January 14, 2010

Brain Surgery, Again

My “brain surgery” crack (aka. a quote) last October was meant to indicate that journalism (done well) is a difficult and complex practice because of, among other things, the challenges of interpretation.

Mix those challenges with the ability to publish instantly (and add in a dash of cynicism and — dare I say it? — bias) and you have a (mixed-metaphorically) short walk to Errorville.

So, did Republican senate candidate Scott Brown actually mean to indicate that he was unfamiliar with the Tea Party?

Probably not (given, in part, because such an assertion would really be dumb, which, then, is a clue to the reporter to keep asking questions instead of, say, getting all excited — cynically — that one now has interesting dirt — but I’m assuming).

How about we declare a holiday from cynicism so we may worship the custodians of fact who operate with a discipline of verification.

Or, how about this as a rule of thumb: If a politician makes statement A that sounds like a lie or bullshit or stupidity, then reporter asks question B to seek clarification in the interest of accurately (as possible) capturing what the politician means to say.

This rule of thumb, however, requires that the journalist be humble regarding a difficult and complex task.

Here’s the paragraph in question from the Boston Globe:

He also claimed that he was unfamiliar with the “Tea Party movement,” when asked by a reporter. When told that different people labeled him a conservative, moderate and a liberal Republican, he responded “I’m a Scott Brown Republican.”

Claimed? Who is editing this newspaper? That’s a loaded attributive verb. In my opinion, the audio does not back up the reporter’s characterization of this moment in the interview.

Too bad Talking Points Memo pulled the trigger so fast. Josh Marshall asks: “Sheesh, what has the world come to if you can’t trust the Boston Globe?”

You gotta be kiddin’ me.

One Response

  1. Tim 

    Andy, thanks for this. A couple of related links:

    The elements of journalism: what newspeople should know and the public … Humility

    re: “I’m a Scott Brown Republican.”

    Off the Grid Journalism

    Look directly at the people being interviewed, treating each of them not as symbols for a larger electorate, whose mood (“the voters are angry”) is developing outside the frame, but as an electorate of one. She is who she is.