are indispensable.