This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Deep thinkers and daily practitioners of political journalism are often heard to debate the concept of "false equivalence."

That's the idea that writing or broadcasting a negative thing about one candidate in a race, then writing or broadcasting a negative thing about the other candidate, adds up to fair and responsible journalism.

Even if the bad thing about one side is much, much worse than the bad thing about the other side. Even if one bad thing is real and the other is made up.

The issue comes up a lot these days in the presidential contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Both partisans and independent journalists are devoting a great many pixels to the question of whether Trump's sins are getting a wink and a nod while Clinton's shortcomings are being overblown by a media establishment that above all wants to be seen as treating both sides the same. Even if they aren't the same.

It's a fair question. One that caused no less a political expert that President Obama to Tuesday call the media for, in his words, treating the whole election campaign "like a reality show" and not delving into real issues.

But one thing the crucible of our presidential campaigns should do well is subject all candidates to situations they must assess, think through and react to, with no quarter asked or given and no time to complain that the challenges put before them aren't fair.

One simple go-to tactic for such endeavors should be a devotion to as much transparency as humanly possible. In that area, there are cases from both campaigns where the candidates can rightly be called for a lack of openness.

Even if the alleged sins being covered up aren't the same in magnitude — say, for example, Trump's long-standing and apparently unshakable determination not to release his tax returns vs Clinton's weekend bout with pneumonia — the fact that both candidates can be accused of being less than forthcoming amounts to an equivalence that may not be deserved, but is there nonetheless.

Trump should release his tax returns. Voters deserve to know where his supposed millions come from, where they go, if any of it goes to charity and, most important of all, whether he is financially beholden to any, say, Russian oligarchs. He should also provide an evaluation of his own health that is more detailed than a note from his doctor.

Clinton should not have hidden the fact that she was walking the campaign trail with a serious, if totally curable, ailment. While the long-term effect may help her image, for soldiering through a personal rough patch to fulfill obligations, what seemed like a knee-jerk move to cover up even a minor problem feeds into a widespread doubt about Clinton's forthrightness.

So it is no false equivalence to say to both candidates: When in doubt, spill.