NYT public editor unsure if paper should publish lies unquestioned


In an article titled “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?”, the NYT’s public editor asks whether reporters have any responsibility when publishing things they know to be lies. He then gives a few stra wmen to make it seem awfully complicated. Here’s on example:

Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

First off, the first sentence is valid, the second is questionable. The first is not the reporter’s opinion, the second is. The reporter could simply write the first sentence, and in place of the second quote a respected fact check site’s analysis of whether the President did in fact “apologize.”

You can’t just repeat the lies and be done with it. At the very least you quote someone countering the lie, but even then the damage is done (I say you’re a pedophile, you say “no I’m not” – the paper prints both and now people wonder). Often what reporters do is, rather than quote an authority pointing out the lie, they quote a partisan – which makes it look more like a he-said-she-said than an irrefutable rebuttal. What reporters should do depends upon the nature of the allegation (if it’s a known lie then get an expert to refute it, if it truly is an opinion, then get an opinion from the other side). Same thing goes for known truths, don’t just quote a Republican questioning them without citing irrefutable proof of the truth.

And finally, underlying this entire story is the notion of whether journalists should inject themselves in their stories and decide for themselves what the “truth” is. The thing is, journalists already do that all the time. They daily make judgment calls as to what is and isn’t credible.

I guess what bothers me about this story is the notion that somehow it’s “bad” for a journalist to use their own internal filter for deciding whether or not a story is credible. And at some point, you have to, otherwise the only stories out there will be the un-credible ones.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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