June 7, 2020

Fact Check Op-eds

Margaret Sullivan asks what journalists are supposed to be today. As an answer, she offers another question: “What journalism best serves the real interests of American citizens?”

I’m going to briefly re-visit one of my earlier answers to this question specifically regarding opinion journalism and op-eds because I think it is especially important right now:

Fact check opinion journalism from your columnists, to your pundits, to your politicians, to your citizens’ letters to the editor. Publish nothing in an editorial section that has a factual error.

I’m unconcerned about the The New York Times having published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton. I find his opinion odious and authoritarian. I suspect your average Times reader finds it so. But that doesn’t mean the Times shouldn’t publish it. What the Times, and every other newspaper, should be doing is fact-checking every submission and turn back anything with factual errors for edit and re-submit.

The Times just let Cotton have his say. And it was later found to be wanting in the facts department.

Cotton has every right to believe that troops should be used to stop the “rioters.” But that doesn’t mean newspapers should give him, or anyone else, a pass on facts.

April 16, 2003

Journalist Demographics

Tim Porter, of the First Draft blog, has an excellent rundown of a new survey of American journalists. Demographics, specifically political affiliations, often arise in discussions of media bias. Porter says:

I hate the liberal-conservative press debate since it’s like arguing over the weather–and because I believe most newspaper journalists are reactionary (in the non-political sense) by nature, and therefore a root cause of newsroom stagnation. That said, the survey found that 37 percent of journalists identify themselves as Democrats, moving them closer to the national percentage of 32 percent. It’s the lowest number since 1971 (proving, perhaps, that the greatest Democratic recruiter in the last half-century was Richard Nixon).

Interesting reading.

May 27, 2002

The “alarming trend” is politics as usual

Howard Kurtz’s Media Notes column this morning highlights an “alarming trend” in terror alerts: the administration keeps issuing warnings and then complains when the press does its job by questioning them in addition to reporting them. And why shouldn’t the press question them? Ari Fleischer specifically said last week that the rise in warnings was in part a reaction to criticism about how the administration handled the intelligence gathered prior to 9/11. The warnings have been non-specific and horrific. As Kurtz writes:

“In the space of several days, there were reports that another attack on America is almost certain (Dick Cheney), that nuclear weapons will one day be used (Donald Rumsfeld), that suicide bombers are next (FBI chief Robert Mueller) and that the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge could be targets (unnamed officials).”

What are we to believe? I vote for believing Ari Fleischer. There certainly continues to be a terrorist threat. We would be foolish to believe otherwise. But we would be just as foolish to suppose that the Bush administration, or any administration, is above fomenting a little angst among the citizenry in order to redirect mounting criticism. The democratic bargain maintains that winners lead and losers wait. The Republicans would prefer to continue leading. The Democrats are tired of waiting. The press smells a controversy because this situation has the stink of a one-term presidency on it.

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