A couple of months ago, CNN anchor Jake Tapper created a stir when he said he would not invite those who spread lies about last year’s election to be guests on his show. Some agreed with this stance, others not.
In its code of ethics, the Society for Professional Journalists advocates that journalists
- support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant; and
- explain ethical choices and processes to audiences; encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage, and news content.
“It’s not a policy, it’s a philosophy,” says Tapper. “This means no Kevin McCarthy, no Steve Scalise, no Elise Stefanik on ‘State of the Union.’” As Tapper asks, “If they’re willing to lie about the election, what else are they willing to lie about to our audience?” Fair question. Conversely, the public will witness those lies, and react accordingly.
Tapper asks, “If they’re willing to lie about the election, what else are they willing to lie about to our audience?” . . . Mike Wallace of Fox News disagrees: “I don’t think moral posturing goes well with news gathering. There are plenty of people I would like to have on Fox News Sunday that voted to challenge the election.”
What do television anchors on other network shows do? Mika Brzezinski of “Morning Joe” [Scarborough] recently called out media outlets for “booking Republicans who support the big lie and tiptoeing around it just because they’re so grateful to have a Republican on to talk about other things.” Those Republicans have not been invited on “Morning Joe” since January 6.
Mike Wallace of Fox News disagrees: “I don’t think moral posturing goes well with news gathering. There are plenty of people I would like to have on Fox News Sunday that voted to challenge the election — House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy for one. [Who was on in April; see below.] And I don’t have any rule about what the first question has to be. I have asked plenty of guests about voting to challenge the election and about Trump’s role in the January 6th insurrection. But I cover the news, wherever that takes me.”
Tapper’s response to Wallace: “This is a discussion I think everyone in the news media should be having. Should those who shared the election lie that incited the deadly attack on the Capitol and that continues to erode confidence in our democracy be invited onto our airwaves to continue to spread the Big Lie? Can our viewers count on these politicians to tell the truth about other topics? This isn’t an easy conversation for some folks — especially for journalists who work for organizations where the Big Lie was platformed — but that’s all the more reason to have this conversation.”
What is the best course of action? What best serves the viewers’ needs?
An interview between Wallace and McCarthy on April 25, 2021, demonstrates what Tapper was talking about.
An interview between Wallace and McCarthy on April 25, 2021, demonstrates what Tapper was talking about. In a question, Wallace referenced Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (R-WA) call on January 6 between McCarthy and Trump:
“She said while the January 6th riot was in full force, you phoned President Trump and ask him to call off his supporters and, according to you, she said, the president responded, ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election then you are,’” the anchor explained. “Is she right? Is that what President Trump said to you?”
McCarthy immediately deflected, instead claiming he was the first person Trump spoke to after the seditious crowd broke into the building and that the then-president promised him on that call that he’d do something to stop the violence.
“And that’s what he did,” the congressman added. “He put a video out later.”
“Quite a lot later and it was a pretty weak video,” Wallace retorted, referencing Trump’s statement in which he told the rioters “we love you” while still peddling the election lies that led to the riots.
“But I’m asking you specifically: Did he say to you ‘I guess some people are more concerned about the election than you are’?” Wallace once again pressed McCarthy.
“No, listen, my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president,” the California Republican replied. “I engaged with the idea that we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time, the president said he would help.”
Deflection definitely, lying most probably.
The Washington Post’s media critic slammed ABC’s George Stephanopoulos for not making an interview with Florida Sen. Rick Scott (R) just about his vote to overturn the election. He suggested that all hosts begin their interviews with Republicans by asking about that vote, and if the interviewee does not recant, simply end the interview.
Invite lawmakers who have enormous sway over the country’s direction — but potentially give them a platform to spread conspiracies and lies? . . . And what of the ethics of the politicians themselves? . . . [According to a former Giuliani law partner] “you’re under no obligation to tell the truth.”
It’s not an easy question: invite lawmakers who have enormous sway over the country’s direction — but potentially give them a platform to spread conspiracies and lies? The quandary doesn’t end there: How do networks cover the modern Republican Party if 147 of its most senior officials are effectively off limits for interviews?
And what of the ethics of the politicians themselves? It recently came out that former Trump consigliere Rudy Giuliani told DOJ investigators for its Office of Inspector General in 2018 that “it’s OK to throw a fake” during a campaign. His law partner at the time added, “you’re under no obligation to tell the truth.” Well, OK then. It appears that the only ethical code needed by a politician is whatever his or her constituents will tolerate.
What happens if McCarthy becomes speaker of the House in 2022? Soon after that, GOP politicians who voted against the election results — such as Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and Scott — may be running for president. Will they, too, be off limits for interviews?
As usual, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. The host must decide on his or her priorities.
As to the journalists’ code of ethics: it’s one thing to have a civil exchange, but that’s not the same as dealing with outright lies. As to sharing this conundrum with the public, yes indeed. Show America what goes on behind the scenes, what determines which guest is booked on a show, and have the discussion about whether they want to hear from liars or not. If you do decide on a ban for a certain category of people, let the public know – and weigh in by their viewership, or lack thereof.