We hope the Jeffrey Lord saga has made an impression on CNN executives and other news outlets that for a time believed that “fairness” required them to put a fact-based panelist up against an abject liar. The false equivalence (Here’s someone who says the Earth revolves around the sun, and for another view . . . ) instinct led cable and broadcast news to enable conspiracy theorists, liars and ignoramuses. It’s one thing to bring on presidential aides who dissemble compulsively and/or have no idea if what they are saying is true (because with Trump who knows?!); it’s another to slap the CNN “contributor” title on a crank, sit him at the grownup table and treat him as a legitimate, honest voice. Lesson #1 — we hope — is simple: Presenting an alternate viewpoint is not a license to lie.
Jeffrey Lord, along with fellow Trump sycophant Kayleigh McEnany, who just decamped to the RNC, perpetuated the “Crossfire” style of news-entertainment in which people with loud, rigid outlooks and searing rhetoric were pitted against people from the other end of the spectrum who were equally loud, rigid and equipped with weapons-grade rhetoric. Conflict! Tension!
Actually, the conflict is about as artificial as a professional wrestling match and, most important, not designed to inform or persuade but to anger audiences and reinforce whatever pre-existing views they had. Cage-match cable TV news is not the cause of extreme polarization and political dysfunction in our country, but it is a contributor. News executives, reporters and hosts need to seriously reflect on their civic obligations (quaint, I know). Is this the state of political discourse they want for the country? Is it journalism when the aim is to convince people the other side is insane or evil? So we have Lesson #2 — presenting differing points of view is a far cry from staging shouting matches for the sake of deepening the divide between right and left, rural and urban, religious and secular.
We hope the days of putting Lord, McEnany and Corey Lewandowski on as “commentators” is behind us. There are plenty of Republicans to come on TV who are willing to defend Trump while staying within shouting distance of reality and demonstrating some independent judgment. Perhaps if they stuck to generally agreed upon facts and did not come on with the intention of eviscerating their ideological opponents we’d have a saner conversation about the news. Just a thought. Probably won’t work out.