This post has been updated.

It’s awfully late in this presidential campaign to be having a conversation about how effectively the media is holding candidates accountable. But … better late than never?

Particularly, the debate over when it’s OK to call a lie a lie kicked off in earnest last week after a disastrous presidential forum, and came to a head this week following another series of untrue/not correct/false/whatever-other-synonyms-you-want-to-use-for-lie statements this week.

Matt Lauer drew a lot of criticism last week for allowing Donald Trump to say, unchecked, that he opposed the war in Iraq. He did not.

That drew a blistering response from a New York Times critic that addresses people’s trepidation at the word “lie” and the judgment it can imply:

When a candidate says he didn’t say something that he did, that’s a matter of fact. Here’s what an opinion looks like: It’s a travesty to be steamrollered by a candidate because you’re worried that doing your job will look bad.

Still, the whole lie thing makes other journalists queasy, a fact spelled out by an NPR editor this week when the outlet drew criticism for not using the word lie to describe one of Trump’s false statements:

We doubt that you, our audience, needs us to characterize people, least of all presidential candidates. You can hear the facts in Scott Detrow’s account and decide for yourself what the facts say about the candidate. The more we inflame our tone, the less people will listen.

There seems to be some confusion here between calling a statement a lie, and calling a person a liar. One is a judgment on what was said; one is on the person who said it.

And, as our pal Andy Donohue pointed out, the trepidation around the word lie is a little ridiculous when you consider that journalists make about a hundred judgments anytime they write something. Who to include, who not to include, how to introduce those people, which quotes to use and which to exclude, those are all subjective choices.

That’s not to say people don’t every misspeak unintentionally. That’s why when we do Fact Checks, we have separate ratings for False and Huckster Propaganda — both apply to statements that aren’t true; the difference is whether someone should have known what they were saying was wrong.

Back to Trump, though: A mere day after that NPR editor publicly fretted over the word “lie” it seemed the rest of the media had finally had enough. The Atlantic touted not one but “two big bold lies” from Trump, and the New York Times even baked it into a headline.

What VOSD Learned This Week

San Diego Unified’s big “Preschool for All” announcement was bizarre: First there’s the fact that it’s not preschool for all. It also came only about a week before the school year kicked off. But, as Mario Koran detailed this week, there’s another strange piece to the puzzle: The district is also closing several preschools at the same time it’s touting a preschool expansion, leaving many families scrambling.


As the San Diego County Water Authority tries to get into the power game, it’s focusing on a big, billion-dollar project. It’s not going very well, though: There’s no one to partner with to offset the steep costs, the return won’t be all that high and there’s wariness about the technology and the Water Authority’s ability to pull it all off.

That project is aimed at boosting renewable energy and our ability to store it. The city of San Diego, too, has been touting its love for renewable energy – most notably with its highly publicized Climate Action Plan, which commits the city to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

Except … maybe it doesn’t?

As Andy Keatts reports, there’s a major caveat: “The much-celebrated commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy is in fact a commitment to use 100 percent renewable electricity. … On average, 42 percent of the natural gas used in San Diego goes to electric generation, though that can sometimes reach as high as 70 percent on some days.”

The plan will force the city to replace the electricity generated by natural gas. But not the natural gas people use for their stoves and furnaces.


On Monday, my old employer Politico came out with a big list of the 50 visionaries shaping American politics. A couple entries relevant to our interests: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez made the list, for being “the nation’s most ambitious progressive scientist.” Proving Politico’s point, Gonzalez had a couple big wins this week on farmworker overtime and protections for janitors – and one big loss on repealing the sales tax on diapers.

Also on the Politico 50: Our Politifest keynote speaker DeRay Mckesson.

Our other Politifest keynote speaker, Reihan Salam, makes a guest appearance on the VOSD podcast this week.

Grant Oliveira analyzed the spending so far in the race for City Council District 9 and drew some takeaways about what the candidates’ donor bases mean.

The candidates for county supervisor in District 3 can’t talk about where they stand on the Lilac Hills Ranch initiative, but they do offer different views on the county’s housing policies in general.


It’s hard for visitors to figure out how to get to Balboa Park, and how to navigate inside it once they’re there. Many stakeholders think an overhaul of the park’s signs could go a long way toward addressing accessibility issues.

What I’m Reading

• In a provocative personal essay triggered by Brock Turner’s release from prison, one woman writes: I was raped, but is it courageous of me to say so? (Dallas Morning News)

 Big Sugar paid scientists to downplay sugar’s health effects and to target saturated fat instead – shaping decades of nutrition information. (New York Times)

 It’s OK to speak ill of the dead. (L.A. Times)

• Actor Riz Ahmed talks about being typecast as a terrorist – by casting agents and the world in general. (Guardian)

• The rise of “crimmigration.” (Citylab)

Line of the Week

“I do not believe that journalists are so powerful as to disabuse this group of their beliefs. But there is something to be said for not contributing to an opportunistic ignorance.” –From Ta-nehisi Coates’ must-read take on the whole “basket of deplorables” debacle.

Clarification: The description of NPR’s Trump story has been updated to clarify that the outlet did say a false Trump statement was false. It did not call the statement a lie, and in a follow-up post described Trump as having “misstated key facts.”

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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