On the September 24 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw gave this brief report:
“The Republican National Committee now has acknowledged sending mass mailings to two states that say liberals want to ban the Bible. Republican Party officials say the mailings in Arkansas and West Virginia are aimed at mobilizing Christian voters for President Bush. Some Christian commentators say liberal support for same-sex marriage could lead to laws that punish sermons denouncing homosexuality as sinful.”
It’s clear how one should describe the claim that “liberals want to ban the Bible”: It’s a lie, and a blatant and incendiary one. But not only does Brokaw not tell his viewers that the RNC smear isn’t true, he gives “Christian commentators” a chance to justify that deceit with another, that gay marriage could lead to censorship of sermons. Why does such an unsubstantiated and frankly bizarre claim deserve space on a national newscast?
Meanwhile, the victims of the lie don’t get any chance to speak in Brokaw’s report; the entire item is sourced either to Republicans or to the religious right.
This is yet another example of the objectivity game out of control. They say it, we report it, and it’s not up to us to comment. It also follows the “strange but true” news frame and the “conflict over values” frame. Each of these frames encourage evaluation free reporting: strange but true because irony has to speak for itself (although in this case it doesn’t seem irony was intended, but perhaps titilation was) and ironically, in the conflict frame it doesn’t take two sides to create an argument because the ongoing conflict is taken as a given.