Accuracy in Media

The mainstream media had positive takeaways from the debate and NBC News made the dubious claim that “candidates avoided personal attacks.” But to the debate viewers, there was at least one personal attack between candidates: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her allegation that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made a sexist remark in a private meeting.

NBC News’s analysis’s headline read, “Who won the Democratic debate in Iowa?” and included the following subheading, “Analysis: With less than a month to go before voters start to weigh in, the policy differences came into sharper focus Tuesday night — but the candidates avoided personal attacks.”

The last line of the subheading is at dispute and questions whether NBC News understands what constitutes a personal attack.

Warren, a day before the debate, accused Sanders of saying that a woman could not win the 2020 presidential election in a private meeting. Sanders denied the allegation and he claimed that he told Warren that President Donald Trump would use gender against a female presidential candidate. Both accused the other candidate of lying about the private meeting leading up to the Tuesday night debate in Des Moines, Iowa.

Contrary to NBC News’s assertion, accusing someone of lying can be considered a personal attack because the accusation implies that the accused lacks integrity and honesty. This is why the United States, and other countries, have libel and slander laws to litigate allegations involving lies about one’s character and other similar actions.

NBC News’s analysis, despite its subheading and overall theme, also mentioned how Warren refused to shake Sanders’s hand after the debate was over. Typically, candidates shake hands as a sign of civility and respect. Warren’s refusal to shake Sanders’s hand demonstrated that the debate turned personal, in addition to Warren and Sanders engaging in a heated conversation after the debate.

Despite NBC News’s spin on the debate and purported civility, the debate did feature personal attacks between Warren and Sanders. NBC News attempted to minimize and downplay the personal spat between two candidates to spin the debate in a positive light. It failed to act as an impartial arbiter of information in this regard because it was clear and obvious that the debate featured personal attacks between candidates.

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