Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 19, 2010

WHY JOURNALISTS 'GOT IN THE BUSINESS'.... Perhaps no problem is more pernicious in American political journalism than the "he said, she said" phenomenon. Media outlets have come to believe telling news consumers the truth, rather than what "both sides" are saying, is somehow irresponsible. Coverage, then, tends to simply pass along competing talking points, while the public turns to blogs to help separate fact from fiction.

Occasionally, outlets like the Associated Press get it right, and publishes meaningful, constructive fact-checking pieces. Greg Sargent chatted today with its D.C. bureau chief, Ron Fournier, about the practice.

[H]e told me something fascinating, if not all together unexpected: Their fact-checking efforts are almost uniformly the most clicked and most linked pieces they produce.

Journalistic fact-checking with authority, it turns out, is popular. Who woulda thunk it? [...]

"What we tend to forget in journalism is that we got in the business to check facts," Fournier says. "Not just to tell people what Obama said and what Gingrich said. It is groundless to say that Kagan is anti-military. So why not call it groundless? This is badly needed when people are being flooded with information."

Amen.

The fact that these worthwhile pieces tend to be the most successful ones should tell the industry something -- if you give the public what it needs to know, the public will probably respond positively.

The AP is far from perfect on this front, but it does deserve credit for getting it right. I recently applauded its piece, for example, rejecting efforts to characterize the BP oil spill disaster as "Obama's Katrina." Greg noted a few other recent articles, including a solid piece pushing back against Republican criticism against Elena Kagan on "judicial experience."

"The ones that get the most traction are the fact checks," Fournier added.

I can only hope that means he'll publish more of them.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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Comments

You want a giant blast of what's wrong with our media?

Just take a look at some of the comments to this story from last week:

http://www.observer.com/2010/media/top-abc-news-producer-leaving-network-become-high-school-guidance-counselor-0

Posted by: Gummo on May 19, 2010 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Cuss my luck for not creating a dot-com years ago that collects and links to ALL fact-check efforts and sites.

Posted by: buddy66 on May 19, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, one can only hope...

Posted by: rrk1 on May 19, 2010 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

As Colbert says, the truth has a well-known liberal bias. I know I'm preaching to the (well-informed) choir when I say:
"Media outlets have come to believe telling news consumers the truth, rather than what "both sides" are saying, is somehow irresponsible" but only for their own well being. Media let itself get intimidated. Conservatives scream bloody murder ("Liberal Bias in the media!") if a true event isn't sufficiently garbled with GOP spin.

Posted by: No You on May 19, 2010 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out with two independent sources.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on May 19, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a minute--Ron Fournier is interested in the truth? THE Ron Fournier??

When did this happen? Or did Sargent just get pwned?

Posted by: Ken Houghton on May 19, 2010 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, the salvation of journalism may be at the root of why journalists got into the business in the first place - to check facts.
Check facts! WHODATHUNKIT?
Just about every blogger on the left side of the great divide.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on May 19, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Fournier is getting on the facts bandwagon because he sees, at last, that his right-tilted, misleading stories -- popular so long with is email buddy Karl Rove -- are no longer, um, selling. (Maybe somebody had a little chat with him, who knows?) AP has done a lot of damage because it is so widely read, particularly in areas that do not have robust local newspapers (and really, where are such places these days?). The infinitely better news agency out of DC is McClatchy, and the really interesting thing about that bureau is that its own papers, or at least one of them (the Modesto Bee), usually prefer AP and its rightward slant.

Posted by: SF on May 19, 2010 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Fact checking is fine, but, what about bias being promoted in an article by an AP writer? This morning, Charles Babbington of the AP led with his "Obama is Zero for Four" on endorsements. He considered the luke warm "endorsement" of Specter to be a full fledged endorsement defeated by the voters. Pat Buchanan couldn't have written this flack piece any better.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 19, 2010 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

@ Ken Houghton,(15:56)

Yeah, hard to believe. I almost choked on my tea (loose leaf, not bagged) when I saw that.

Posted by: exlibra on May 19, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Fournier? Is the sound I hear that of ice forming in hell?

Posted by: JoeW on May 19, 2010 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

...while the public turns to blogs to help separate fact from fiction.

Not a great many, I'd wager.

Posted by: e henry thripshaw on May 19, 2010 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

Yabbut why should we need a separate "fact checking" enterprise in the first place? It seems to me that the same story that reports that a politician said something that isn't true should also point out that it isn't true. We shouldn't have to track that down in some specialist publication.

This is basically a dodge that endorses reporting as stenography but then sets up an entirely unrelated enterprise of "fact checking," which people have to access on their own initiative.

Seems pretty lame to me.

Posted by: cervantes on May 19, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

"Media outlets have come to believe telling news consumers the truth, rather than what "both sides" are saying, is somehow irresponsible"

It's also much much easier and faster to just print dueling press releases from both sides. No research, or knowledge or judgment needed.

It sucks, but it's worse when the issue is one of massive importance, and there effectively is NO OTHER side being advanced publicly by political elites or think tankers. War fits this: what politician is against jingoism or going to stand up for Saddam Hussein or N. Korea (against false charges from us)?

Posted by: flubber on May 19, 2010 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Speed is always of the essence in daily journalism -- even more so with the dominance of the Intarwebz. Thus, fact-checking follow-up stories gain in importance. Also, who says Obama's endorsement of Specter was "luke warm"? That's a matter of opinion, and not a conclusion that Babbington would be expected to make in a news story.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on May 19, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that the same story that reports that a politician said something that isn't true should also point out that it isn't true. We shouldn't have to track that down in some specialist publication.

Posted by: cervantes on May 19, 2010 at 4:23 PM

Very true, but... but... David Gregory said that we, the general public, can "fact check...on [our] own terms!" After all, jounalists are just there to catapult the propaganda, so we can just pick whatever side of the so-called "story" we like best!

Posted by: electrolite on May 19, 2010 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

It is an error to write as if journalists' willful indifference to what's true and what's not occurs in a vacuum. It doesn't; it occurs within the wider context of a stupid American public who quite generally doesn't itself care about what's true and what's not.

Comfortably ensconced within that large sea of alethic indifference, it is not surprising that journalists typically take the "it's not our role" view of David Gregory towards the truth.

Journalists, politicians, and such people are *symptoms* of the wider problem, not the wider problem itself.

Posted by: sherifffruitfly on May 19, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

I think Ron Fournier's biases are pretty well known. What this suggests to me is that Fournier is quickly building up AP's factchecking rep so he can better "stick it" to progressives this fall.

Really, these people play this game much better than we do. They boo our every move while we get suckered in on the set ups and lose our credibility for critiquing the final act.

AP will continue to be on good behavior but come this fall they will brutalize Democratic candidates, mark my words.

Posted by: Mark Gisleson on May 19, 2010 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

What is equally needed in journalism is accurate reporting on just who the supposed "authorities" being quoted represent. A recent AOL-generated Op-Ed criticized pending mandates calling for greater fleet fuel efficiency in US cars, claiming that it would result in greater death tolls because cars would be smaller and lighter and less crash resistant.

The authors were cited as representing a group with a nice sounding name which seems to be in favor of "A Competitive American Economy" but which, in fact, is almost totally paid for by Exxon. Do ya suppose Exxon might NOT be in favor of greater fuel efficiency? Do ya suppose readers might have looked at the article in a slightly different light if they knew those facts?

And this stuff happens a lot and the even worse problem is that there is virtually nothing today which requires that the major funders of such organizations reveal their identities. This fact is best exemplified by the millions spent, without attribution, by the American Chamber of Commerce on astroturf lobbying and twisted message advertising.

Posted by: dweb on May 19, 2010 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

The truth isn't the lib perspective.

Several years back, Rush talked about why reporters went into reporting and he said if you ask them they'll say they wanted to make a difference.

In a bizarre case of life imitating art, ABC news now has a segment called "Making a Difference." I have to laugh whenever I see it, thinking about Rush's insight into liberal mainstream news. Today's syrupy, saccharin piece was some Hollywood actor "giving back" or "making a difference" with some po' Africans.

Posted by: Luther on May 20, 2010 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK

@ Luther: You're a moron. The truth is the truth - which was kind of the point of this entire story and the comments that followed.

That you think you have to post the response of, "The truth isn't the lib perspective" alone proves you're coming at the subject from a biased perspective. Then you go on to quote one of the biggest professional liars in radio "entertainment" - WHO IS NOT A JOURNALIST - and don't even realize the true irony.

Here's a thought, Luther: leave the discussion of real journalism to folks who actually understand what it is.

That fact checking is so critical - and so often not performed - is one of the most infuriating things about modern journalism. Journalism isn't just being able to publish some words, audio, or video on a given subject. Any two-bit hack, eight year old kid, or three-legged lobotmized jackass can do that these days. Yet folks like Luther seem to think that's journalism.

I'm not saying someone has to have a degree or experience (although, I have both) to be a legitimate journalist.

To be legitimate, they need only tell the truth, in the most ethical way possible.

What many conservatives seem to hate is that the "NEWs" seems to be biased towards ideas and events that are NEW, and focus on change - generally, the anthesis of the conservative point of view. That's like yelling at the sky for having clouds.

The truth is what it is. Sometimes there ARE low clouds. Sometimes, when you're on the ground, you're above the clouds. Most of the time, the clouds are above most people. But they're still clouds.

Ethical journalists already make a difference these days.
They just don't make much money, unfortunately.

Posted by: Shawn Smith Peirce on May 20, 2010 at 2:29 AM | PERMALINK

Has anyone informed Peter Arnett of this?

Posted by: DontBelieveit on May 20, 2010 at 6:35 AM | PERMALINK

No, I think you missed the real problem with Luther's post, Shawn.

Much like Ron Fournier's sudden interest in facts, ABC's concerns about "making a difference" are rubbish. Presenting lame shows with liberal-sounding titles doesn't actually make them liberal, but it makes people like Luther think they are liberal, which satisfies their belief that the mostly right-wing media they see in front of them is "liberal".

Posted by: Avedon on May 20, 2010 at 7:33 AM | PERMALINK

"Several years back, Rush talked about why reporters went into reporting and he said if you ask them they'll say they wanted to make a difference."

Quite telling that this statement makes it pretty clear that Rush and reporters are two different classes of people ("THEY said THEY wanted to make a difference). FYI, Luther, Rush is a deejay, not a journalist. Like Glenn Beck, he has no formal education in any field and has worked his entire life as a "radio personality." You might as well get your political opinions from Howard Stern...

Posted by: jjcomet on May 20, 2010 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

"Media outlets have come to believe telling news consumers the truth, rather than what "both sides" are saying, is somehow irresponsible."

See, for a prime example: Lehrer of the News Hour.

Posted by: Bart on May 20, 2010 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

I think you're absolutely right. I have evolved from someone who once considered a career in journalism to someone who despises journalists and the media.

My newspaper reading is way down And I used to read 4 or 5 newspapers a day! I no longer watch tv for news at all -- and I used to religiously watch the Sunday morning shows and the nightly news!

Now I am far more likely to read a newspaper article if it is linked to by a blog. I consider newspaper reports raw material that has to be refined by blogs who analyze it for truth content.

Hey newspapers: you start reliably analyzing your output for truth content and I might be able to skip the blogs!

Posted by: The Fool on May 20, 2010 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Note the post immediately below in which the AP fact checks the New York Times and notes that they put a deceptively edited video on the web (hell it worked for Breitbart and the Times has to change with the times).

@ Ken Houghton "Ron Fournier is interested in the truth?"

Of course not Ken. He is interested in clicks.

Now you and I, working as we do for a highly profitable blockbuster blog, can't understand that, but AP is desperate for every bit of revenue it can get.

He's so desperate he'll try anything, even the truth (see also commenters noting that it's not October).

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on May 20, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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