A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Saturday, May 21, 2005

A note to an Apologist

Chris Hanson, professor of journalism @ the University of Maryland tries to explain the genesis of what is now bad reporting in his WaPo editorial "The 'Scoop' Heard 'Round the World. Sadly."

Sadly indeed, I believe he misses the point. Here is my response.

Mr. Hanson,

You say "Conservative bloggers pounced quickly to discredit the documents then-CBS anchor Dan Rather relied on last fall in his infamous report about President Bush's National Guard performance. Cyber-debate then moved on briskly to other things. Many people think the documents were proven to be forgeries and the gist of the report false. But in reality, no one has demonstrated conclusively whether the documents are fake, or whether or not Bush disobeyed orders to shirk flight status as alleged."

There are none so blind as those unwilling to see, sir.

If the various and sundry experts hired by CBS themselves conclude that they either cannot prove the documents real, or indeed conclude they are fraudulent... if independent experts unanimously declare they are without a doubt fraudulent... what exactly do you hold as a standard for proof? Sure, you can always find one or two ideological crackpots willing to sully their reputation and proclaim them real, but to ignore the obvious contortions they have gone through to show a theoretical possibility against all probability makes a mockery of the field of "investigative journalism". Yes, it's worth noting that some few disagree with a consensus of rigid analysis. But to weight them equally is absurd.

You say on the Eason Jordan affair "But outrage spread so quickly over the net that Jordan resigned -- and the top story moved on -- before anyone could verify exactly what he had said. There were plenty of eyewitnesses with different versions of what he said, but there was no transcript, and to this day the issue remains murky."

CNN had ample opportunity to set the record straight. They had the recording. They ignored the story and sat on the evidence. Conflicting reports? I'm sorry, but when Barny Frank and other such luminaries of the left verify the central theme of Jordan's remarks were as inflammatory as reported I think we can put aside the question of whether indeed he said what he was accused of saying. Put that with the fact that Jordan has shown a history of making similar accusations and I think it's fair to say a pattern of unfounded accusations against the U.S. military exists.

Mainstream Media has a responsibility to get the story out. But they also have a responsibility to get the story right, and to show some transparency in their fact checking. Simply saying "verified by two sources" means nothing when those two sources are annonymous. I have not read or watched the MSM for over a year now. Frankly I find I am far more informed by getting my news online. I take the responsibility that so many journalists have decided is unnecessary: I do my own fact-checking. I read multiple and varied sources. I weigh the liklihood of a story's veracity given the specific situation before I start to accept it as truth.

And I never, EVER believe an annonymous source. The U.S. has very strict whistle-blower laws, and no lack of means to make a very nice living if indeed one forfeits their job to out the dirty laundry of one's ideological opponent.

There are no excuses, Mr. Hanson, for the shoddy and partisan reporting by the likes of Jordan, Rather, Mapes & Newsweek in the examples you cite. Your attempt to explain them away diverts from the real issue, being that the surest way to the corruption of journalistic values is to allow and even condone reporting from an ideological framework, rather than an objective one.

The MSM has gone a long way down the road of that corruption. Do they have the courage and the dedication to their craft to come back?

HT to Ace O'Spades


Other responses from Powerline, Tapscott, and The Cliffs of Insanity.