Archive for Saturday, December 5, 2009

When reporters go, so do the facts

December 5, 2009


— If you ever wondered why God invented the delete button, let me pass along the e-mail that arrived on the wings of various listservs directed at the Mainstream Media.

“How much do we love you?” the author asked the MSM. “Let me count the ways: You lie, omit, distort and skew what otherwise should be unbiased accounts of ALL news, not just what furthers the interests of the ‘fringe left.’”

As my finger hovered over “block sender,” I scanned the list of wrongs. No. 1 was the charge that we, the MSM, had hidden the fact that Bill Ayers was the real author of “Dreams from My Father.”

This myth had been careening around the Internet for some time, but came back to life after a conservative blogger confronted Ayers at an airport. In a fit of snark, Ayers “confessed.” “Michelle asked me to ... I wrote it,” he said, adding, “And if you can prove it we can split the royalties.” GOTCHA!

Let it not be said that right-wing bloggers are encumbered by a sense of humor. Or a fact-checker. Ayers’ authorship was about as true as the drive-a-stake-in-that-rumor that Obama had been born in Kenya. That fantasy was ranked in The New Yorker magazine as somewhere between “a belief in Santa Claus and ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’”

The birth myth was, in turn, matched by Glenn Beck’s assertion that under Obamacare you could either buy coverage or go to jail. And neck and neck with the fanciful claim by Sarah Palin that health care reform would mean “death panels” for the elderly.

Well, I hold the lack of these truths to be self-evident. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t believed.

My amazement at this grows from a strange, lingering attachment to facts. This is probably a result of having begun as a fact-checker for Newsweek. Facts — along with their enforcers, editors — have long been the guides and saviors of my career that’s more than 46 years long.

Now I’m planning the next phase of my life. This may be why I’m struck by how much hard facts have softened in this time, how much less they seem to matter.

“Truthiness” has exploded alongside a new media that is decidedly not mainstream, that flows into as many rivulets as there are cable channels, points on the radio dial, and unvetted bloggers.

It’s now possible to find a group somewhere in Googleland that will agree with anything. Any outlier can find a tribe and a “fact” — Global warming is a hoax! Evolution is a fraud! — that reinforces his own belief.

There is a sense that we don’t need science or editing or fact-checking as long as we have crowd-sourcing. We don’t have to build opinions on facts; we can build facts on opinions.

This is not just common on blogs but on right-wing talk shows where hosts have gone rogue. What price exactly has Glenn Beck paid for playing loose with facts? Did only Jon Stewart catch Sean Hannity using video from one (large) teabag rally to illustrate another (small) rally?

This fact-free standard is held up (or down) by politicians who follow their lead. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, for example, isn’t about to challenge those “death panel” believers who rally to his FreedomWorks flag: “If people want to believe that ... it’s O.K. with me.” Whatever.

I’m not suggesting that newspapers — once defined as the first rough draft of history — are without errors. But there are prices to pay and corrections to be made and standards to be met. When was the last time an Internet birther ran a correction or lost his job?

Those of us who have spent our lives in journalism wake up to daily reports of troubles: newsrooms cut, papers bankrupt. My first employer, Newsweek, no longer covers news. My second, the Detroit Free Press, has cut back home delivery. I have watched my third employer, The Boston Globe, grow and shrink.

Hardest of all is to witness the evaporation of a profession that’s been the vetting agent for the “reality-based community.” A craft that has struggled to be right as often and rigorously as possible.

In a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll last month, readers were asked what professions are likely to disappear. Of the likely candidates, 28 percent chose tobacco farmers, but 26 percent picked newspaper reporters. Only 3 percent thought fact-checkers would become extinct.

Well, I have “news” for you. When the reporters go, so do the facts. And their checkers.


canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

It sounds like the media are going to be forced to divulge the truth about the manipulation of the climate change data, in spite of themselves, --though I trust them to find SOME way to make that issue sound like a lie. Ultimately, there will be things they can't cover up, regardless of what pressure is put on them.

BigPrune 8 years, 5 months ago

I saw the headline then I read the author. I couldn't read the whole thing. Was it another reaffirming article from some pinko commie writer justifying their love for the Loser in office?

Speaking of Climategate, when are any of the big three (ABC, NBC, CBS) going to broadcast on television about the leaked emails? How many weeks has it been, now? I forgot, the left leaning media is a myth.

quik 8 years, 5 months ago

Why there are even some right-wing kooks out there that would dare to question global warming and evolution. We all know these are both backed up by solid, irrefutable, reproducable, scientific facts. It's just funny that she is the worst example of exactly what she is railing against.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 5 months ago

The LJWorld carries many champions of the Left: Ellen Goodman, Leonard Pitts, Garrison Keillor, Scott Rothschild, the AP and McClatchey News Service.

At least we get George Will and Cal Thomas once in a while.

ChrisNyberg 8 years, 5 months ago

Its hard to imagine the newspaper biz going down the drain with articles like this. Great work Ellen. You must have stayed up late with this one.

georgiahawk 8 years, 5 months ago

Is anyone going to refute what she is saying or are you all going to just sit there and say "well they did it" without dealing with the fact that without real facts an informed democracy will not work? You guys need to just grow up!

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

I think what we are all saying is that we have ceased to receive the real facts.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 5 months ago

so, because EG says it is not a hoax, it is not a hoax?
does the phrase "hide the decline," or the phrase "we can't account for the lack of warming ..." disprove her assertion about 'global warming' immediately? yes. Global warming is a hoax.

as I have posted elsewhere, Mr. Obama could have whiped out the "birther" controversy very easily. either he wants it to continue so his opposition looks crazy, or else there's really something because his birth is recorded by a witness statement instead of observation of live birth and he has never told us which hospital he was born in. oh, his grandmother and half-bro say he was born in Kenya, too. because EG says so, we should just ignore these three stubborn facts?

death panels, well there was the little matter of the government panel that recommended drastic reductions in mamogram screning for breast cancer, and Mr. Obama's health insurance scandal (which will actually increase premiums according to CBO) will give such panels the force of law. yes, the dems were caught in that and passed a specific, hypocritical, stopgap fix, but the overall laws as proposed empower such panels that would decide who gets care and what the rate of death will be.

Oh, there's the problem EG overlooks: her newspapers are shrinking and losing readers/ad revenue...because we're generally going elsewhere for information. suppose she agrees with the Obamanoids that want the government to support newspapers with a bailout?

temperance 8 years, 5 months ago

Maybe global warming deniers would have more success if they didn’t call the stolen emails “Climategate.” Since Watergate, any controversy with “-gate” attached to it signals a manufactured hissy fit. Remember “Travel Gate?” “Troopergate?”

Using a dozen stolen emails to prove a global warming conspiracy is like taking an incorrectly dated fossil as proof of creationism. It’s actually worse because the stolen emails didn’t really show anything. In the words of conservative Charles Johnson, “There’s no there there.” If I stole a thousand of your work emails, do you think I’d be able to take a dozen sentences out of context to make it look like you’re not doing your job? In the words of conservative Sarah Palin, “you betcha!”

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

defender--don't accuse me of "conspiracy" theories! You can google some of this and find it for yourself. Check out the University of East Anglia site. You won't find any refutation of the "rumors" about the hacked manipulation of the climate data. It's amazing to me that people like you can be so blind and trusting--which is far riskier than imagining a conspiracy. I at least try to follow up on some of the rumors.

Good comments, gnome. I always appreciate your insights.

My dad was a veteran newsman and would certain be appalled at what passes for "impartial reporting" now.

Godot 8 years, 5 months ago

Fortunately, there are still real scientists and journalists in Holland:

Professor Sinninghe Damste’s research, as discussed on the site of the Dutch Organization of Scientific Research (DOSR) — a governmental body — shows that the icecap of Kilimanjaro was not the result of cold air but of large amounts of precipitation which fell at the beginning of the Holocene period, about 11,000 years ago.

The melting and freezing of moisture on top of Kilimanjaro appears to be part of “a natural process of dry and wet periods.” The present melting is not the result of “environmental damage caused by man.” (snip)

DOSR calls Al Gore’s iconic use of the melting cap of Kilimanjaro “unfortunate” — since it now seems to be mainly the result of “natural climate variations.”

The journal Nature published the highly technical article by Professor Sinninghe Damste’s team.

The website of Elsevier magazine — the Netherlands’ most circulated political weekly — broke the news as follows: “Dutchman discredits Al Gore’s climate evidence.”

temperance 8 years, 5 months ago

I was too quick handing out stupidity awards. To wit: “does the phrase ‘hide the decline,’ or the phrase ‘we can't account for the lack of warming …’ disprove her assertion about 'global warming' immediately? yes.”

Two phrases (10 words) taken out of context from 1,000 emails “disproves” global warming? That’s toddlers' logic. No wonder no one takes you global warming deniers seriously.

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

I think the title of this column should be reversed. It should read "When the facts go, so do the reporters"!

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

Tom says

"The lamestream media needs to figure out Americans between Manhattan and Malibu if they want to save their jobs."

That is exactly right!

Stuart Evans 8 years, 5 months ago

A) God didn't invent a delete button. B) or anything else.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 5 months ago

"Mr. Obama could have whiped out the “birther” controversy very easily. either he wants it to continue so his opposition looks crazy,"

That's ridiculous. The "birthers" ARE crazy, and it's not Obama's responsibility to refute every absurd notion that reverberates around the wing-nut echo chamber.

Scott Drummond 8 years, 5 months ago

"I think the title of this column should be reversed. It should read “When the facts go, so do the reporters”!"

This is dangerous territory for you right wing kooks. What are the facts in the propaganda examples cited in Ms. Goodman's opinion piece?

What are the facts that support the claim that Bill Ayers authored Obama's book? Is it limited to the exchange she outlines?

What are the facts in support of Obama's birth in Kenya?

What facts support Beck's claim that citizen's will be jailed for failing to get health insurance?

What facts substantiate Palin's claim that the government will create "death panel?"

If facts don't support those claims, doesn't that only prove Ms. Goodman's assertion. And why would the grownups here care about the opinions and temper tantrums of those who believe such claims without factual basis?

Scott Drummond 8 years, 5 months ago

And, Tom, what were the looney left claims circa 2000-2008?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 5 months ago

Unfortunately, the "paranoid delusions" of the left between 2000-2008 have turned out to be neither paranoid nor delusional. Everything BushCo touched turned to sh*t, and they had their grubby little hands on everything.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 5 months ago

Tom, are you going to regurgitate every wingnut email you've gotten over the last nine years?

Scott Drummond 8 years, 5 months ago


Belief: "I doubt that 1% of Republicans believe Obama was born in Kenya."

Factual contradiction:

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

defender--I just looked over some of your previous arguments from some time ago and feel pretty comfortable about disregarding your criticisms of me, so don't waste any more rhetoric on me, okay? You sound like a really antagonistic person, in general, and I seem to be in good company among your victims.

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

Defender--if you have read any of MY previous posts over a long period, you will find that I have expressed appreciation for some enlightenment--when it was based on fact--from posters I have disagreed with. You needn't lump me with "folks like"...whatever. I suspect I am less a "swallower" of propaganda than you are, from the things you have written. If you want to consider my response as opting to "take the high road," I will accept that as a compliment. I am and have always been willing to consider an alternate view and sometimes take a Devil's Advocate position just because "folks like you" seem to be so narrow in your focus.

Other people--like Tom--have better track of facts to back up their position than I do, but that doesn't mean I am wrong--or that my lack of response can be interpreted as my being "bested." Sometimes other posts which criticize those of us who oppose Obama are simply not valuable enough to be worth responding to.

As far as "honesty" goes, I doubt that you know many people who are more concerned with being honest than I am. I may be mistaken many times but I do not act/speak dishonestly.

bisky1 8 years, 5 months ago

per ellen "The birth myth was, in turn, matched by Glenn Beck’s assertion that under Obamacare you could either buy coverage or go to jail."

JCT Confirms Failure to Comply with Democrats’ Mandate Can Lead to 5 Years in Jail Friday, November 06, 2009 "Today, Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee Dave Camp (R-MI) released a letter from the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) confirming that the failure to comply with the individual mandate to buy health insurance contained in the Pelosi health care bill (H.R. 3962, as amended) could land people in jail." howbout them facts ellen?

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

I appreciate your thoughts, Tom--you have a much better grasp of what is going on than I do and I am glad you feel fairly positive about the ultimate outcome.

I'm through for today--have to go rake some leaves before the sun goes down behind the cliffs and the temperature drops.

pace 8 years, 5 months ago

" we have crowd-sourcing" great line. The leaders as well as the led have let popularity polls replace judgment and analysis. So many have let I really feel this way, replace I think .

canyon_wren 8 years, 5 months ago

Defender, you are either absolutely NUTS or extremely immature. You can say a lot of other things about me, but you have no reason to even suggest that I am dishonest, so why do you harp on that?--you're like a broken record about it. I can't believe you say the things you do. Pretty weird, is all I can say! I rest my case!

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