Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When satire becomes news

By Frank Moraes 

We all make mistakes. But the tendency for conservative media outlets to fall for hoaxes and to assume that satire is straight news is amazing. But it is no accident. In David Brock's book Blinded By the Right, he describes himself not so much as a political extremist but as a journalistic amateur. His turn from conservatism was more about his learning how to do the job. The watershed came when he was writing The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. It was the first time he did enough research to get a full picture of his target. In his earlier Real Anita Hill, he only talked to people who said bad things about Hill and so that was the narrative he created of her. (He has since repudiated the work.)

I think this is more generally the problem with conservative media. And it is why they often get stung. They are so keen to slime anything that is not conservative that they do not stop and do the most basic research. I am no journalist, but when I find an article by an unknown writer or news agency, I research them. When I discovered Kathleen O'Brien Wilhelm, I spent much more time trying to figure out if she was for real than actually writing about her. This is basic "I don't want to look like an idiot" work. The conservative media do not seem to have any such concerns.

Last Wednesday, The Daily Currant published an article, Paul Krugman Declares Personal Bankruptcy. That seems a straightforward enough title. But check out the lede:

Economist and columnist Paul Krugman declared personal bankruptcy today following a failed attempt to spend his way out of debt.

I understand that not everyone is as interested in economics as I am. But you don't have to know much to smell something fishy here: no individual attempts to "spend his way out of debt." But that line is a common canard that conservatives use to mis-characterize Keynesian economics. Krugman is a Keynesian so it is very funny to report that he got into trouble by applying his macroeconomic theory to his personal finances.

Things got weird when a straight news story about this appeared on Boston.com. According to an editor there, "The story arrived deep within our site from a third party vendor who partners on some finance and market pages on our site." The editors were quick to take the page down after they found out about it. I think this means that this third party vendor they use (Finance and market?) is a conservative outlet, more akin to a lobbying firm than a news source. Sadly, this is more and more common at newspapers.

Larry O'Conner at Breitbart.com didn't miss a beat. He saw the article and ran with it. He published an article this morning, "Krugman Files for Bankruptcy." It has since been taken down, but Business Inside helpfully provides a screenshot. He wrote:

Paul Krugman, the economic darling of the left, has filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, according to Boston.com. Krugman has been the leading advocate for increased deficit spending as the only solution to turn the US economy around. He believes that President Obama needs to be even bolder with continued trillion dollar stimulus programs driving our nation deeper and deeper into debt.

Apparently this Keynesian thing doesn't really work on the micro level.

See it? He falls entirely for the original narrative. Those stupid liberals don't think; they just have their prejudices; blah blah blah.

Of course, The Daily Currant is a satirical news site -- a competitor of The Onion. Its top headline right now is Sean Penn Praises Chavez, Calls George Washington a 'Loser.' But who would know? This information about the true nature of The Daily Currant is cloaked in secrecy -- unless you visit obscure websites like Wikipedia. Or you could click on the "About" link on the site, which takes you to a page that says, "The Daily Currant is an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media." But to do that, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of any webpage on the site! What do they think: journalists have all the time in the world?!

There is an important issue here I think. Both the sites have taken down these articles. I think that's harmful. They should keep the articles up so that when people go back to the site they see a correction (preferably at the top of the article -- that's what I do). Simply deleting the page only confuses readers. And it does not hold the outlet and writer accountable. What's more, it just sets up another opportunity for silly pseudo-journalists to mistake comedy for news.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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