October 6, 2010

Space Cadets

I think one mark of a good journalist is a constant and nagging fear that one might fail to verify something before reporting it. Journalists are supposed to act as custodians of facts with a discipline of verification.

Mistakes are going to happen. I try never to make too much fun of verification mistakes because, frankly, I’m just as open to the same mistake as an academic.

Some verification mistakes, however, should encourage great guffaws of knee-slapping merriment at the utter stupidity of the offending journalist(s).

For example:

Correction: I should have put ironic quote marks around “journalist(s).”

The problem here is plain to see: Put not-so-bright people in front of a live camera with a mandate to fill time, and…

11 Responses

  1. Sven 

    I think that calls for one of these.

    Hey Andy, you’re probably megabusy but I wonder if you’d further elucidate the “rhetoric beat” sometime. The PolitiFact franchise recently expanded here in Wisconsin and has opened itself to much frustration and derision from local bloggers.

    The criticisms are falling out along the usual “partisan bias” lines. But I think the problem is that the PolitiFact squad is suffering from a strange form of rhetorical autism and hyper-literalism, a mutation of journalistic objectivity.

    This post, for example, attempts to break down a candidate’s comparison of Social Security to Ponzi schemes. After twisting themselves into knots, they rate the claim “barely true.” To me analyzing a simple pejorative quip as an actual analogy seems a bit like fact-checking a yo-mama joke: We visited Mr. Smith’s mother, and when she walked in front of the television set we did not, in fact, miss three entire commercials.

    This drifting into the semantic weeds is the source of most of the frustration, I think. It makes PolitiFact’s criticisms and rulings on “truth” appear completely arbitrary. I like the idea that they’re attempting to range out of the “fact” box, but they’re damaging the discourse more than mending it.

    So here’s my (ill-formed) question: What standard would keep the rhetoric beat on task? I like the notion, stated here previously, that policing language and connotation is to be avoided – that way madness lies. But when I try to envision a PolitiFact that performs “analysis of the structure of argument,” I can’t help but see yet another pedantic informal logic website…even though I know that’s not what you advocate. Thoughts?

  2. acline 

    Sven… This will be fun to knock around some more. I think you’re right that I need to put some more flesh on those bones. So, yes, I’ll take the assignment 🙂

  3. Carolle 

    I think that journalists do their best to report facts as they are presented, the problem lies in their editorial mandate. After journalists submit their work, they don’t seem to have control of what actually gets into print. Fact checkers, editors and revenue concerns often twist the facts and message intended by the reporter.

  4. jeremiah 

    Journalistic ethics, research, integrity and use of critical thinking skills, are not something that Fox News is known for.

  5. Tim 

    And yet …

    Nov 2008 Poll: Internet, Fox News Are Most Trusted News Sources

    Jan 2010 Fox leads for trust

    May 2010 CNN And Fox News More Trusted Than Any Other News Source…By Far

    Sep 2010 Poll: Bill O’Reilly is popular, but Rachel Maddow is unknown to likely voters

    Among cable news channels, Fox was the clear winner, with 42 percent of respondents saying it is their main source, compared with 30 percent who cited CNN and 12 percent who rely on MSNBC.

  6. Tim 

    comment waiting moderation

  7. acline 

    Tim… Those trust polls do not surprise me.

  8. Tim 

    Not surprised, because … ?

    From across the pond: Whom do the public trust?

    Fix to broken link in previous post, Poll: Internet, Fox News Are Most Trusted News Sources

  9. acline 

    Tim… Not surprised because 1) the public has grown comfortable with news with a defined POV, and 2) FOX has done a particularly good job of defining how to use POV in television news — FOX is the pioneer in this.

    I also wonder if we’ve reached a point where people are comfortable with what I’ll call a “journalism of assertion.” That just occurred to me, so I’ll need to flesh it out a bit. But I think there’s something there 🙂

  10. Sven 

    Thanks, Andy. Much appreciated. Just as an update, it’s getting pretty wild up here. The PolitiFact rulings are getting more bizarre and obscurantist, like they were written by Jacques Derrida.

    One candidate is now using a PolitiFact ruling and the “pants on fire” theme in an ad. This same candidate has filed a complaint with a district attorney based on the PolitiFact ruling. This bypasses the usual route of objecting to the state elections commission, and relies on a 1911 statute – since ruled unconstitutional – that prohibits “a false representation pertaining to a candidate or referendum.”


  11. Tim 

    re: “news with a defined POV” and “journalism of assertion.”

    Does comfort lead to trust?

    Rhetoric, Ethics, and Intention

    The rhetoric of journalism is partly constructed to persuade news consumers that the news product is trustworthy. It is a rhetoric of credibility–a rhetoric that is changing in the new media environment.

    What’s Really Going on is Worse

    fairness/balance = the professional goal for the product

    objectivity = process to reach goal

    neutrality = ethos of the process

    credibility = byproduct of ethos

    trust = byproduct of credibility

    innocence = stance taken in regard to the product if the process is followed

    Ethics, Morals and Journalism