Get over your horse-race obsession, mass media, and focus more on policy proposals, character and competence in covering the presidential campaigns.
Don’t call it fact-checking when you’re writing opinions. If you’re asking questions at a debate, don’t assume it’s the same thing as a one-on-one interview.
Aim for objectivity, eschew bias and don’t suppose your own views always equal the truth.
That’s some of what occurred to me recently in reading about a Gallup poll saying the number of Americans trusting such media as newspapers, radio and TV — something like 40 percent — is as low as it has ever been.
I hate that, because the journalists I have known over the decades are intelligent and blessed with integrity and have served their communities and this country exceptionally well.
At the same time, I do believe there are mass movements in wrong directions and that some of the very best — or at least most prominent — outlets can sometimes be guilty of some of the worst transgressions.
In terms of something highly suspect many sign onto, for instance, I would point to the amount of attention paid to how candidates are faring in the polls at the expense of more important matters.
It’s not that poll results aren’t interesting and worth knowing, especially in this utterly crazy campaign season.
But it seems as if virtually every other TV discussion I watch or news story I read about the campaign is on that topic and far too few on policy, competence and character.
Those are the topics people need to know about to better enable correct choices, but even the policy stories are too often treated as political tactics, and stories on competence and character mainly seem to arrive when a scandal is sniffed.
Scandals certainly are legitimate news, but only if the scandal is verified and is indeed a scandal.
So how would you grade The New York Times revelation that Republican Sen. Marco Rubio got four traffic tickets in 18 years?
Horrible stuff? I don’t think so, and, yes, his wife got more, but she isn’t running for president.
The Times is also one of those news outlets that’s less concerned these days about objectivity, repeatedly running news stories sprinkled with reportorial opinion.
It recently ran a front-page editorial on gun control that at least had the virtue of identifying itself as an editorial. The Times does sometimes identify its most highly interpretive stories as analyses, but not always.
An argument often used against objectivity is that it isn’t really possible and so the job is finding truth, as if that is easier.
You get at objectivity through rules of the game, such as the widely discarded one that, in dealing at length with a highly controversial matter, you aim for a variety of knowledgeable views.
It works well on what I see as one of the better TV news shows, the PBS NewsHour, which frequently educates and informs through discussion by two or more experts who often disagree even as they explain.
I would argue that’s better than having a PBS anchor do research and then proclaim what the truth really is.
But fact-checkers are objective, right? Well, a number of them do a good job of clarification, but some then interpret in a variety of ways, such as telling you what conclusion to come to instead of just listing the facts.
Some also cite expert analyses as facts. They aren’t, as contrary experts will tell you.
It would be more honest if at least some fact-checkers some of the time called themselves opinion writers.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. firstname.lastname@example.org