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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Mess In The Press

Where to start, where to start? I suppose with Dan Rather getting ever more confident in asserting that the Bush AWOL story was true, even though the supporting evidence produced was fake, and then claiming that CBS News wouldn't let him pursue the story:
"Straight-up, no chaser, no," he said. "One, CBS News doesn't want me to do that story. They wouldn't let me do that story."
Now, that would indeed be a story. Major network suppresses news that Bush was AWOL during the 70's! Dan, why don't you run with that one? Speak truth to power without fear or favor, Dan!

Would that it were only Dan. But it isn't. Jeff Jarvis whales into Tim Russert for calling Broussard on his "fake but accurate" moment:
On this week’s Meet the Press, Russert replays Broussard’s emotional appearance for him and then goes after him on the facts. The woman who died was in a nursing home where the owners have been indicted for neglecting and not evacuating their residents. So, Russert says, that’s not the feds’ fault, huh? Russert gets up on a factual high-horse but Broussard puts him right back in his place, explaining that he learned what he said from his staff and that he certainly did not cross-examine his colleague about the mother he could not rescue, who had just died. That does not make the story of neglect of the entire city of New Orleans by government at all — all — levels any less vital.
Russert keeps riding his horse. He wants Broussard to somehow say that by getting facts of this story wrong, his criticism of the feds was thus invalidated, was not “fair” (and what a schoolyard word that is in this context).
Except that hardly describes the issue. The mother died on the day the storm hit. The feds do not go in beforehand to evacuate people, so those who died in the nursing home can't be blamed on FEMA. Broussard told a very detailed story that turned out to be very untrue, and that story was used to shift blame from the locals to the feds. Given that he is a local official, surely that is relevant? Given that Rodrigue says he never told anyone the facts Broussard retailed on the show, surely this is even more relevant? Surely this tends to indicate that Broussard's devotion to truth may be somewhat lacking? Surely this is a significant issue relating to Broussard's credibility in general? Jarvis writes this:
No, sir, our job is to get more than the facts. Anybody can get facts. Facts are the commodity. The truth is harder to find. Justice is harder to fight for. Lessons are what we’re after.
Well, in this case the fact-based lesson is that if you don't want your Grandma to die alone in such circumstances, you'd better make sure that her care facility has a real disaster plan. This is hardly a useless truth for the millions of family members who have a person in such a care facility. If you go looking for truths without grounding them with facts, you are just as likely to mislead yourself as your readers or viewers. Trying to tell the real story is not good enough. You have to find out what the real story is and then tell it. .

Jarvis is being truly idiotic, but his mindset does explain why the press goes on drearily retailing nonsense. Let's not forget CNN's performance in shoring up Saddam Hussein's regime or the Jordan and Foley claims that our military was deliberately killing journalists. Let's not forget the failure to produce evidence for this, either. But still they claim the story is "true". Let's not forget the skewed coverage of Iraq. Let's not forget the truths which are not being told. Beth of VRWC posts an email she received from one of her readers on active duty in Iraq:
I think you would be amazed at the morale of the young military people here. I know I am. I’ve been in for over 28 years and I have seen good and bad. These youngsters are getting the job done in a way I would never have imagined. They go on convoys, get shot at or have IEDs go off, then they return still in high spirits. The trick here is to convince the bad guys they have been beat. The idiots at the peace rallies are what’s really hurting since the stated goals of the insurgents is to break down public support for the war in the US. I heard the other day that 52% of the people back home think we are losing. I would be worried if it was 1995 and this was the case, but Bush doesn’t govern via polls like Clinton did. That’s one thing we all appreciate about the president; he sticks to the plan.
Why do people think that nothing good is happening in Iraq? Could it be the news coverage? Why does no one in the press report this truth as Beth does?
Let me just take a moment to salute our senior enlisted serving; we hear a lot about the amazing young troops out there, and I’m in awe of their resilience and strength–they really are heroes. We don’t hear a lot about the senior enlisted over there though; of course, that’s because there are fewer of them in the military, period. But the high morale and dedication to the mission is absolutely a reflection of the outstanding leadership demonstrated by the senior NCOs.
This is absolutely unreported. But it is of paramount importance for our nation. We have to keep these people, and we have to understand how we got these people in the first place. See the story of Raven 42. This stuff doesn't happen by accident. .

The Anchoress links to Dick Meyer of the CBS, and Dick Meyer doesn't share Jeff Jarvis' devotion to truth over fact. He believes that the MSM, in general, is and should be devoted to pursuit of facts. The Anchoress responds:
Trying to produce stories without access to hard facts, and trying to feed an insatiable monster of news consumption, the media presented rumor as fact, hammered it home with the high drama of on-air anchor meltdowns, and in the process created an atmosphere wherein the most egregious race cards were allowed to be played, and blame seemed to be allotted more by ideology than genuine incompetence.
As for the print media, is much of it any better? They do have superior tools to gather facts, but they don't appear to be using them in general. There are superb examples of reporting in the press, but they are becoming increasingly fewer. All too many times, even the print media has resorted to calling the same few resources on a story. They retail handouts from political parties or from special interest groups without bothering to verify the details. They don't report on facts - they report only on agendas.

The bloggers have had considerable success in fact-checking the media largely because they do attempt to pursue facts and they pull from a wider variety of sources. The large ones can use their readership. The smaller ones use public records. They are, amazingly, often doing a better job of reporting on what's happening than the traditional press. That is a sobering truth that indicates that something is terribly wrong with traditional journalism in the US, and I think Jeff Jarvis just provided a sterling example of what that something is.

Dick Meyers of CBS wrote:
The MSM may be equally guilty for showcasing debate, sound-bite food fights and on-demand editorializing. But really, that happens mostly on a slice of cable television, talk radio and op-ed sections. Most of the press is spending most of its time trying to get facts.

And the notion that such facts can be mass produced with perfect quality control as a freely distributed commodity for Jeff Jarvis and Dick Meyer to bloviate about is a corrosive myth.
But what is not true is that "most of the press is spending most of its time trying to get the facts". They simply aren't. Dick Meyer seems to be a good person, but unless he is fact-checking the reporters themselves, he doesn't know the quality of their efforts. When I try to research something, over and over again I find terribly shoddy reporting that takes place in a fact-free zone created by the press. In essence, they are reporting on each other's stories or on the statements of other organizations and they do so under the impression that they are on the "right" side.

A couple of factual examples:
Washington Post managed to completely avoid reporting that Montgomery County Public School's sex ed program had a lot of religious information in it and that it constituted a violation of the First Amendment. And OxBlog does the same.

CNN still refuses to confront the truth about its role in creating the Iraqi war. This is a tragic story of journalism at its most reckless and abusive. It's pretty bad that a woman as badly impaired as I am has a better memory than an entire news organization.

Prominent journalists have made no secret of the fact that they believe it is not their job to report the facts on Kyoto and global warming, but to get the American public to support Kyoto, regardless of the facts. See Right Wing News:
"To capture the public imagination," global warming scientist-activist and former global cooling false prophet Stephen Schneider once said, "we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

Former Boston Globe editor Ross Gelbspan urged a Washington, DC audience in July 2000: "Not only do journalists not have a responsibility to report what skeptical scientists have to say about global warming. They have a responsibility not to report what these scientists say." In a similar vein, Time science editor Charles Alexander told a Smithsonian Institution conference: "I would freely admit that on [global warming] we have crossed the boundary from news reporting to advocacy."
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me more about facts? I don't question Dick Meyer's personal integrity. I do question the integrity of the press as a whole. They do not rebuke their own for lying; they rebuke their own for telling the truth. The prevailing belief in elite journalistic circles is that their job is to "do the right thing", not to tell the truth.

I always think of journalism and history (the profession) as cousins of sorts. The historian and the journalist have identical jobs, essentially. They must gather facts together, and then place them into a narrative that explores context and significance to an audience.

If historians went about their jobs as crudely as these Katrina journalists, if I wrote my dissertation with an eye to "truth over fact" (as you say), I would be laughed out of the university.

Journalists today suffer from a massive problem of self-love that blinds them to their arrogance. "Fake but accurate!" What a surreal world we live in!
So, MOM...we'll put you down as a "Ka-boom," I take it! :-)
Pedro, very good observations as usual.

Anchoress, some things are deadly serious. So I guess I am a "Ka-boom".
The Montgomery County sex ed program didn't say anything about religion at all. I can't tell if you're lying, or if you've been lied to and are repeating it, but you should be more careful.

Passerby - I would like to respectfully suggest that it is you who have been misled. I read the injunction (temporary), the curriculum, and the teacher's reference materials, in part because my mother was a public school teacher and I was having some difficulty believing the whole wild story.

The curriculum was an outline of the topics to be taught. Interpretation of the Bible was not mentioned in that outline. However, the curriculum referred to (incorporating by reference) and mandated that only the teacher reference materials approved were to be used to teach the topics. It was the teacher reference materials which contained the stuff about the Bible's stance on homosexuality and the churches.

I suspect that the top school officials were themselves misled because the Board yanked the whole thing, reconstituted the committee and started over.

Now, all the materials were submitted in court to the judge. There was no secret ambush of the school administration, and they had the opportunity to clear up the misunderstanding at the time if there was one. They also had the ability to continue with the hearing proper and present their case.

PB, it would have been an easy matter for the committee which worked on this curriculum to have deleted the religious references. That they did not is rather indicative, don't you think?

In any case, tell it to the judge. If he had been in error, I would imagine that the school administration would simply have cleared it up by pursuing the case. I saw no problem with the fundamental tolerance/ acceptance/ self image outline of the curriculum at all, and I was surprised that the administration simply didn't substitute more secular stuff.

Just to make myself clear, I reject abuse of or intolerance toward gay or lesbians. I voted against GA's constitutional amendment to restrict marriage. I also believe very firmly (although I am religious myself and would probably fit most people's definition of a fundamentalist) that religion, per se, does not belong in public schools.
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