Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Truth is Out There (We Just Choose Not to Find It)

Unbelievably believable. The NY Times Editor recently asked the question: "I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about."

It's funny how, at the end of this article covering the consequence of this question on the UK's Guardian (again, not surprised), it says that in order to maintain a reputation of neutrality amongst politicians and advertisers, it means newspapers cannot fact-check & debunk a lot of things politicians say. So being "neutral" means ignoring or being unconcerned with the actual truth.

FAIL.

Fail, fail, fail. Thank God for the new age of the internet and independent bloggers. (and on that note, a reminder to protest SOPA please). What a complete dark age we'd be in if the gatekeepers of information were only these old dinosaurs, concerned not with their readers and their duty as the 4th estate, but with playing nice.



The New York Times public editor's very public utterance


from the Guardian:

Thursday, Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, went to his readers with a question:

"I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about."

Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had "misunderstood" a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney's assertion that President Obama gives speeches "apologising" for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.

The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous.

"Is this a joke? THIS IS YOUR JOB."

"If the purpose of the NYT is to be an inoffensive container for ad copy, then by all means continue to do nothing more than paraphrase those press releases."

"I hope you can help me, Mr Brisbane, because I'm an editor, currently unemployed: is fecklessness now a job requirement?"

Brisbane had clearly not been expecting this excoriating and one-sided a reaction. Brisbane has since tried to clarify his views twice. The first was on the media blog JimRomenesko.com:

"What I was trying to ask was whether reporters should always rebut dubious facts in the body of the stories they are writing. I was hoping for diverse and even nuanced responses to what I think is a difficult question."

The second was on the NY Times site:

"My inquiry related to whether the Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut 'facts' that are offered by newsmakers when those 'facts' are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one."

This only added fuel to the fire.

Now, it's worth noting that Brisbane's question makes perfect sense, considered from the newsroom's perspective. Romney's claim that Obama makes speeches "apologising" for America isn't readily amenable to fact-checking. Instead, Romney relied on what are sometimes called "weasel words", in which an allegation is alluded to, without being made head-on. (Romney, for instance, never quotes any of the president's speeches when making this assertion.) For Brisbane, the open question was whether a hard news reporter should be calling out those kinds of statements, or should simply quote the source accurately.

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