Wednesday, February 15, 2006

MEDIA SHAME

Refusing to cooperate with local police to catch someone making threats to a middle school, the Island Packet sought to justify their actions.
But the newspaper could not knowingly tell readers a lie, [Executive editor] McAden said.

Managing editor Sally Mahan echoed the same feelings, saying that doing so could destroy the newspaper's credibility. Bluffton Today managing editor Robert Holquist also agreed that his newspaper could not knowingly publish a falsehood.
The lie? To say the police could not identify where the call was coming from to catch him in the act. (Romenesko calls it "false information".) Despite their lack of cooperation, the suspect was arrested several weeks later without their help or assistance, but not before he had made a total of nine phone calls threatening teachers and the principal and threatening to shoot students, causing fears that disrupted classes to the extent that parents pulled their children out of school in large numbers.

All that, so that the newspaper could preserve their, ahem, self-esteem. If I were a parent whose child was a 6th, 7th or 8th grader who was threatened and found this out, I would be throwing bricks through that newspaper's window. And then I would target the individual editors with a few threats of my own.

But what do you expect from the McClatchy newspapers that include the partisanly pious Sacramento Bee, the Modesto Bee, and the notorious Minneapolis (Red) Star Tribune? Or the ridiculous News & Observer where a staff writer postulates that Cheney deliberately shot his hunting partner to warn Scooter Libby not to testify. (You can't make this up, folks.)

8 comments:

Jorgen said...

That News & Observer is hopefully one of these free newspapers you get at the subway? Surely noone would pay money for a paper that employs such an imbesile!

Anonymous said...

Media shame? Give me a break. Any newspaper that would deliberately post a lie would lose all credibility with readers. The job of journalists is to seek truth, no matter the consequences. Granted, biases and errors in judgement cloud the truth as reported in newspapers, but it is not deliberate (Jason Blair notwithstanding). There is no big liberal media conspiracy. Sorry.

Any editor worth his or her salt would say no to such a request in a heartbeat. To bash the paper as you do shows that, frankly, you're an idiot.

Anonymous said...

I posted the previous comment and apologize for name calling. The blogosphere should be a place of CIVIL debate and I violated that.

So let me ammend that last sentence and say that your bashing the paper shows you have little understanding of the role of media in our society. You, the reader, trust that the reporter did everything in his or her power to get the facts right. For a paper to deliberately lie, even in a case where it could catch a criminal, violates that trust.

Mediaskeptic said...

"Bashing" is a term used to cut off debate as it presumes that the viewpoint is defamatory. I reject that completely as serving an argument you can not otherwise make to defend the media.

If the role of our media is to tell the truth, then it also means the media is obligated to tell the entire truth no matter how inconvenient. You can not possibly claim the media are blessed with such integrity. Newspapers, to their shame, deliberately withhold information every day, distorting the truth. JFK's infidelities, Ted Kennedy's problems with alcohol, John Kerry's war record are all carefully unexplored by our media. Successes in Iraq and Afghanistan are withheld and ignored. The media violates a trust with the American public every day in the stories they do not tell, the stories they choose to promote, the stories they choose to ignore. It is a violation of trust to hire inept journalists and biased editors who serve as gatekeepers. The public does not trust our media. For good reason.

To tell a small lie in service to a community and to children who were needlessly terrrorized isn't a shame. It's an act of adult responsibility. That, sadly, is something I no longer expect from our Peter Pan Press.

Anonymous said...

You just cannot put an editor in that position. So how are they supposed to decide when to lie and when to tell the truth? That is too slippery a slope. Think about it. If you found out that a newspaper had lied in a story, you'd never read that paper again. I know I wouldn't. It's as big a sin as plagarism, if not worse.

Mediaskeptic said...

First, newspapers DO lie daily to their readers. For instance, an "unnamed source from the administration" might, in fact, be rumor from a fellow reporter. Newspapers lie to their advertisers when they inflate circulation figures. (And they have done this for years.) Newspapers lie when they withhold stories that reflect unfavorably on their friends and on the causes they support.

Newspaper editors are not, by virtue of their position, more credible than anyone else. And plagarism is laziness, not a moral sin.

If newspapers do not serve the public, then what use are they? Should children be needlessly terrorized to uphold, ... what? ... credibility newspapers don't have? And, moreover, they KNOW they don't have?

See this poll. (particularly pg.4)
http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/020306POLL.pdf

Would you defend yourself from a burglar announcing you have a gun when, in fact, you don't? Does that make you a liar? It that a sin as big as plagarism?

Idealism is wonderful, but when it doesn't serve reality, it's just ... weird.

Anonymous said...

Oh good God. You bloggers are all alike -- gotta have a conspiracy theory to explain everything. I'll trust a newspaper as an unbiased source of information before partisan hack blogs any day.

(JFK's affairs? Teddy's drinking? Might we have a CONSERVATIVE bias here?)

And plagarism is NOT laziness. It is a deliberate act and one of the worst sins a newsperson, or a blogger for that matter, can make. Plagarism is taken very seriously in the media. Can the same be said of the blogosphere?

Like I said, the news ain't perfect. But good people in the biz seek truth every day. Sometimes they miss the mark. But most good journalists attempt to remain unbiased and seek information and comment from all sides. (Which, on another note, is why Fox News is not to be trusted. They don't even pretend to be unbiased.)

Mediaskeptic said...

Conspiracy? No, try monopoly.

Most plagarism IS laziness. The hard-pressed journalist who has run out of time, the fervent fan in a moment of weakness, and the writer who has lost the desire to write or believe in what they are writing. MOST. Those deliberate acts of plagarism are stupid, usually found out, and deeply regretted. Plagarism is not a crime under the law, which shows how little it is regarded as a deliberate act.

http://www.law.uchicago.edu/news/posner-r-plagiarism.html

As for "good journalists" - well, it is in the eye of the beholder.

http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/05-2NRsummer/47-48V59N2.pdf#search='public%20opinion%20journalists'

The very problem of the News Industry is that they are a monopoly and all monopolies, unchecked, are bad for democracy.

So are polls.
http://takingnotes.blogspot.com/2004/09/poll-resistance.html

If none of this convinces you that modern journalism is in dire need of reform, then, perhaps, you might consider that you are part of the problem for accepting their flaws. The first thing to do to correct a problem is to recognize it. Newspapers do not seek the truth. They seek to control access to the truth and their monopoly is in danger.

And challenging THAT is a very good thing.