Friday, February 24, 2012

Journalism's strong bias against identifying the truth

Dean Baker identifies a clear example of "he said she said" reporting in the New York Times and Washington Post. As Krugman put it a few years ago, "If Bush said the Earth was flat, the mainstream media would have stories with the headline: 'Shape of Earth—Views Differ.' Then they'd quote some Democrats saying that it was round.”

The point is that reporters routinely fail in their ethical obligation as reporters to point out what is true, whether it is consistent or contradicts what one politician or another says.

There are now 'fact checker' news services. They do a valuable job, even though they also spectacularly fail in the job sometimes—Politifact most notably. But more than their failures, that they exist at all is a testimony to a massive failure of Journalistic ethics. Journalists should be regularly pointing out what is true and real, when politicians disagree with one another. And this should not just involve specific factual claims but also policy claims.

It is true that policy claims are more difficult to sort out. But journalists can point out regularly the salient facts that question competing policy claims, so that the public knows the state of debate on policy issues. The allergy to policy issues plus the fear of saying what is true and false makes this practice unknown on television, and rare in print.

Baker points out that in the New York Times and Washington Post they report Obama's claim that we are producing more oil, and that overall oil prices are set by world markets, as we only have a small fraction of oil production or reserves. These claims are meant to counter the current Republican claim that he is responsible for the high price of gasoline. As Baker points out, they are also true claims and easy to verify as true. But neither paper does this. The fear of offending one side or another by pointing out what is true evidently rules not only the TV, but also the top print media.

Sad, and alarming.

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