Yesterday, we saw a rare feat.
A cable news talk show host actually took responsibility for correcting a lie told on his show. Hardball’s Chris Matthews deserves much credit for having the class and integrity to set the record straight.
To backtrack, earlier this week the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins appeared on Hardball and claimed that gay men are more likely to molest children. He backed his false and defamatory statement by referencing the “research” of the American College of Pediatricians.
Sounds like a credible group, right? It’s not.
It is really a small, obscure political organization comprised of discredited quacks that do not produce peer review research on homosexuality. The primary reasons this virulently anti-gay group exists are to distort legitimate science and to purposefully confuse people into thinking it is the respected American Academy of Pediatrics — which is supportive of LGBT people.
Unfortunately, Matthews’ original show ended without him clarifying that The American College of Pediatricians was a sham group that was more interested in prejudice than pediatrics. Truth Wins Out wrote the producers of the show and urged them to clear up this confusion. GLAAD shared our concerns and contacted them too. To their credit — they actually did the right thing and, in this case, truth won out.
Such “corrections” are not perfect, because, as TWO’s Michael Airhart points out, “Few of the FRC and Focus fans who watched Monday’s program were watching today.” However, Matthews’ correction is certainly better than allowing lies to go completely uncontested.
In many cases, cable news and talk shows are harming our country. News outlets, such as MSNBC, CNN and especially FOX are consistently giving soapboxes to snake oil salesmen who gleefully exploit these networks as propaganda delivery devices.
Truth Wins Out isn’t naive or Utopian. We completely understand the need for ratings and putting on interesting guests. We are also sympathetic to hosts and producers who can’t possibly know every crackpot and quack out there. However, for the common good of this nation, there are some reasonable safeguards that cable networks should put in place:
1) Consider NOT BOOKING a spokesperson that has repeatedly lied or belongs to an organization that is a certified Southern Poverty Law Center hate group. The cable networks should have higher standards and strive to put on respectable and credible guests who don’t have dubious histories of disseminating falsehoods.
2) If cable shows do elect to have known reprobates, like Perkins, on the air, it is their duty to prepare for the inevitable lies. On-spot fact checkers should be hired to correct calumnies in real time. If the cable shows fail to take this step, they are willfully serving as conduits for defamation and abetting propagandists.
3) Each cable show should end with a short “corrections” segment to set the record straight if lies have been told on a previous show. This would immediately create a culture of accountability and shame mendacious guests into at least being more careful.
4) When booking guests, the cable networks should aim to include real experts. Having clueless airheads filling airtime sullies the national debate and detracts from voters understating crucial issues that determine the future of America.
5) When science is in the spotlight, it is in the public interest to book legitimate, independent scientists with peer review work who are not discredited by obvious conflicts of interest. The cable networks should avoid guests who bill themselves as “experts”, but are actually paid industry shills. For example, having a climate “expert” on who works for the pollution lobby is not helpful in discussing global warming. Booking a discredited quack affiliated with anti-gay SPLC hate groups simply clouds the discussion on homosexuality, instead of advancing it.
Cable networks should consider adopting these five steps for the good of this country. Whether they admit it or not, they have a social and civic responsibility to inform the American public with the best information available. When guests are booked who disseminate lies that go unchallenged, it debases the culture, harms entire groups of people, and damages our national interest.
When confronted with Tony Perkins’ tainted source of misinformation, Chris Matthews acted honorably by letting viewers know that Perkins’ “facts” were actually “fiction”. Why can’t this noble exception become the rule in cable news?
It is time cable networks make some desperately needed changes and begin taking their social responsibility as seriously as their ratings. If they do it right, they can be much more informative, while still being entertaining.
If you would like to thank Chris Matthews, please e-mail the show: