Archive for Monday, March 7, 2011

Inaccuracy feeds disconnect with reality

March 7, 2011

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A few words about three words.

Said words came from one Barry Ritholtz, a financial analyst, author and TV commentator who, according to his website, has contributed commentary on matters monetary to the whole alphabet soup of TV news: CNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, PBS, Fox, MSNBC and C/SPAN.

Ritholtz also has a blog and it was there that he recently broke what seemed a major news story: “Roger Ailes To Be Indicted.” Ailes, as you may know, is the controversial chairman of Fox News.

The New York Times, citing papers filed in a lawsuit, had reported that Ailes stood accused of telling publishing potentate Judith Regan to lie to federal investigators vetting former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik when he was nominated in 2004 to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik’s nomination ended in scandal; he is serving a four-year sentence on eight felony convictions, including tax fraud.

Ritholtz took the story significantly further than the Times did. Citing “someone I spoke with,” he reported that Ailes was facing not just an accusation, but a federal indictment. “You read it here first,” he crowed.

The sensational story ricocheted all over the Internet. But was it true? Salon.com questioned Ritholtz on his source, whom he would identify only as an older man, “an upper East Side Democrat” he found himself sitting next to at an airport. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement for the source’s credibility, but Ritholtz was unfazed.

Salon quotes him as saying, “If it’s true we’ll find out. If it’s not, no big deal.” And here, let us define what the point is not. It is not the likeability or lack thereof, of Roger Ailes. It is not the bias of the supposed news organization he runs. It is not even the accuracy of Ritholtz’s report.

It is, rather, those three words: “no big deal.” Lord, where is Walter Cronkite when you need him? Those who work in or depend upon mainstream media, traditional media, legacy media — choose your preferred synonym for “old” — are frequently and forcefully reminded that technology has changed the rules, broken the model. What was once a monologue is now a dialogue, the gathering and dissemination of news has become a communal activity. We are, goes the mantra, all journalists now. Fine. Wonderful. Whatever.

But: If we are all journalists, we all ought to be governed by journalism’s most sacred directive. Meaning accuracy. Get the facts straight.

One encounters little fealty to that directive in surveying the landscape of new media, overrun as it is by true believers for whom accuracy is subordinate to ideology and facts useful only to the degree they can be bent, shaped or outright disregarded in service to that ideology. The result, as many have noted, is a political discourse distinguished by increasing incoherence and intellectual incontinence, an empty shouting match better suited to a fifth-grade schoolyard than to adults analyzing the great issues of the day.

Even by that standard, Ritholtz’s breezy kiss-off to accuracy represents a minor milestone. He is not, after all, the proverbial blogger working in his pajamas from his mother’s basement. Rather, he is an accomplished, authoritative man. Yet even he apparently feels no particular obligation to be factual.

No big deal? One can imagine a libel lawyer in the employ of Roger Ailes someday having a field day with that quote. Meantime, let the rest of us regard it as a signpost on the road toward America’s secession from objective reality. What is at stake is nothing less than our ability to know. From that springs our ability to process, extrapolate, debate, reason, conclude. We are losing those things. And that’s a very big deal, indeed.

— Leonard Pitts Jr.is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

cato_the_elder 5 years, 9 months ago

Yearning for Walter Cronkite as a paragon of accuracy in news reporting is a real laugher. Pitts was in grade school when Cronkite was hard at work determining, shaping, molding and forming the news, not reporting it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 9 months ago

Every news organization does this to some extent. Some have had a good deal of integrity-- Cronkite, for example. But other news organizations, Fox News comes to mind, barely even pretend to have anything like integrity.

cato_the_elder 5 years, 9 months ago

Bozo, when Fox News started it represented a direct antidote to the shamefully biased "reporting" of Cronkite, Schorr, Rather, Jennings and the rest that had gone on for decades when only three networks were available to the public and all were liberally biased, CBS being the worst. The only news source today that is relatively unbiased is CNBC.

Brent Garner 5 years, 9 months ago

And you may be stretching the point with CNBC.

jafs 5 years, 9 months ago

This is a big problem.

Especially since so many people believe what they first hear about something, even when it's later proven to be wrong.

Get the facts first, then write the story.

Brent Garner 5 years, 9 months ago

Come now jafs, why allow facts get in the way of smearing a conservative? Afterall, according to leftist/liberals conservatives are dumb rocks who don't deserve anything anyway. Aren't conservatives nothing but "bible hugging, gun loving, racists"? Therefore, let no fact get in the way of destroying a conservative! Afterall, the end does justify the means, yes?

jafs 5 years, 9 months ago

If you follow the news at all, you know that these tactics are often used by the right.

Andrew Breitbart ring a bell?

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