Saturday, January 14, 2012

An Open Letter to Arthur Brisbane

Here is my response to Arthur Brisbane, New York Times' Public Editor after his piece, "Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?" If you haven't read it yet, although I don't know how you may have missed it with all the hullabaloo about it, please follow the link.

Dear Mr. Brisbane:
"[Our readers] worry less about reporters imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true."
This line most struck me in your piece as an interesting take on what you feel is "judgment" as opposed to journalism. I was always under the impression that a reporter's job was not only to report on the facts of what they witnessed or heard, but also to distinguish between what is truth and what isn't.
The Mitt Romney example you put forth regarding his repeated accusation of President Obama "apologizing for America" is a perfect example. But let's take it one step further and ask the following: What if Mitt Romney had said that President Obama goes around the world insisting that the sky is green? Is the reporter bound to play stenographer and simply repeat the quote, or is he obligated to research the truthfulness of that quote in an effort to paint a more accurate picture? Facts are facts, opinions are opinions and lies are lies. The phrase "imposing their judgement" implies the reporter is giving their opinion and facts are secondary and inconvenient.
Maybe there is a difference between journalism and investigative journalism, but there shouldn't be. I would imagine a reporter wants to be as accurate as possible, and if that means researching to prove the subject of their story truthful or not, then in my opinion, that's what the job must entail. Otherwise, anyone can be a reporter simply by recording and transcribing an event.
Broadway Carl
And to me, that's the long and short of it. An entire online industry was born to fact check what journalists don't. Poltifact, Media Matters, FactCheck and others are watch dogs to what politicians, pundits and talking heads pass as news, but even some of them are now afraid to be labeled as biased toward the liberal end of the scale and try to play it down the middle. This was clearly evidenced by Politifact's 2011 Lie of the Year, calling the Democrats' accusation that the Paul Ryan economic plan would end Medicare as we know it, a falsehood.

Anyone looking at Ryan's plan would come to that conclusion - simply keeping the "Medicare" name while making the program an inadequate voucher system does not mean Medicare equals Medicare. I could shit in a box and gift wrap it, complete with a "Medicare" label on it. Does that make it Medicare? But I digress.

I agree with Tweeter @Shoq that the conversation is an important one, but I also understand the blowback when such a question need be asked, and that a reporter fact checking someone he/she is covering would be categorized as "truth vigilantism." There are still a majority of the population who rely on the fourth estate for their daily news. They assume what they read in major newspapers is fact. Opinion should be left in the editorial pages, but front page news must deal with the facts and be accurate. And I believe that it is the responsibility of the reporter to research the subject and double check the accuracy of the subject's statements.

1 comment:

NowhereMan said...

Which is why I no longer buy a daily newspaper and why the newspaper industry is dieying.Imagine if Judith Miller had been playing the part of an actual reporter instead of a stenographer when scooter told her Iraq had WMD.
You can trace back the beginning of the death of print media when they became Bush"s stenographers and were too lazy to see if we were being lied to about going to war.