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Between the Lines

October 18, 2004

Covering lies

As I've noted before, the conventions of journalism favor liars. This is a particularly troubling problem in political campaigns, where the stakes are substantial. If both sides are lying more or less equally, then it's kind of a wash even though the pols certainly are doing the public no favors. You report what they say, you compare that with the facts and move on. But when one side raises dishonesty to the level of a science, then it becomes difficult for newsies to let their audience know what's really happening. You wind up with stories that try to be "balanced" even though one side is doing 75 percent of the lying. When that happens, standards that work most of the rest of the time are no longer effective.

The Washington Post ombudsman, Michael Getler, addresses the issue here:

aside from catching mistakes, several readers have also complained that the paper has presented these stories in such a "balanced" fashion that it has diminished the weight of the assessments. More frequently than not, they contend, this has benefited Bush and Vice President Cheney. These charges undoubtedly have a partisan edge to them. But that doesn't mean they are wrong, or that it couldn't go the other way politically as well. It does mean, in my view, that news organizations need to look hard and fast at whether they are truly "leveling with the reader."

Read it all.

Then consider this morsel from a post by blogger Josh Marshall. The speaker is an unidentified top administration official:

"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Here in the "reality-based world" that most of us inhabit, the result is wars of choice abroad and what blogger Matt Yglesias calls "The Putinization of American life" at home.

Posted by tbrown at 10:38 AM




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