These past few weeks in the presidential race have been troubling, not least because of the failures of the media. These failures culminated in the Commander-in-Chief forum, moderated so abysmally by Matt Lauer.
A positive way of looking at the cascade of criticism that descended on Lauer occurred to me, and I decided that this was a good time to play-up a potential silver lining among the clouds.
Before I could write up the optimistic thought I had, however, I happened on a very kindred idea expressed by Paul Krugman on his blog. After describing some of the general ways this has been “a disgraceful time for the news media,” Krugman opines that
we may have reached some sort of turning point. Matt Lauer may have done us all a favor with his catastrophically bad performance. By devoting so much time to emails and rushing through Clinton on ISIS, on one side, while letting Trump’s Iraq lie slide by unchallenged, on the other, Lauer offered a demonstration of the prevailing double standard so graphic that it was hard to ignore.
In view of the disastrous job that Lauer did (and some other journalistic failings), Krugman writes, “maybe, just maybe, this is a turning point.” Perhaps, he says hopefully, we will start now getting “journalism that describes things as they really are, that doesn’t pretend that her human fallibility is as bad or worse than Trump’s record of terrible behavior and promise of more.”
The point I wanted to make that isn’t in Krugman’s hopeful piece concerns the impact specifically on the people (Lester Holt, Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace) who will be moderating the three coming presidential debates — events presumably far more important than the forum Lauer hosted.
Seeing what a lambasting Lauer has suffered for his failings – specifically for his unfairness toward Clinton in making mountains out of molehills that are irrelevant in any event, and for his letting Trump’s falsehoods and nonsense pass – the journalists who will be hosting the debates are surely forewarned of the fate that awaits them if they do likewise, and presumably eager to escape that opprobrium.
So maybe skewering of Matt Lauer will scare the next set of debate hosts to lean away from the failings that Lauer displayed.
The host of the final debate – Chris Wallace of Fox News – had already himself made news before Lauer’s performance when he claimed that it is “not my job” to call out candidates for spewing falsehoods. Wallace came under some fire, with people saying that indeed it is his job: getting the truth to people is what “journalism” is supposed to be about.
We will see whether the object lesson that Matt Lauer has become prompts Wallace to change his mind.
And if Wallace remains unwilling to call out clear falsehoods, perhaps at least the other moderators – having seen the ton of bricks that came down on Lauer – will see to it that they meet a higher journalistic standard.