Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reporting truth, exposing lies: The New York Times and the responsibility of journalism

Arthur Brisbane, the Times's public editor, writes:

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.

One example mentioned recently by a reader: As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had "misunderstood" a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife's earnings from the Heritage Foundation. The reader thought it not likely that Mr. Thomas "misunderstood," and instead that he simply chose not to report the information.

Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches "apologizing for America," a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the "post-truth" stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

Well, I'm a reader, so here's my answer:

Do you even have to ask this question? Of course reporters at the Times, and every other "news" publication with any credibility at all, should call out lies. And not just because Republicans happen to lie a lot. The Times should expose the lies of Democrats as well -- in fact of anyone it wishes to quote, cite, or report on.

As Joe Romm puts it at ThinkProgress: "Obviously any paper, but most especially the New York Times, has little value to society if it knowingly prints lies — or if it fails to do the minimal investigative reporting and fact-checking needed to determine if a statement by a newsmaker or, say, a global warming denier, is false."

Sure, there may occasionally be good reasons for not doing this, such as the need to cultivate good sources (as Booman notes). But it's really just about being accurate, as Steve Benen says. And while "neutrality" might be a good idea in some utopia where everyone tells the truth or has equally credible opinions, it seems to me that the consumers of news (i.e., us) deserve more, and better:

If an article is supposed to provide news consumers with the something more meaningful — offering context, scrutiny, and analysis that helps make sense of the arguments, giving the public a sense, not only of what the arguments are, but whether they're accurate — then media professionals, including beat reporters and their editors, have a broader responsibility to help the public separate fact from fiction.

And more often than not, they don't even try.

This generally draws howls from the right, in part because Republicans seem to lie more frequently and shamelessly, and in part because reality has a well-known liberal bias. Indeed, the constant, baseless accusations about "the liberal media" helped create the forced-neutrality dynamic in the first place.

But the result is a media that fails the public. By publishing falsehoods without scrutiny, for fear of being accused of "bias," the media is effectively leaving news consumers with the impression that lies and the truth deserve equal footing, which is ultimately untenable.

There you go. Now, New York Times, if you have any self-respect at all, go out and do something about it. In a democracy especially, where the rulers (i.e., the people) must be able to make informed decisions, is it essential that the media function not as a mouthpiece for competing spin but as a vehicle for truth. And to do that, they must tell you who's lying.

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  • The need to cultivate good sources is reason to let your sources lie unchallenged?

    Those are good sources?


    This is just the standard bullshit rationalization.

    If we call X a liar X won't invite us to his table and chat with us.


    Who the fuck cares whether the big fucks flatter your vanity by inviting you to lunch?

    Print the truth and let X take his self-serving lies to a PAC or a paid advertising agency.

    Shit, man.

    You should be ashamed to be seen having lunch with that douche bag.

    Are you a journalist or one of those shit for brains goofs who live to interview celebrities?

    Oh, a propos.

    On the toob just now a really exciting ad.

    NBC or somebody is going to run a long and in depth interview with Madonna.


    The interviewer asks, "What do you really think of Lady Gaga?"


    Access is soooo important.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:21 AM  

  • Such a great article it was which
    the Times should expose the lies of Democrats as well in fact of anyone it wishes to quote, cite, or report on. In which the media function not as a mouthpiece for competing spin but as a vehicle for truth. And to do that, they must tell you who's lying. Thanks for sharing this article.

    By Anonymous Linda, at 3:13 AM  

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