There Aren’t Two Sides To Facts

A few weeks ago, I read that a newspaper editor in Cleveland responded to complaints from readers that accused the paper of being “unfair” to Donald Trump by defending actual journalism. He noted that there aren’t “two sides” to facts, and that the paper would continue to report factually and accurately. If the facts reflect poorly on Trump, so be it.

If only all the news media followed that philosophy! But they don’t. There are a number of reasons–including concern about turning off subscribers at a time when newspapers are struggling, paying too much attention to the “horse-race” and too little to the issues, and/or a profound misunderstanding of the essential mission of journalism (hint: it’s “accurate and defensible,” not “fair and balanced”).

Dana Milbank, a columnist for the Washington Post, recently attended a Trump rally in Wisconsin. His whole column is worth reading, but I was particularly struck by his report on Trump’s multiple falsehoods, aka bald-faced lies:

He announced that he had won his fraud case in New York: “The appellate division said, ‘You won the case, that’s it.’” (The court has not yet heard his appeal of the fraud judgment against him.)

He also announced that “it came out that we won this state” in 2020. (Trump lost Wisconsin by 20,682 votes.)
Trump launched into a mantra that should be familiar to Hoosiers currently suffering from an assault of GOP primary advertisements, namely that “Crooked Joe and his migrant armies of dangerous criminals” are producing a “bloodbath” among innocent, native-born Americans. (Local Republicans have adopted those falsehoods.)

It’s not the least bit true. Homicide and violent crime, after rising during the pandemic, have dropped for two straight years and are lower than during Trump’s final year in office. There is scant evidence that immigrants — legal or undocumented — commit more than their share of crime, and a lot of evidence that migrants are more law-abiding, as The Post’s Glenn Kessler has detailed.

But that doesn’t stop Trump from talking about the “massive crime” brought by “[President] Biden’s flood of illegal aliens” — the theme of his Green Bay rally and an earlier event in Grand Rapids, Mich. “They’re not humans. They’re not humans. They’re animals,” Trump said. “I’ll use the word ‘animal’ because that’s what they are.”

A friend involved with the recently launched “Hoosiers for Democracy” recently bemoaned the media’s normalization of such rhetoric, and its tendency to shrug off both Trump’s constant, preposterous and easily debunked lies, and his use of fascist terminology to dehumanize those he and his supporters consider “other”–mostly people of color. She’s absolutely right–and it’s dangerous. (Hoosiers for Democracy“ is a Hoosier movement working to ensure that Hoosiers,  “across race, place and party” vote to protect democracy in 2024.)

What far too many in what the late Molly Ivins called “the chattering classes” fail to understand is that we Americans are not engaged in a political battle. It’s all well and good to counsel respectful disagreement when partisans are arguing about the merits of a proposed bill, or the proper approach to crime and punishment, or the most effective way to approach a social problem. Those sorts of disagreements are–as the late Dick Lugar used to say– “things about which people of good will can differ.” Those sorts of disputes call for civility, negotiation, mutual respect.

Our current divide is not political–it is moral. MAGA is a fascist movement, based upon hatred of a variety of “others.” it is profoundly reactionary, steeped in conspiracy theories, powered by deep-seated fears of displacement, dismissive of democratic norms, and most definitely not coming from a place of “good faith.”

Treating “both sides” as morally equivalent is bad journalism. Distorting news in an effort to give “both sides” the benefit of the doubt requires ignoring or eliding observable facts. Whatever the underlying cause of Trump’s incredible dishonesty (my own opinion is that he is profoundly mentally ill and incapable of telling the difference between fact and whatever falsehood he prefers), ignoring it is journalistic malpractice. Pretending that his MAGA supporters are not different in kind from past political partisans ignores the existential threat posed by far-Right populist/neo-Nazi movements.

You’d think the insurrection of January 6th would have driven that lesson home.

I am certainly not suggesting that media outlets all become clones of MSNBC, or that they see themselves as anti-Fox outlets. The proper response to propaganda isn’t more propaganda–it’s fact. I just want an end to the deeply-harmful and factually unsupportable portrayals that gloss over or even ignore profoundly anti-American rhetoric and behavior in a “both sides” effort to find “balance” and equivalence where it most definitely doesn’t exist.

What “fair and balanced” gets wrong is that balance is frequently unfair.


  1. The late Mark Shields once said “George Washington could not tell a lie, Richard Nixon could not tell the truth, and Donald trump cannot tell the difference”.

  2. And yet here in Indiana we have people like Mike Braun an avid Trumpster running for Governor and Mark Messmer running for U.S. Senator who claims to be a Trumpster. Both have bought into the MAGA movement. These are scary times!

  3. A factor that also could be at play is intimidation. Some MAGA have been known to use threats against journalists and others – and their families – unlike what we’ve seen before. Some of it has been public — such as at Trump rallies. I’m guessing there have been many non-public demonstrations of intimidation as well. Human nature being what it is, it could have an effect. Which, of course, is exactly what they want.

  4. Mark, and there’s Victoria Spartz, the Ukrainian-born Hoosier Rep who’s against aid to Ukraine. She still has family living in Ukraine, but she’s sold out her family for Donny Trump. I agree with her decision, but not how she arrived at it.

    The free press has been under attack for a long time in the US. Our two major outlets, The NY Times and WaPo, are both centers of American propaganda. Former journalists with a conscience who have left the newspapers discuss how editors stop specific stories that may harm advertisers or our government.

    Free speech is also under attack in both the US/UK. Politicians are trying to declare anti-war and anti-genocide protesters as “extremists.” The Rs are trying to cancel “woke leftists,” and the Ds want to cancel “extremists” on the right. For those of us watching, it’s the oligarchs using the parties to eliminate dissident voices.

    The press is mainly on the same page in support of American Exceptionalism. Voices in opposition to blatant propaganda are being censored in this country and many others. Obviously, the internet and social media are where the dissident voices band together because ALL the US media is propaganda. MSNBC is a cheerleader for the Dems, just as Fox News is a cheerleader for Reps.

    Instead of bringing us together with the world due to our interconnectedness as humans, the news is meant to divide Americans against Americans and Americans against the world. We are told to fear others coming across the border and those who live in China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, etc. Divide and conquer is the main objective of an oligarchy and military-industrial complex.

    “The revolution will not be televised.” ~ Song by Gil Scott-Heron

  5. Trump is, indeed, “profoundly mentally ill.” Whether he knows he’s bull shitting, and it’s just manipulation, or he does not, his behavior reeks of illness.
    I was just earlier this morning talking to a fellow who attended a party on Friday. We are in Florida, and When a 22 year old from Tennessee asked him where he was originally from, and he said Boston, the youngster virtually spat out “Uh, Yankee,” and the fellow sitting nest to my buddy, got up and moved.
    Sickness abounds!

  6. Couldn’t agree more with this column. Facts, i.e., the truth of the matter, are what counts in any decision making, be it choosing a doctor, making a purchase for a household item, or a political one regarding who to vote for or what political platform to support.

    I repeat this because when MSNBC is mentioned – it is of course the darling of the left and thus open to criticism surrounding fairness – and it happens to be my choice of news source. I will admit to it becoming more and more “biased” in negative responses to Trump’s penchant for ignoring anything that smack’s of the truth, or, you know, the facts. In fact I find MSNBC relentless in its effort to inform its audience of all that is transpiring around someone who sets new lows in truth-telling, decency, morality, compassion, and whatever matters to most of us these days. The situation has risen to a national emergency. This isn’t a practice drill. The MAGA thugs have declared war on democracy, and we have to respond with everything we have to get the vote out. There are more of us than them, and while I have no doubt that the election will be called “rigged” and “fraudulent” when we win, we have to make sure this first step is accomplished, and that is to get out the vote. After that will come many more years of wiping out the stench of the Trump years, which unfortunately for us, has continued on a daily basis even while out of office. I am sick of it.

  7. We only have “confirmation” news sources. MSNBC is a Leftdem echo chamber as Fox is for MAGA. I find it enlightening to read the few “conservative-leaning” columnists in the Boston Globe, Washington Post and New York Times. Not that I agree with them, but they sometimes show that “everything is complicated.” Of course MAGA isn’t which is why it seems useless for the Biden campaign to tell uncommitted voters what MAGA is about. Given the over-the-top press coverage of The Duck, they don’t need to. It just provides a further turnoff to politics, government and, unfortunately, voting.

  8. Thanks Sheila for giving a shout out to Hoosiers for Democracy. We are a growing grassroots movement hoping to empower Hoosiers to vote to defend democracy in November. We invite your readers to join the movement by subscribing to our Substack. Thanks for all you do to make us all better citizens! Both sides-ism is insidious—shows up where you least expect it!

  9. The “chattering classes” are those left behind by progress. Picture someone entitled to a seat on an airplane, arriving late, then demanding that they re-gate the plane just for him. (that is an experience I witnessed by the way).

    They are angry and frustrated and hate the world and are suckers for liars who promise, though they lie like rugs, to drag the rest of the world back to them in return for a simple vote.

    I’ve spent much of my life helping people catch up and keep up. Most don’t want to. They’d rather be angry at and afraid of those who keep up.

    What they and I have zero control over is progress itself.

  10. Todd. It’s hard to believe that “Voices in opposition to blatant propaganda are being censored in this country…” when we all, including you, seem to be able to say and write whatever we want.
    True journalism barely exists in Russia, China and North Korea because practicing journalism there gets you jailed or killed or jailed and then killed. This does not happen in the U.S. That is one of the most important differences between our country and those others. You know, the countries you lump together as equally bad.

  11. Lester, you’re off your chain again. “MSNBC is a Leftdem echo chamber as Fox is for MAGA. ” MSNBC doesn’t hawk blatant lies like “the election was stolen” and immigrants are responsible for an unprecedented crime wave. MSNBC hasn’t been successfully sued for millions of dollars because of defamation. Get over yourself. Rachel Maddow frequently gives an “everything is complicated” segment with in-depth historical perspectives. You should watch her show before you go spouting off drivel.

  12. I wonder just how many supporters of 45 actually subscribe to either NYT or WaPo? Since so few of them would be even a little interested in news from those who disagree with them, I doubt losing business with them would seriously affect bottom lines of either of our publication giants. IMHO the Times is many times the worst in the game of balance. Sometimes it seems that our media needs to grow a backbone. Maybe the guy from Cleveland could give lessons?

  13. Two and two are four, and that’s a fact. Whataboutism is not in play, as is what I wish it were in order to fit my view in application in other contexts. There are no two sides available for argument, and that ironclad truism has application in other contexts as well.

    Trump’s aversion to truth-telling unless it fits with his self-monetary or political enrichment needs to be spotlighted by those of us who could be governed by policies based on what is best for him rather than what is best for us, e.g., thus the proposition that those at the behest of Trump who tried to end our Constitution and overthrow our government on 1/6 and who are now in prison are “hostages” rather than traitors, per Trump. Thus two and two are five, and per Big Brother, don’t believe what your eyes and ears tell you, believe me.

    Democracy as an ism has its blemishes, as does any system of government, but it provides a far better framework upon which to govern (choice of their governors by the governed) than the fascist/dictatorial system attempted by Hitler and Big Brother – and now proposed by Herr Trump. Two and two are still four.

  14. Kathy,

    “Lies” are in the mind of the beholder as critical thinking is no longer taught in schools.

  15. Morton,

    Look around….”morals” are not a divide; they are totally “customized” into “micro-genres” according to whatever you want to believe and/or do – deep root cause of today – IGIO.

  16. I agree that Trump is mentally ill. He’s always displayed narcissistic and sociopathic characteristics.

    On lying, though, he clearly believes that lying is integral to playing the “game” of life. This is made crystal clear in his book. For a recent example, a former staffer related that Trump told her (about E. Jean Carroll), “You just deny, deny, deny until people believe it.” The implication was also that you never admit truth or apologize. Trump has _always_ lied. He knows that he’s lying, but it’s his view that it’s a valid, even obvious, strategy for “winning.” He simply says whatever he thinks will work best for the situation to get what he wants.

    That said, his mental health has definitely been getting worse, and it now appears that he may be believing some of his own lies. In other words, I think he’s now convincing _himself_ by the repetition along with the “sheep.”

  17. Lester — as a former educator, I was there when South Carolina instituted “HOTS” (Higher Order Thinking Skills) in August 1984 as a statewide initiative. By January 1985, HOTS was gone because a number of fundamentalist religious leaders went to the Dept. of Ed and said they didn’t want students learning to think for themselves. I wonder if the folks who objected to HOTS watch FOX or MSNBC. What’s your bet? And I KNOW you don’t think that Biden stole the election is the truth? Right?!?!?!?!?

  18. Kathy,

    You are correct – Biden did not steal the election – when I went to school (in SC) we learned critical thinking.

    “I wonder if the folks who objected to HOTS watch FOX or MSNBC. What’s your bet?” I never bet on sure things – no fun 🙂

  19. Lester. There is more than one way to learn critical thinking. Lacking a class dedicated to it obviously does not mean it cannot be learned. A lot of it is picked up from experience. I’m all for teaching it, but I would not assume that only people have gone through such a class can practice it.

  20. Sharon,

    Effective education in critical thinking is not a class, it is a way of education. It should be part of every class; obviously more in some, say history and less in others, say math. Suggest you take a look at “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” written in the ancient 1970’s.

  21. Once again as in 2016, media is giving free ad air time to maga in their stories. Playing sound bites over and over again to make sure it is understood what the conversation is about. Media do better.

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