The "Standards Sandwich" Against False Equivalencies

By Stephen, 5 October, 2020

The media has difficulties countering lies.

George Lakoff recommends countering lies with "Truth Sandwiches" —

START. Start with the truth. MIDDLE. Indicate the lie is a lie. FINISH: End with the truth. If you don't do that, if you just repeat a slogan and say it is false, it tends to become even stickier in listener's minds. It becomes a stronger suspicion as they hear it over and over, even rebutted.

The media also has difficulties reporting fairly in unbalanced situations.

Reporters want to come across as unbiased and balanced: they want to examine both sides, to be seen by viewers as having examined both sides. What if the news isn't balanced? What if one side does all the lying? What if in a debate, one side starts out interrupting and being rude? Reporters look biased if they report the truth; centrists feel biased if they acknowledge what they witnessed. And so we get false equivalencies — when the truth is one-sided, reporters report in a heavily biased way just to look not biased. How does media make it clear they are being even-handed at the same time they call the truth? It seems like a complex thing. In the same way that lies have to be countered with a "truth sandwich" that doesn't start with the obvious "no (what you said) is wrong and here's why" — media can't seem to be taking a side, even when one side holds the temper tantrum. My idea, what's yours: Perhaps like a Truth Sandwich, we need a "Standards Sandwich" — the reporter starts by saying a neutral standard, and then judging the candidates: START: "Let's look out how much each candidate interrupts the other...." "Let's look at how many times each candidate answers a question vs going off topic..." MIDDLE: Report on what happened, as objectively as possible. Apply the standard with a balanced hand; don't reach a balanced conclusion. FINISH: We just reported our count on each time the candidates interrupted each other. The next standard we planned to apply to this debate was whether candidates lied... Reports could even prep some standards before an interview or debate. To show people you're not biased, announce ahead of a debate that you will report on the amount of time that each candidate talks during the other person's time, and who starts interrupting first. Then report, then remind people you had unbiased standards.

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Media that targets liberals often does a mix of throwing us news we want to hear — which makes the mainstream corporate media look like it is owned by liberals, instead of something closer to the other way around. Or it produced false equivalency gobbledygook and repeats right-wing lies in a way that gives them more traction. We should be pushing back on media that wants our viewership to up their quality: to know how to handle lies as toxic without spreading them, and to be able to report in a way that both is objective and feels objective.