Archive for Monday, March 7, 2011

Inaccuracy feeds disconnect with reality

March 7, 2011


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? 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 a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on


Clancy99 3 years, 1 month ago

Bozo - Do you actually think MSNBC is anything different than FOX?? If you do you are delusional. If you don't what is the point of the obsession with FOX? If MSNBC is on the other side of the same coin (they are) then that's the balance and move on.

When the left was making the tea party protesters guilty until proven innocent of racism an AP reporter wrote a story and concluded that while nobody could in fact prove they had been racist nobody could prove they hadn't!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I will never forget that. This is scary stuff folks. Think about the implications of that - the AP, which I'm sure many like Bozo think are 'professional' journalists actually printing that it was ok to continue the libel against everyday citizens because THEY couldn't prove they WEREN'T racist. Amazing, sad stuff.


Brent Garner 3 years, 1 month 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 3 years, 1 month 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.


cato_the_elder 3 years, 1 month 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.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 1 month ago

"What was once a monologue is now a dialogue..."

I like that Leonard. Good and true statement. And the arrogance and audacity of journalists nowadays is stupifying.


Roland Gunslinger 3 years, 1 month ago

"Get the facts straight."

Can't argue with that... well some can, and probably will.


Liberty_One 3 years, 1 month ago

I always find it amusing when Pitts goes on these little rants where he accuses others of doing exactly what he's done in the past. Do as I say and not as I do, eh Mr. Pitts?


Commenting has been disabled for this item.