Sunday Sermon: Reporters Need to Side With the Truth

While discussing the difference between spin and lying, I noted how the mainstream media is unequipped to deal with flat out lies. Jamison Foser has a suggestion (boldface mine; italics original):

When a candidate makes a false claim, reporters can respond one of three ways:

* They can ignore it, on the basis that a false claim is unworthy of attention.
* They can adopt the false claim as the basis of their report, as they did with this week’s stories about whether or not Barack Obama had made a sexist comment about Sarah Palin.
* They can produce a report centered on the fact that the candidate is saying something that is untrue. If it is the latest of many falsehoods, they can indicate that. If the candidate is telling more and larger falsehoods than the opposition, they can make that clear. In short, they can make the lack of credibility of the person making the false claim the theme of their coverage.

The first option privileges the lie by allowing a candidate to run around saying things that are not true — but at least it does not help spread the lie further.
The second option — even if it includes mention of the fact that the claim is false — privileges the lie a great deal by helping the candidate spread the false claims. At the end of the day, what most people take away from this week’s media coverage of the lipstick flap is likely that there is some controversy around whether Barack Obama made a sexist comment about Sarah Palin. That’s a clear advantage to McCain — and thus the media’s handling of the episode has rewarded his falsehood.
The third option punishes the falsehood. If you think the media’s job is to bring their readers and viewers the truth, this is obviously the best of the three options.
This is where some will say “but then reporters will be taking sides.”
And there is some truth to that: They’ll be taking the truth’s side.
Reporters “take sides” with everything they do. Everything they do involves a choice, involves a decision that X is more important than Y. When they report a lie five times before reporting the fact that it is false, they are taking the lie’s side.
The question isn’t whether reporters should “take sides” — they can’t possibly avoid taking sides.
The only question is whether they will side with truth or with fiction.

A lot of political reporters seem to work under the impression that they offer neutral descriptions of lies. As Foser notes, they can’t: they’re either for them or against them.

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4 Responses to Sunday Sermon: Reporters Need to Side With the Truth

  1. RBH says:

    I strongly suspect that it’s due to the editors much more than to the reporters. Read Lauri Lebo’s book The Devil in Dover, about the Kitzmiller intelligent design trial, where she describes the pressure she got from her editors to write more “balanced” stories. For the most part it’s the editors and their (business) managers who determine the style and content of reporting, not the reporters.

  2. David Lee says:

    It’s probably not the reporters’ choice. The corporate media is in control and profits go ahead of truth. Remove the constraints of accurate reporting and you’ll get accurate reporting. But it won’t be in the mainstream. The mainstream wants as much ad revenue as they can get.
    Try reading CounterPunch or something like it online for what you’re looking for. They report from outside the perspective of the U.S. two-party system. Of course they’re not mainstream. They couldn’t be.
    Reporters get fired for trying to push the truth too far. Look at Dan Rather, who was at the top of reporting.

  3. This is just the politics of the Intelligent Design movement applied to politics writ large. All a sham has to do to win the publicity war is get treatment as an equal “other side”.

  4. sex shop says:

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