It wasn’t all that long ago that news outlets were doing a lot of handwringing over whether to ever use the word “lie” in relation to politicians lying about things. “Each time President Trump says something that we know, based on the evidence, is not accurate, we hear from readers who are upset that we did not call the president a liar,” The New York Times wrote in 2018.
In the four years of his presidency, Trump made 30,573 “false or misleading claims,” as catalogued by The Washington Post, which noted that “the tsunami of untruths kept rising the longer he served as president and became increasingly unmoored from the truth.” (The Post still didn’t use the word “lie.”) And by the end of that four years — which culminated in Trump claiming that the election he lost had been stolen from him, an insurrection by pro-Trump rioters at the U.S. Capitol, and 53% of Republicans saying they believe Trump is the “true president” — most news organizations were being a bit blunter. (New York Times, Feb. 9, 2021: “Lie after lie: Listen to how Trump built his alternate reality.” CNN, July 12, 2021: “Untethered to reality, Trump lies over and over about the 2020 election at CPAC.”)
Now, news outlets face a more complicated question. Should they print politicians’ lies/false statements/untruths/misleading claims at all — especially when those politicians are saying these things with the expectation that their statements will be covered and amplified by the media?
Many mainstream outlets have simply regurgitated false statements.
Cleveland’s Plain Dealer decided to do something different. Back in March, the publication’s staffers grappled with questions over “our responsibility in how we cover the candidacy of Republican Josh Mandel for the U.S. Senate in 2022.”