It would be very difficult to cover politics in this country if we didn’t have any rules to do it. But there is an entire framework of unwritten rules that I, personally, believe ought to be explicit. Weekly, even daily, we the people are subject to these rules because the media, collectively, abides by them.
So I’ve decided to write them down.
The rules are:
- If you say or do something we disagree with, we will call it a gaff, whether you meant it or not.
By calling whatever you did a gaff, we will downgrade the substance of your comment/action from “horrifying” to “mistake.” The more horrifying your actual sentiment, the more aggressively we will use terms like “misstep,” “accident,” “questionable choice,” and so on. The fact that this enables you to express terrible ideas without any real consequence is not something we will consider, let alone discuss in depth.
- If, within a reasonable amount of time, you can provide an incredibly implausible but not impossible interpretation of your comment/action, we will all treat that explanation as true.
By treating your explanation, however ridiculous, as worthy of consideration, we will create a shared fiction wherein politicians are both supposedly masters of communicating to their supporters, and blundering fools who can’t help but vomit out the wrong thing repeatedly. For examples, consider “it was a joke/prank;” “I misspoke;” “that wasn’t what I intended,” or “I meant you should vote, not that you should shoot a US presidential candidate.”
We will not consider how the single thing candidates are supposed to be good at (using words to express what you mean to large groups of people) is the exact opposite of every far-fetched explanation they offer for supposed “gaffs.”
- If rule 2 goes into effect, we will move on and treat anyone who fails to comply with rule 1a as if they are now the problem.
Shaking our heads knowingly, we will abandon any attempt to hold you accountable and move comfortably on to criticizing people who insist that what you said/did was, in fact, horrifying. We will not consider that doing this transforms out power as media from something that holds you accountable to something that uncritically spreads your messaging.
- Under no circumstances will we infer any trends from your comments/actions.
As long as you provide an explanation for each “gaff” via rule 2, we will treat each of your horrible ideas as isolated mistakes rather than evidence of a trend.
Those are the rules. Because covering politics in some other way would be biased, right? Media is supposed to report, not hold candidates responsible for their actions.
I have my own rule about it, and there’s just the one:
When candidates show you who they really are and what they really think, believe them.
Image Credit: ABC