Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An Example of Good Reporting

Much of our news media feels compelled to show they are "balanced" by giving equal time to outright misinformation.

Politician A will state that the Politician B is actually a martian disguised as a human, and the news anchor will then turn to Politician B and ask him to comment "on charges that you are a martian." Politician B gets some time to say he is not a martian, and then we go back to Politician A. What's missing from this picture? The news anchor does not weigh in with the fact: Politician B is a human being, not a martian. Fact. Argument over.

As a result, facts never settle an argument in our news media. The truth never concludes a story. In real life, Barack Obama can actually present his birth certificate to the public (complete with the embossed seal certifying its authenticity) and, a year later, the news is still interviewing people who insist he has never shown it. When a network tries to close the argument because the facts settle the matter, they invariably are accused of censorship. (And far be it from me to mention a the commercial incentive to keep controversies going so the viewers keep tuning in! That would be so cynical.)

So Politician A can go on using the news media to assert that Politician B is a martian. The birthers still get air time. The "deathers" -- people who insist that health reform legislation includes "death panels" that will mandate euthanasia for the elderly and the disabled -- still get air time.

A telling moment recently was when Newt Gingrich was a guest on George Stephanopoulos's show over the weekend. Gingrich was repeating the lies about "death panels" and when Stephanopoulos interrupted him to say, "It's not in the bill," Gingrich just kept on talking.

At some point, if you are wrong, you need to lose the argument. At some point, if you are lying, the news media needs to say, "This is a lie" and conclude the story. No more birther segments. No more "death panel" propaganda. It's a conversation ender. Cut the mike.

Here, at least, is a ray of sunshine. No, it's not a Keith Olbermann rant (as entertaining as those can be once in a while) or a really good "gotcha" interview on Meet The Press or anything theatrical like that. It's just a straight fact-checking statement on a major news network. A presentation of facts as distinguished from myths or lies.

More like this, please. Less of the partisan "infotainment" and more of this.

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