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The Press is allowing skirmishes between Media Matters and conservatives to destroy its reputation, by applying its flawed, core “discipline of verification” 10/7/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in verification.
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Tom Rosenstiel, modern journalism’s leading thinker, claims in his landmark book The Elements of Journalism that “In the end, the discipline [of verification] is what separates journalism from other fields and creates an economic reason for it to continue.” However, the question that neither he nor anyone else has ever satisfactorily answered is “what exactly needs to be verified?” If a highly-partisan hack makes a false statement that is easily disproved, it seems that this discipline of verification obligates journalists not to repeat it. But, what happens when a U.S. Senator repeats such a false, easily disproved statement? Is it journalists’ responsibility to verify the content of the charge or simply verify that the public figure said it, regardless of whether or not it is true?

In recent weeks, the mainstream media has provided a great deal of coverage to highly inflammatory charges by lefty group “Media Matters for America” against conservatives Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh that were repeated by public officials. As Jonah Goldberg notes, these charges were easily disprovable simply by reading the context from which their quotes were cherry-picked, if not by simply trying to make sense of them (e.g. Rush Limbaugh is “unpatriotic”?). Perhaps under modern journalism’s definition of “discipline of verification,” repeating these ultimately discredited charges was acceptable because a public figure repeated them first. But such nuance cannot be expected from average news consumers, who in the end will conclude that journalists themselves made the reckless charges. If as Mr. Rosenstiel contends such a “discipline of verification” is at the core of “modern journalism,” the public may decide it is a field that is indeed hollow, if not rotten, to the core.

Comments»

1. Ydobon - 10/8/07

“The Press is allowing skirmishes between Media Matters and conservatives to destroy its reputation.”

Media Matters is going after more than conservatives, now attacking Brendan Nyhan.
Eric Alterman: My enemies are evil.

2. Steve Boriss - 10/8/07

Ydobon, Well, this is America, and I suppose Media Matters is free to attack whoever they want. But if they continue to be as reckless as they have been, they will lose credibility among all except their true believers, and also take down those in the Press foolish enough to repeat their misinformation.

3. Ydobon - 10/8/07

Steve,

I gave the wrong impression. Media Matters’ attack on Brendan Nyhan makes the situation worse for the Press, in my opinion.

Poorly phrased on my part. My apologies.

4. Steve Boriss - 10/8/07

Ydobon, Got it. Thanks for the clarification. The answer, which is coming, is a partisan press, or as I like to say it, “a multitude of voices competing in a freewheeling marketplace of ideas.” If journalists/bloggers/etc. want to make a strong statement about somebody, let them do it and take full responsibility for it rather than hide behind the skirt of a partisan hack or a politician.


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