Last Night's Debate: We Can No Longer Be Informed

Years ago, I wanted to write an opinion article on the Philippines' Deped K to 12 curriculum. The Inquirer would not publish my piece without having a rebuttal from DepEd first. I guess the Inquirer was simply buying into Fox News' mantra of "Fair and Balanced Reporting". The main problem with emphasizing "balance" is sacrificing accuracy. When accuracy is set aside for attempting to look fair, there are dire consequences. And in last night's presidential debate in the US, it has become quite clear that mass media can no longer inform us. More than two years ago, Robert S. Eshelman wrote an essay, "The Danger of Fair and Balanced", in the Columbia Journalism View.

Above copied from the Columbia Journalism Review
In that essay, Eshelman concluded, "By now, we should have progressed to intense coverage of policy debates about how best to address climate change, not whether it exists. In this one case, balance has been the enemy of the truth." Watching last night's debate, climate change was indeed briefly mentioned yet the conversation stagnated on one pointing a finger on the other candidate as having claimed that climate change was just a "Chinese hoax", which earned a reply citing a solar energy company going bankrupt. How best to address climate change was obviously not something to be discussed.

With "fair and balanced", truth had also been compromised. Yes, there were plenty of lies during last night's debate, but fact-checking should not just be a counting contest on who said a greater number of lies. Telling a lie, whether once, twice or thrice, should not really be a matter of frequency.

Last night's debate, however, is only the tip of an iceberg. What has become clear this year and during the primary elections, is that people have learned that mass media no longer serves as a source of information. A Gallup poll in June 2016 shows that in terms of public confidence, mass media, either television or newspaper, are near the bottom with big business and the US Congress:

Above copied from Gallup
Only eight percent in the US have a great deal of confidence in mass media.

This is truly unfortunate since with the birth of the internet and widespread use of social media, we are even more likely to choose to stay within an echo chamber.

Some may have thought that last night's debate was an opportunity for education. My son watched the first few minutes. He then decided that it was boring and went to bed. And I am glad he did.