Daily newspapers subscribe to the notion of objective reporting, and newspaper editors are always eager to defend this foggy notion. Which makes it all the more curious that New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane recently asked readers whether “news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”
WTF! Brisbane was calling attention to the facade constructed long ago by the mainstream media to guard against the charge that their main function is to defend the status quo. In doing so, he chose a good example to illustrate what’s wrong with the mainstream mindset:
…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..?
Note that Brisbane quickly jumps back behind the facade, ignoring the question of whether Romney’s accusation against Obama is based on fact. He says reporters have been trained to not ask such questions, even if evidence exists that could answer them. However, it’s long been OK for columnists to ask and even answer such questions, because columnists merely state opinions. As if opinions and facts necessarily dwell in different realms.
But the key question really can’t be ignored. Has Obama been apologizing for America in speeches, or is the accusation a lie? Is Krugman pointing out that Romney is a liar or merely pointing to “what he thinks is a lie”?
I don’t think it was an accident that Brisbane singled out Krugman, who is, as I stated in a previous post, the only columnist in a major daily who dares to criticize the MSM’s bogus “he said/she said” style of journalism. Maybe Brisbane raised the issue on his own, or maybe the higher-ups at the Times are tired of being embarrassed by Krugman’s criticism and called on Brisbane to address it.
But honestly, can you imagine anything more pathetic than an editor asking readers whether journalists should be obligated to report whether “newsmakers” are lying?
By stepping from behind the facade of objectivity, just for a second, Brisbane exposes its flimsiness and his own uncertainty about it. He is defending what Glenn Greenwald contemptuously referred to as the “stenographer’s model” of reporting and then asking readers to tell him whether this model makes sense. He may as well ask them what facts are.
Brisbane surely knows it’s a fairly easy matter for a reporter, and certainly for an editor, to determine whether or not Romney was lying. You don’t have to answer the question in a sidebar. All you have to do to check the record of what Obama said then answer the question in the story. Instead, Brisbane asks readers whether fact-checking and subsequent evaluation should be part of reporters’ and editors’ jobs.
The latter question is worse than fatuous. It’s an admission that the Times isn’t providing the public service that justifies its existence.