*needs more bug fixing

Unless their ombudsperson has gone off the reservation, the Times might take a step towards shedding that reputation as a court stenographer.

It sounds like a great idea. The balance bug has always been a tempting exploit for folks like the Bush team, the modern Republican party, climate deniers etc*. If you lie once in a while then you will get called out and embarrassed. But if you make shit up every day of the week then the press is basically helpless. Either they say that one ‘side’ lies more often than the other and look biased, or they throw up their hands and say that everyone lies a lot. They fear the former fate worse than death, so to serve option 2 they search like crazy to reasons to ding the other ‘side’. Having a sense of shame, the other guys get trapped in a state of learned helplessness while the ‘sploiters lie all they want because what are you going to do. It’s the system.

You fix that by fact checking. But fact checking has its own quis custodiet ipsos custodes problem. Fact checkers are only as effective as their reputation for fairness. If Politifact gives the GOP its lie of the year award three years in a row then their audience will take them less seriously for that reason alone. To protect itself politifact finds the most egregious Democratic goof that it can find and braces itself for the grief that it kind of knows it deserves. It turns out that the bug survived political journalism version 1.1 .

I would love for the NYT to fact check their sources, but I doubt that it will work as well as anyone hopes as long as they’re still running journalism 1.1 . Have you watched a Republican nomination debate? It might take two days before Jill Abramson feels the inevitable tug of balance and drives Bob Somerby further into incandescent rage.

I doubt that Arthur Brisbane, the current public editor at the Times, has a good idea how fun his job will get when the paper boots up political journalism 1.1 . For Brisbane’s sake and for everyone else the media would do well to come up with a v1.2 approach to journalism that does squash the balance bug without making the whole system less stable.

Any ideas?

(*) I know, the Venn diagram is one circle with a bunch of colors in it.

***Update***

I see that Mistermix and I both got there before DougJ.

***Update***

Here’s a thought. Why not make these year-end awards more like the BCS? Do your best to ref each play fairly and at the end of the year let computers decide who the biggest chump is. It be a hell of a lot less arbitrary, it might kill the bias bug and it would give reported exactly the kind of horse race contest that they love to write about.






62 replies
  1. 1
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    Fact-checking? FACT-CHECKING!?
    /Jim Mora sr.

    Of course the NYT doesn’t give a shit about facts. Facts are unpleasant things that interfere with the narrative. Americans need to come to grips with the fact that we do not have a mainstream free press in this country. We have a loosely coordinated propaganda network working on behalf of the wealthy and the powerful, masquerading as a free press. That includes the NYT. Fuck them all, in the nastiest way possible.

  2. 2
    amk says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:
    One bitter fact is two bit hacks populate the third rate fourth estate who are truly the fifth columnists.

  3. 3
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    While I’m sure others said it much better, they got this email in response:

    Dear Mr. Brisbane:

    Thank you for soliciting input. I would prefer the corrections incorporated into the regular reporting so that it becomes actual reporting. While I have enough of a news habit to have the background information which allows me to recognize spin and outright falsehoods, not all readers do.

    “But it was in the Times!” is turned into a belief and assertion that the claim must be accurate by lower information readers of your paper. Such readers are unlikely, in my experience conversing with them, to consult a sidebar for a fact check. Thus your reporters function as simply stenographers for those on whom they are reporting, as opposed to reporters who actually reporting what is in fact demonstrably accurate or inaccurate, and explaining why it is so.

    Please begin to commit acts of journalism, and have reporters note that when a politician makes a claim that is objectively inaccurate, and can be shown as such, that such claim is demonstrably false and set forth the evidence of the falsity. This information is readily available. If your reporters (continue to) fail to do so, your paper is simply propaganda for the individuals on whom it is allegedly reporting.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter. In an election year, it is of great importance, and I look forward to the improvement in coverage.

    Best regards,
    /s/

    As if it will change anything…

  4. 4

    OMFG. I wrote about this today, too. Let’s just hold a funeral for journalism, right here, right now.

    God. How unbelievably tone deaf? And … you know, unaware of what a fucking journalist’s JOB is? Hello? “Gee, do readers think it’s a newspaper’s job to report news, or just report the crap that people say without verifying it? Hmm. I wonder ….”

    Yeah put that crap behind a paywall. Who needs to read it? I’ll just get them to send me the press release.

  5. 5
    Special Patrol Group says:

    Link to Atrios/Eschaton is fucked.

  6. 6
    28 Percent says:

    Sooo… according to the Times then, the real problem with what Stephen Glass, just as an example, did was that he didn’t tack the phrase “According to anonymous sources…” onto the beginnings of his fantasies?

  7. 7
    Jim C says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:
    While I know your reference well, as soon as you posted it, I saw instead that clip from Breaking Away that JC posted the other day:
    (subbing Tebow that day. I picture Bill Keller, or whoever, saying “Fact Checking?”)

  8. 8
    The Moar You Know says:

    Again: That this person could even ask this question – and seriously not know the answer – means we don’t have a “press” in any term that would make any sense any more.

    I thank the man for his post, however. He’s just insured I’ll never spend a dime for “news” ever again.

  9. 9
    scav says:

    I think they just closed the comments as I was about to enter this.

    So, might we be informed about the purpose of this, well, we might once have hoped it was merely a rhetorical question (a self-indulgent flourish), but may very well be merely the reflection of the utter abrogation of integrity and purpose of journalism at the NYT? Is it merely to generate comment and page hits aka, the ultimate marker of success?

  10. 10
    wilfred says:

    Brisbane did his job well enough the other day, basically acknowledging that the Times was once again beating the drums for war against Iran, possibly a bigger fucking deal than anything else going on at the moment:

    http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4462

    Political journalism? How about watching the lies that start wars. Brisbane was.

  11. 11
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Unfortunately, the Times is part of the problem, and will never be part of the solution. The damn “objective” nonsense is objective only in the sense that it reinforces the narrative of the elite. All those Ivy grads stuck in their own little world of privilege and power, constantly seeking “balance” instead of truth.

  12. 12

    The comments to the question in The Times are truly delicious, including my own when it is vetted and published. Most fall into the category of: “Short answer, yes. Long answer, Hell yes.”

  13. 13
    Benjamin Franklin says:

    In defense of Brisbane, there is the goal of objectivity. That just means ‘dsipassionate’, not a vacant look as they spout ‘he said; she said’.

    Walter Cronkite used to editorialize with an arched eyebrow as he read the daily Nixon lies. Today, we have ‘Readers’ who have no idea what the context of the story is.

    A straight news story doesn’t have to be an Editorial, but it takes skill to write copy in which the story is self-told. That skill still exists, but is more rare.

    c/p EW

  14. 14
    scav says:

    Seriously, I shouldn’t have gotten distracted by their apparently having enough money and bandwidth to check that reader comments follow to their guidelines but aren’t sure they should spend the time or money to check what they themselves print for truth. Jesus, where’d they park their common sense, because I certainly not holding my breath for their integrity, pride or professionalism.

  15. 15
  16. 16
    gaz says:

    A commenter over at NYT wins teh internetz

    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

  17. 17
    jl says:

    Dear Mr. SadSack NYT Public Editor who asks silly questions which appear to be a case of the ref working himself:

    Let’s do a thought experiment, admittedly an extreme one that might be accused of being so absurd it could never happen in a world where major national affairs journalists had become little more than craven corporate hacks and degraded corporate flunkies.

    Say some politician who emphasizes Judeo Christian values (which includes the Ten Commandments, which say lying is against God’s Law) was recorded on a video in a public appearance very clearly saying the word ‘black’ in reference to African Americans in a arguably bigoted way.

    Now suppose that politician, on two prominent national cable networks said he did not in fact say the word, which he very clearly did.

    Should journalists conclude the politician told lies, and further that he is being hypocritical given his self proclaimed very strick and conservative and moral Christian faith?

    One would think so. On the other hand, it is not civil to say some one told a lie.

    And if the politician did well in a recent campaign event, even if mostly ceremonial, he might take offense and attempt to deny the jounralists news organization access to his scumbag use of the press for free publicity?

    So, obvious truth versus the risk of being uncivil and risk to journalist’s ability to score access>?

    It is tough question. I will wait to make up my mind until David Brooks covers the topic in a rewritten fax from some GOP operative.

    Thanks for bringing up this tough issue, about which tough tough decisions must be made. I will await further excrutiatingly precious and delicate, sophisticated, and over written NYT think pieces that avoid answering the question while managing to excuse any egregious BS your paper pumps out.

    Edit: I said ‘fax’ but they probably use email. Easier to cut and paste and rewrite. Civil and sensitive conservatives prefer efficiency, as long as it is consistent with good values.

  18. 18
    burnspbesq says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    He’s just insured I’ll never spend a dime for “news” ever again.

    Be sure to check in from time to time and regale us with stories of your new, blissful existence.

  19. 19
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    I would love for the NYT to fact check their sources, but I doubt that it will work as well as anyone hopes as long as they’re still running journalism 1.1

    It’s also a question of personnel, ie. money. Newsrooms have been slashed to the bone. There’s a reason most political reporters in the Village are shitty: all the good ones have either retired or jumped ship. The media can’t pay enough to keep the good ones around anymore.

    And they’ve cut staff massively and something like pesky “fact checkers”, meh, who needs em?

    The NYT is just like the rest: circling the drain and still oblivious as to why it’s happening.

  20. 20
    smintheus says:

    Here’s what I said in a letter to Brisbane:

    Politicians have spokespeople. When a politician makes a dubious or seemingly tendentious statement, why don’t reporters ask for a spokesperson to provide evidence/examples and refute the obvious objections to the assertion? If they fail to do so, or respond with something flimsy, it is a simple matter to note that fact. It would provide important context as well as demonstrating to readers that the statement should not be treated as proven fact. It’s important to do this partly because reporting in the English language has an inherent weakness that some other languages don’t. In German newspapers, for example, the pronouncements of politicians are reported not in the indicative but in the subjunctive mood, marking them as mere assertions.

  21. 21
    The Moar You Know says:

    Be sure to check in from time to time and regale us with stories of your new, blissful existence.

    @burnspbesq: I will. It’s pretty awesome so far.

  22. 22
    gnomedad says:

    GOP strategy: lie constantly to make fact-checkers look biased.

  23. 23
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    The problem is “views differ on shape of earth” as the default model for writing a politically contentious story.

    This doesn’t happen on, say, the sports desk, where the results speak for themselves — and that’s why Matt Taibbi once wrote that if politicians had to face up to sports beat reporters the way that coaches do, they’d quit within days.

    It also doesn’t happen in most other countries’ political reporting. It is bound up with the American form and format.

  24. 24
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    “Paper of record” vs. “a recording on paper”, what the difference anyway? It’s all just the same words moved around in different ways.

  25. 25
    Ed Drone says:

    @pseudonymous in nc:

    if politicians had to face up to sports beat reporters the way that coaches do, they’d quit within days.

    “Call for Keith Olbermann. Paging Mr. Olbermann….”

    / Johnny Roventini

    Ed

  26. 26
    p.a. says:

    I remember years ago some poor left wing soul decided to do a fact-check refutation of an Ann Coulter book. The fool had 80 pages of corrections/refutations of Coulter ‘facts’ just from the scarecrow’s 6 page introduction/prelude. i believe it was a woman, and she just gave up after that- her report would have been the size of War and Peace.

  27. 27
    different-church-lady says:

    If Politifact gives the GOP its lie of the year award three years in a row then their audience will take them less seriously for that reason alone.

    Why not make these year-end awards more like the BCS?

    No, no, no. The answer is to NOT give out year end awards. If your interest is facts and the truth, then ranking lies serves no good purpose. I’ve said it here at least twice: PolitiFact hoist themselves by trying to be cute and come up with one lie that was the biggest. But ranking a lie is a subjective process, superimposed over what is supposed to be an objective process. You just can’t do it and keep the intent of the original endeavor intact.

  28. 28
    gingergene says:

    Comments are already closed. My careful “research” shows that the first comment came in at 10:58am and the last one at 12:50pm. In slightly less than 3 hours they got 265 comments, not one of which clearly endorses their current practices. The vast majority of them are some variation of “Are you f—in’ kidding me?” (in proper NYTimes-ese, of course).

    I really do hope they listen to their readers, but as those same readers pointed out repeatedly, when you have to ask a question like this…

  29. 29
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    Here’s that Taibbi piece from 2004, because I filed it away in memory:

    The sporting press in America is a reverse mirror image of its “serious” news counterpart: It is unbelievably vicious and demanding in its interviews; it doesn’t take no for an answer from anybody; it is utterly relentless in its quest to find out What Is Wrong With Our Team (even if the team is doing not so badly); and, most pointedly, it has absolutely no respect for coaches, owners and other authority figures. If George Bush had to go through what Theo Epstein in Boston or Mitch Kupchak in Los Angeles goes through on a daily basis, he would resign within 20 minutes. Can you imagine the dreaded Red Sox beat writers Dan Shaughnessy, Peter Gammons, Jeff Horrigan and the rest of those snarling monsters unleashed on, say, Bush’s education policy? Shit, they would have had Rod Paige traded to Myanmar for prospects two years ago.

  30. 30
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    This is all just like the Creationists and Science. At first the Creationists were able to exploit Science’s dislike for confrontation to play the both sides do it game. Then scientists learned how to call bullshit and not back down about it and the end result was the Atheist Apocalypse not the Great Revival the Creationists wanted.

    Basically it’s a matter of getting the tote bagers to see their fairness game is false.

  31. 31
    scav says:

    Artemis Theotokos I’m so mad I’ve gone full-on polysyllabic. I’m wired backwards and just wish I could scream WTFF, spit and punch somebody. And I thought I’d depressed myself by reading the latest on the Levenson inquiry &dmash; Daily Mail, that’s the ire benchmark I just blew past at supersonic speeds. That’s it, offline, only hope. Coughing a lung or or failing to has simply got to more a better use of my time.

  32. 32
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Let me give you an example of how our “news” reporters are truly fucked up.

    In 2008, John McCain was scheduled to appear on David Letterman’s show. McCain called Letterman the afternoon of the scheduled appearance and said he couldn’t make it, he had to go back to DC because the economy was “cratering”.

    Now, mind you, McCain had been missing events in the Senate for a full year plus before this call because he was so busy campaigning for President the entire time.

    So, Letterman has to scramble at the last minute to get someone to fill the spot McCain would have filled, the main guest of the show for that night.

    Letterman gets Olberman to take McCain’s place, and in the middle of the taping finds out that McCain had not, in fact, run back to DC. He was over at Black Rock talking with Katie Couric.

    Letterman captures this and puts it on his show, and starts making comments like “Hey, John, can I call you a cab?”

    McCain flat out lied to Letterman requesting a rain check. In fact, he was still in New York the next day.

    Now, McCain could have handled this by saying to Letterman, “Dave, I’m sorry, but I have to cancel my appearance on your show because Katie Couric wants me on to talk about the financial crisis. I’d like to appear later, but I need to go on her show, I hope you’ll understand why it’s important for me to do so”.

    But McCain didn’t do that. He lied to Letterman. He made up a pathetic, transparent excuse that was easily falsified, as Letterman did in real time as McCain was seen at Couric’s desk.

    The “news” people failed, utterly, to see the implications of this. If McCain can lie so easily to a fairly major media figure like Letterman, he can lie to anyone. But the “news” people ignored the entire issue.

    I think this incident had a significant effect in favor of Barack Obama. If McCain can lie this casually, he must have felt, with some justification, that the “news” people would give him a free pass. Unfortunately, for McCain, Letterman did not, and Letterman has as big an audience as Katie Couric. Letterman’s audience was treated to more actual news than Katie Couric’s was that night.

  33. 33
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @pseudonymous in nc:

    The sporting press in America is a reverse mirror image of its “serious” news counterpart

    That is possible in part because sporting events take place in a highly simplified “toy” domain from which all ambiguity and complexity in terms of the results has been ruthlessly edited out, to the point where the officiating is the only subjective component left and even that comes under microscopic scrutiny for any trace of bias.

    What’s the public policy equivalent of e.g. video-reply to review an NFL call to determine if a touchdown was scored, for say estimating how much unemployment grew or shrank last quarter?

  34. 34
    jl says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    I disagree. The Rih Anhorumn and McCain cases seem very clear cut to me.

    Even in a very complex world with no simple answers, telling obvious bald face lies can simplify things for the purpose at hand.

    Edit: also for example, the polar bears love global warming research report that did not exist, or misrepresentation of global warming data that is called out by the very government agency that issues the data (George Will and the Ice Sheets)

    Edit: George Will and the Ice Sheets has a ring to it. What should be it be, children’s book, rock band or marital sex therapy book?)

  35. 35
    Heliopause says:

    Fact checkers are only as effective as their reputation for fairness.

    I don’t think that quite gets at it. Journalists, as a class, are idiots. If they were at all clever, thoughtful, or wise they’d be doing other kinds of writing.

  36. 36

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Yes I remember that and I remember totally loving Letterman for calling McCain on his BS.

    Some context for that is the fact that McCain had appeared on Letterman several times, they were “buddies.” We even sorta questioned why McCain would be on Letterman YET AGAIN. And then McCain dissed his “friend” on late night TV with that stupid stunt when, as you point out, he could easily have told the truth.

    But ya know these politicians, they lie all the time and when no one calls you on it, it just becomes second nature. And the lies have gotten more outrageous. Now they can say whatever they want and the journalists just assume PolitiFact will “fact check” it in a week, which is the equivalent of posting the retraction on the back page.

    I guess knowing your stuff before an interview and challenging a public official on his or her facts is too much like work.

    You know what? Funny we are talking about this because I have taken to listening to the BBC on my satellite radio — not BBC America, the actual BBC Radio. And God I wish I could remember who it was, but this guy was interviewing some South African dude who had written a book about his wild days running guns in Sudan or some shit and he was nailing him … seriously, hammering the dude with follow up questions and just not letting the guy try to gloss over his past and get the character redemption he clearly wanted (that’s why these assholes like Abramoff write their books, of course). It was fucking amazing.

    You really don’t even realize how lame the U.S. media is until you hear someone conduct a REAL interview.

    Remember when that Irish TV journalist interviewed W when he was POTUS? And everyone here called for the fainting couches over how impudent and rude she was? When in reality she was just asking some hard-hitting questions.

    Now we live in a world where “what newspapers do you read” is a “gotcha” question.

    Sigh. I’m gonna eat lunch. Drown my sorrows in a salad or something.

  37. 37

    @jl:

    Rih Anhorumn

    Rih Anhorumn and Luap Nor at New Hampshire.
    Gingrich, when the polls fell.

  38. 38
    Journeywoman says:

    The thing that gets me is the use of the vigilante metaphor. When it comes to the truth, journalists aren’t “vigilantes” – they’re the bloody COPS. This is their Constitutional role. How can they not know this?

  39. 39
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @jl:

    I disagree. The Rih Anhorumn and McCain cases seem very clear cut to me.

    I think the mainstream press has gone very far down a slippery slope. They started by giving both sides a chance to voice an opinion without benefit of reportorial footnotes on highly complicated issues full of ambiguity and confusion, and then whoops! down the slope we went. Now we are in “..we’ve already established what you are, now we are just haggling over the price” territory with them, except that unlike in the famous joke, the price of media whoredom is already down to 20 bucks and shows no signs of inflation anytime soon.

  40. 40
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Journeywoman:

    The thing that gets me is the use of the vigilante metaphor. When it comes to the truth, journalists aren’t “vigilantes” – they’re the bloody COPS.

    Since vigilantes spring up where professional law enforcement is missing or hopelessly corrupt, the analogy works if the blogs are the vigilantes and the NYT are the worthless cops.

    So the question really parses down to: dear readers, do you want us to be more like well written and researched blogs?

  41. 41
    different-church-lady says:

    @pseudonymous in nc:

    Can you imagine the dreaded Red Sox beat writers Dan Shaughnessy…

    There… right there… I just lost any reamaining respect I had for Taibbi. The only dread Shaughnessy creates is in the minds of Globe readers just before they take in another day of his pablum.

  42. 42
    different-church-lady says:

    @jl:

    What should be it be, children’s book, rock band or marital sex therapy book?

    It should be composted. For several months.

  43. 43
    Tom says:

    I personally think that reporters should stick to reporting and let the op-ed section handle the challenging of “facts.”

    The reason being: I like reading news stories because it gives me information with which I can form my own opinions. I’m not looking for the reporter to play referee for me… I just want facts.

    So, to the hypothetical given in the NYTimes piece re: Romney saying Obama apologizes for America:

    “The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

    I’m fine with the first sentence. Not with the second. It is possible to apologize without using the word “apologize” so unless the reporter has done an exhaustive reading of all of Obama’s foreign policy speeches, he shouldn’t be judging the merit of Romney’s claim. That sort of thing should come from the op-ed section or “news analyses” and shouldn’t be the job of a reporter.

  44. 44
    IrishGirl says:

    Wait, I’m confused…does anyone actually think the BCS is fair?! Also, using computers is not as unbiased as you think. As a computer programmer I know how this would work. There would be charges that whoever created the program is biased, that whoever fed in the data is biased and that the data/program could have been hacked.

  45. 45
    RRoss says:

    Journalism is not about the truth, it’s about exploiting access. No access, no job.

  46. 46
    gaz says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    “Paper of record” vs. “a recording on paper”, what the difference anyway? It’s all just the same words moved around in different ways.

    Please tell me that was not a serious statement. Tell me it was snark. Lie if you must. Please.

  47. 47
    nastybrutishntall says:

    In order to make Arthur Brisbane’s life even easier, I’ve done him the courtesy of composing his follow-up reply to today’s column:
    “We had a great volume of responses to our last column. Many wondered why we weren’t already acting with rash truth vigilantism at every utterance of a public figure. Others, such as Hardy T. Roll of Manhattan, had this to say…”

    And, of course, comments will be disabled the next time.

    Bet you $10,000.00*!

    *Lie. Am I has a journalism now?

  48. 48
    Tim F. says:

    @Tom: It really is not that hard. Just ask Romney to name the occasions when the President has apologized for America. If he cannot then he looks dishonest. If he names something inaccurately then he looks stupid.

  49. 49
    ornery_curmudgeon says:

    @different-church-lady: “There… right there… I just lost any reamaining respect I had for Taibbi.”

    Awesome to observe your laser-focus on what’s important churchlady.

  50. 50
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @gaz:

    No lies necessary, it was, not exactly snark, but rather deeply bitter sarcasm restating the NYT’s stance in the most unflattering light possible.

  51. 51
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Tom:

    I’m not looking for the reporter to play referee for me… I just want facts.

    Someone said that you rape goats. It’s a reported fact that someone said it.

  52. 52
    Tom says:

    @ Tim F.

    Except the reporter didn’t have a chance to question Romney since the event was a campaign rally and I presume he didn’t meet with reporters afterward.

    I don’t have a problem with reporters asking questions like that. I think they should.

    But just from a practicality standpoint, I don’t think reporters should be saddled with the responsibility to fact-check every claim when writing a news report on an event they are covering.

    In today’s media landscape there are more than enough critical voices out there to question claims. There’s no lack of that. I’d rather see the NYTimes, when it comes to news reporting, stick to reporting and not begin to judge the merit of claims reported on–at least from within that same news report.

    Again, I don’t have a problem with a news report pointing out facts that run contrary to a claim made, but I do have problem with news reporters making judgement like “Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

  53. 53
    Tom says:

    Someone said that you rape goats. It’s a reported fact that someone said it.

    If Mitt Romney accused me of raping goats at his next campaign rally, that would be news and I would expect it to be reported on.

    Now, I would expect the reporter to see if I had a criminal record and do a search to see if there’s record of me being accused of raping goats anywhere then write something like…

    “As of publication, no records of Tom being accused or convicted of bestiality have been found.”

    Now, going back to Romney’s “Obama apologizes for America claim,” that’s a MUCH harder claim to verify. A simple search for “apologize” in Obama’s foreign policy speeches will not suffice. You’d have to do much more intensive research to see if the claim had any merit. And for a reporter covering Romney’s speech who has to file a story rather quickly, I think it’s unfair to ask him to verify that claim or not.

    Again, I’m all for the NYTimes op-eders or news analysts calling him out on the claim, but when a claim isn’t easily verifiable through standard reporting means, I think it’s unfair to ask the reporter to judge the merit of the claim.

  54. 54
    Tractarian says:

    @Tom:

    This isn’t, actually, about Romney’s “apology tour” statement. (Frankly, that’s not a great example of a correctable “fact”, for the reasons you indicate.)

    This is about the New York F’n Times asking for “reader input” on whether its reporters “should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers”.

    Let me repeat that: The New York Times is asking readers whether its reporters “should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers”.

    I mean, if you had asked me before today, I’d say, of course the policy of the Times is to challenge “facts” asserted by newsmakers. I would have just thought that they weren’t carrying out that policy very well.

    But to suggest that stenography-style journalism is a feature, not a bug … well, it boggles the mind.

  55. 55
    Tom says:

    @Tractarian

    I think this all comes down to the type of reporting that’s going on.

    Let’s look at Watergate. I’m sure there were news reports from the WaPo that reported Nixon’s claims without questioning them. But at the same time, Woodward and Bernstein were doing investigative journalism to see if those claims were true or not. That’s great.

    My point is that I think there’s a time and a place for a news organization to question claims made by people in authority. Personally, I like my news reports straight. First and foremost, I want the reporter to report on what he’s covering, adding any pertinent facts along the way, so I have as pure a source of information possible. When you start adding editorial judgements, that “pure” news source gets tainted (even if that news contain outlandish claims and flat-out lies) and I think losing that kind of reporting would be a tragedy.

  56. 56
    Maude says:

    All I can think of is Judith Miller.

  57. 57
    Tonal Crow says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    I thank the man for his post, however. He’s just insured I’ll never spend a dime for “news” ever again.

    Your sentiment is well justified, but your suggested remedy for the problem will only exacerbate it. The NYT is close to the best of a terrible lot. Depriving it of revenue will not improve things, but will instead increase the rate at which Foxialism replaces what remains of responsible reporting.

  58. 58
    Tractarian says:

    @Tom:

    Personally, I like my news reports straight.

    It sounds like you’re not looking for news reports, you’re looking for press releases.

  59. 59
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Tom:

    Personally, I like my news reports straight.

    That won’t do. “Straight” is a normative term.

    Let’s put it this way: the internet actually makes access to “pure news” very easy — one links to video of a speech, or to a transcript. No summaries, no paraphrasing, just primary sources. What you call “straight” in the context of American journalism is a set of formal and methodological practices that are not the same as the provision of primary source material, just as “everyday” speech in film and television is not the same as how people actually talk.

  60. 60
    smintheus says:

    @Tom:

    Except the reporter didn’t have a chance to question Romney since the event was a campaign rally and I presume he didn’t meet with reporters afterward.

    Romney has spokespeople to answer such questions. If they can’t or refuse to back up his claims adequately, that is news worth reporting.

  61. 61

    Let’s try something a bit simpler than “apologize” like Bain. Bain is not a real difficult question to get through and it isn’t a momentary occurance. It would take some time to dig through the records of Bain’s acquisitions and the outcomes, but that time is available. Same thing is true of MA job creation, along with mitigating factors which are available and that news cycle is not very short.

    In something like Bain there is the possibility that a company was dead when you got there and all you were doing was putting the pistol to the horse’s head and calling the rendering plant. That scenario is a bit rare. Our last local timber/lumber mill shut down a few years ago and the pieces were sold off. They could not get suitable timber into and out of the mill at costs that covered Canadian soft wood prices. That was mostly about the trees thanks to previous logging, federal regs, state regs, trade agreements all with varying impacts and, frankly, variable sensibility as applied. There wasn’t anything to be done to save this major employer of good paying jobs. The State did do job re-training and that sort of thing, but the business was just done for. The vultures cleaned up the mess, a lot of the equipment went to Canada and at bargain prices.

  62. 62
    Jim C. says:

    I sent this to the Times.

    Dear sir,

    In your recent article titled “Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante” you essentially asked the question, “What extent should a major newspaper publication like the Times go to in order to call out falsehoods uttered in the public discourse?”

    The answer goes directly to the role of journalism in shaping the public discussion. The answer is fairly straightforward and is two pronged:

    1. It should point out blatantly obvious lies uttered by prominent public figures for what they are
    2. It should provide significant context on all significant statements that informs the readers to the extent that they can decide for themselves if something is true or not.

    The issue is, I think, that most of the mainstream media and print publications have in recent years is a fear of being branded as partisan. Most specifically, I would say that one-side of the current political discourse does a much better job than others of “working the referees” to ensure “balanced” reporting that, in essence, forces a arbitrary degree of equity that does not allow for reality. To get even more pointed, publications like yours are terrified of being branded as “the liberal media” and therefore, rather than acknowledge what is right in front of your noses – that Republicans are telling more lies these days than Democrats – your paper (and to be fair many others) results to a form of “reporting” that does a disservice to its readership.

    This leads many news articles to read like this:

    “Person A came out the other day and said that the sky was green. Person B said that the sky was blue. Opinions differ on the issue.”

    Opinions may differ here, but the facts do not. The sky is clearly blue. But to avoid appearing “partisan” the issue is presented as if there are two legitimate points of view on this subject. There are not. Unfortunately, if Person A pays no price for lying, then they will continue to lie if it is to their advantage to do so. Better reporting might look something like this:

    “Person A, a Republican, says that Man-made Climate Change does not exist. Person B, a Democrat, says that it does. The overwhelming consensus of the global scientific community is that it does.” If your readers still choose not to believe in climate change afterward, that is up to them. But you are arming them with a significant data point – that to the scientific community this is NOT an open issue – and therefore doing your job instead of just “reporting” what each side said.

    You can see this on many other issues that come up each and every week. For example, during the debt ceiling negotiations, it would have been useful context to point out that raising the debt ceiling limit was a routine thing that had been done time and time again under both Republicans and Democrats. Failing to do so would result in the U.S. credit rating being impacted, which would hurt the economy. President Obama offered several very slanted deals to GOP leaders that were historic in the ratio of cuts to new taxes. GOP leaders rejected it and the U.S. credit rating was impacted.

    Good journalism would have presented the historic context here. It would have pointed out that what the GOP was doing was unprecedented and that the offers the President were putting on the table were incredibly good for the GOP.

    Unfortunately, this sort of context and good reporting is rarely done, and when it is done, it tends to be done poorly with the goal of reaching an arbitrary “balance” between the two sides to avoid being called out as being biased.

    For example, Politifact recently rated a true statement, that the Paul Ryan plan would have ended Medicare as we know it, their “Lie of the Year”. They did this for one reason and one reason only: they did not want to have Republicans with the lie of the year three years in a row. The Paul Ryan plan ended the singleplayer plan that is Medicare and replaced it with a private voucher plan that is intended to cover less and less as years pass in order to free up cash for tax breaks for the upper income brackets. It’s analogous to taking away somebody’s Ferrari, but keeping the license plate (the name “Medicare”) and putting the license plate on a lawn mower and saying, “See? We didn’t take away Medicare. We just changed it a little bit.”

    By the current media continuing to refuse to report the blatantly obvious – that one political party lies a lot more than others – it effectively serves as a source for misinformation and not as a way to make their readers better educated on current events.

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