Friday, January 13, 2012

The NYT's public editor's question.

I was thinking of the best simple way to respond (to repeat myself); John Quiggin just made it a lot easier
Arthur Brisbane, Public Opinion editor for the NY Times, has copped a well deserved shellacking for a column in which he asked whether reporters should act as ‘truth vigilantes’ in relation to statements made by public figures.

Having observed the silliness of asking whether newspapers should (aspire to) tell the truth, the obvious question is: How should they tell it. Here are a some suggestions

1. Its unreasonable to expect reporters to take the burden from scratch in refuting zombie lies. Newspapers, including the NYT, should include a set of factual conclusions, regularly updated, in their style manuals. The most relevant current example is that of global warming Palestine.
As always I'll repeat that questions of the Middle East are not the issue but are synecdochic.

Those who celebrate the market for its ability to undermine belief often hold simplistic assumptions about the market as a whole, as if the market produced not only economic but absolute truths (and for my purposes the ability of the market actually to render "market truth" is as irrelevant as questions regarding Israel/Palestine). Quiggin the left-wing technocrat holds a different set of assumptions.
Having observed the silliness of asking whether newspapers should (aspire to) tell the truth... Newspapers, including the NYT, should include a set of factual conclusions, regularly updated, in their style manuals.
Who are these wise men, whom we trust to update, regularly, their set of facts? 50 years ago they would all have been men, and white, and straight (or in the closet). Things have changed as they always do, but Quiggin's model does not model change.

Journalists should be allowed to call things as they see them, and argue their case, but how they see things is never in absolute terms how things "are". Newsmen should act as advocates for their audience not for their sources, as lawyers work for their clients. We need more adversarialism not less.
Journalism needs to be defined again as advocacy, and not for justice or truth or high morality, but simply for the public's desire and need to know. Advocates by title are not gatekeepers. But once journalism is defined, as it once was, as hackwork, then honest hacks will be more willing to accept responsibility for their actions.
I'd post my comments at CT but it wouldn't do any good

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